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Title: Lord Jim
Author: Joseph Conrad



AUTHOR'S NOTE


When this novel first appeared in book form a notion got about that
I had been bolted away with. Some reviewers maintained that the work
starting as a short story had got beyond the writer's control. One or
two discovered internal evidence of the fact, which seemed to amuse
them. They pointed out the limitations of the narrative form. They
argued that no man could have been expected to talk all that time, and
other men to listen so long. It was not, they said, very credible.

After thinking it over for something like sixteen years, I am not so
sure about that. Men have been known, both in the tropics and in
the temperate zone, to sit up half the night 'swapping yarns'. This,
however, is but one yarn, yet with interruptions affording some measure
of relief; and in regard to the listeners' endurance, the postulate
must be accepted that the story was interesting. It is the necessary
preliminary assumption. If I hadn't believed that it was interesting I
could never have begun to write it. As to the mere physical possibility
we all know that some speeches in Parliament have taken nearer six than
three hours in delivery; whereas all that part of the book which is
Marlow's narrative can be read through aloud, I should say, in less than
three hours. Besides--though I have kept strictly all such insignificant
details out of the tale--we may presume that there must have been
refreshments on that night, a glass of mineral water of some sort to
help the narrator on.

But, seriously, the truth of the matter is, that my first thought was
of a short story, concerned only with the pilgrim ship episode; nothing
more. And that was a legitimate conception. After writing a few pages,
however, I became for some reason discontented and I laid them aside for
a time. I didn't take them out of the drawer till the late Mr. William
Blackwood suggested I should give something again to his magazine.

It was only then that I perceived that the pilgrim ship episode was a
good starting-point for a free and wandering tale; that it was an event,
too, which could conceivably colour the whole 'sentiment of existence'
in a simple and sensitive character. But all these preliminary moods
and stirrings of spirit were rather obscure at the time, and they do not
appear clearer to me now after the lapse of so many years.

The few pages I had laid aside were not without their weight in the
choice of subject. But the whole was re-written deliberately. When I sat
down to it I knew it would be a long book, though I didn't foresee that
it would spread itself over thirteen numbers of Maga.

I have been asked at times whether this was not the book of mine I liked
best. I am a great foe to favouritism in public life, in private life,
and even in the delicate relationship of an author to his works. As a
matter of principle I will have no favourites; but I don't go so far
as to feel grieved and annoyed by the preference some people give to
my Lord Jim. I won't even say that I 'fail to understand . . .' No! But
once I had occasion to be puzzled and surprised.

A friend of mine returning from Italy had talked with a lady there who
did not like the book. I regretted that, of course, but what surprised
me was the ground of her dislike. 'You know,' she said, 'it is all so
morbid.'

The pronouncement gave me food for an hour's anxious thought. Finally
I arrived at the conclusion that, making due allowances for the subject
itself being rather foreign to women's normal sensibilities, the lady
could not have been an Italian. I wonder whether she was European at
all? In any case, no Latin temperament would have perceived anything
morbid in the acute consciousness of lost honour. Such a consciousness
may be wrong, or it may be right, or it may be condemned as artificial;
and, perhaps, my Jim is not a type of wide commonness. But I can
safely assure my readers that he is not the product of coldly perverted
thinking. He's not a figure of Northern Mists either. One sunny morning,
in the commonplace surroundings of an Eastern roadstead, I saw his form
pass by--appealing--significant--under a cloud--perfectly silent. Which
is as it should be. It was for me, with all the sympathy of which I was
capable, to seek fit words for his meaning. He was 'one of us'.

J.C.

1917.


LORD JIM



CHAPTER 1


He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he
advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head
forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging
bull. His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of
dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it. It seemed
a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at
anybody else. He was spotlessly neat, apparelled in immaculate white
from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports where he got his
living as ship-chandler's water-clerk he was very popular.

A water-clerk need not pass an examination in anything under the sun,
but he must have Ability in the abstract and demonstrate it practically.
His work consists in racing under sail, steam, or oars against other
water-clerks for any ship about to anchor, greeting her captain
cheerily, forcing upon him a card--the business card of the
ship-chandler--and on his first visit on shore piloting him firmly but
without ostentation to a vast, cavern-like shop which is full of things
that are eaten and drunk on board ship; where you can get everything
to make her seaworthy and beautiful, from a set of chain-hooks for her
cable to a book of gold-leaf for the carvings of her stern; and where
her commander is received like a brother by a ship-chandler he has never
seen before. There is a cool parlour, easy-chairs, bottles, cigars,
writing implements, a copy of harbour regulations, and a warmth of
welcome that melts the salt of a three months' passage out of a seaman's
heart. The connection thus begun is kept up, as long as the ship remains
in harbour, by the daily visits of the water-clerk. To the captain he
is faithful like a friend and attentive like a son, with the patience
of Job, the unselfish devotion of a woman, and the jollity of a boon
companion. Later on the bill is sent in. It is a beautiful and humane
occupation. Therefore good water-clerks are scarce. When a water-clerk
who possesses Ability in the abstract has also the advantage of having
been brought up to the sea, he is worth to his employer a lot of money
and some humouring. Jim had always good wages and as much humouring
as would have bought the fidelity of a fiend. Nevertheless, with black
ingratitude he would throw up the job suddenly and depart. To his
employers the reasons he gave were obviously inadequate. They said
'Confounded fool!' as soon as his back was turned. This was their
criticism on his exquisite sensibility.

To the white men in the waterside business and to the captains of ships
he was just Jim--nothing more. He had, of course, another name, but he
was anxious that it should not be pronounced. His incognito, which had
as many holes as a sieve, was not meant to hide a personality but a
fact. When the fact broke through the incognito he would leave
suddenly the seaport where he happened to be at the time and go to
another--generally farther east. He kept to seaports because he was a
seaman in exile from the sea, and had Ability in the abstract, which is
good for no other work but that of a water-clerk. He retreated in good
order towards the rising sun, and the fact followed him casually but
inevitably. Thus in the course of years he was known successively in
Bombay, in Calcutta, in Rangoon, in Penang, in Batavia--and in each of
these halting-places was just Jim the water-clerk. Afterwards, when his
keen perception of the Intolerable drove him away for good from seaports
and white men, even into the virgin forest, the Malays of the jungle
village, where he had elected to conceal his deplorable faculty, added a
word to the monosyllable of his incognito. They called him Tuan Jim: as
one might say--Lord Jim.

Originally he came from a parsonage. Many commanders of fine
merchant-ships come from these abodes of piety and peace. Jim's father
possessed such certain knowledge of the Unknowable as made for the
righteousness of people in cottages without disturbing the ease of mind
of those whom an unerring Providence enables to live in mansions. The
little church on a hill had the mossy greyness of a rock seen through a
ragged screen of leaves. It had stood there for centuries, but the trees
around probably remembered the laying of the first stone. Below, the
red front of the rectory gleamed with a warm tint in the midst of
grass-plots, flower-beds, and fir-trees, with an orchard at the back,
a paved stable-yard to the left, and the sloping glass of greenhouses
tacked along a wall of bricks. The living had belonged to the family for
generations; but Jim was one of five sons, and when after a course of
light holiday literature his vocation for the sea had declared itself,
he was sent at once to a 'training-ship for officers of the mercantile
marine.'

He learned there a little trigonometry and how to cross top-gallant
yards. He was generally liked. He had the third place in navigation
and pulled stroke in the first cutter. Having a steady head with an
excellent physique, he was very smart aloft. His station was in the
fore-top, and often from there he looked down, with the contempt of a
man destined to shine in the midst of dangers, at the peaceful multitude
of roofs cut in two by the brown tide of the stream, while scattered
on the outskirts of the surrounding plain the factory chimneys rose
perpendicular against a grimy sky, each slender like a pencil, and
belching out smoke like a volcano. He could see the big ships departing,
the broad-beamed ferries constantly on the move, the little boats
floating far below his feet, with the hazy splendour of the sea in the
distance, and the hope of a stirring life in the world of adventure.

On the lower deck in the babel of two hundred voices he would forget
himself, and beforehand live in his mind the sea-life of light
literature. He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting
away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line; or as a
lonely castaway, barefooted and half naked, walking on uncovered reefs
in search of shellfish to stave off starvation. He confronted savages on
tropical shores, quelled mutinies on the high seas, and in a small boat
upon the ocean kept up the hearts of despairing men--always an example
of devotion to duty, and as unflinching as a hero in a book.

'Something's up. Come along.'

He leaped to his feet. The boys were streaming up the ladders. Above
could be heard a great scurrying about and shouting, and when he got
through the hatchway he stood still--as if confounded.

It was the dusk of a winter's day. The gale had freshened since noon,
stopping the traffic on the river, and now blew with the strength of a
hurricane in fitful bursts that boomed like salvoes of great guns firing
over the ocean. The rain slanted in sheets that flicked and subsided,
and between whiles Jim had threatening glimpses of the tumbling tide,
the small craft jumbled and tossing along the shore, the motionless
buildings in the driving mist, the broad ferry-boats pitching
ponderously at anchor, the vast landing-stages heaving up and down and
smothered in sprays. The next gust seemed to blow all this away. The
air was full of flying water. There was a fierce purpose in the gale, a
furious earnestness in the screech of the wind, in the brutal tumult of
earth and sky, that seemed directed at him, and made him hold his breath
in awe. He stood still. It seemed to him he was whirled around.

He was jostled. 'Man the cutter!' Boys rushed past him. A coaster
running in for shelter had crashed through a schooner at anchor, and one
of the ship's instructors had seen the accident. A mob of boys clambered
on the rails, clustered round the davits. 'Collision. Just ahead of us.
Mr. Symons saw it.' A push made him stagger against the mizzen-mast, and
he caught hold of a rope. The old training-ship chained to her moorings
quivered all over, bowing gently head to wind, and with her scanty
rigging humming in a deep bass the breathless song of her youth at sea.
'Lower away!' He saw the boat, manned, drop swiftly below the rail,
and rushed after her. He heard a splash. 'Let go; clear the falls!' He
leaned over. The river alongside seethed in frothy streaks. The cutter
could be seen in the falling darkness under the spell of tide and wind,
that for a moment held her bound, and tossing abreast of the ship.
A yelling voice in her reached him faintly: 'Keep stroke, you young
whelps, if you want to save anybody! Keep stroke!' And suddenly she
lifted high her bow, and, leaping with raised oars over a wave, broke
the spell cast upon her by the wind and tide.

Jim felt his shoulder gripped firmly. 'Too late, youngster.' The captain
of the ship laid a restraining hand on that boy, who seemed on the
point of leaping overboard, and Jim looked up with the pain of conscious
defeat in his eyes. The captain smiled sympathetically. 'Better luck
next time. This will teach you to be smart.'

A shrill cheer greeted the cutter. She came dancing back half full of
water, and with two exhausted men washing about on her bottom boards.
The tumult and the menace of wind and sea now appeared very contemptible
to Jim, increasing the regret of his awe at their inefficient menace.
Now he knew what to think of it. It seemed to him he cared nothing for
the gale. He could affront greater perils. He would do so--better than
anybody. Not a particle of fear was left. Nevertheless he brooded apart
that evening while the bowman of the cutter--a boy with a face like
a girl's and big grey eyes--was the hero of the lower deck. Eager
questioners crowded round him. He narrated: 'I just saw his head
bobbing, and I dashed my boat-hook in the water. It caught in his
breeches and I nearly went overboard, as I thought I would, only old
Symons let go the tiller and grabbed my legs--the boat nearly swamped.
Old Symons is a fine old chap. I don't mind a bit him being grumpy with
us. He swore at me all the time he held my leg, but that was only his
way of telling me to stick to the boat-hook. Old Symons is awfully
excitable--isn't he? No--not the little fair chap--the other, the big
one with a beard. When we pulled him in he groaned, "Oh, my leg! oh,
my leg!" and turned up his eyes. Fancy such a big chap fainting like
a girl. Would any of you fellows faint for a jab with a boat-hook?--I
wouldn't. It went into his leg so far.' He showed the boat-hook, which
he had carried below for the purpose, and produced a sensation. 'No,
silly! It was not his flesh that held him--his breeches did. Lots of
blood, of course.'

Jim thought it a pitiful display of vanity. The gale had ministered to
a heroism as spurious as its own pretence of terror. He felt angry with
the brutal tumult of earth and sky for taking him unawares and checking
unfairly a generous readiness for narrow escapes. Otherwise he was
rather glad he had not gone into the cutter, since a lower achievement
had served the turn. He had enlarged his knowledge more than those who
had done the work. When all men flinched, then--he felt sure--he alone
would know how to deal with the spurious menace of wind and seas. He
knew what to think of it. Seen dispassionately, it seemed contemptible.
He could detect no trace of emotion in himself, and the final effect of
a staggering event was that, unnoticed and apart from the noisy crowd of
boys, he exulted with fresh certitude in his avidity for adventure, and
in a sense of many-sided courage.



CHAPTER 2


After two years of training he went to sea, and entering the regions so
well known to his imagination, found them strangely barren of adventure.
He made many voyages. He knew the magic monotony of existence between
sky and water: he had to bear the criticism of men, the exactions of the
sea, and the prosaic severity of the daily task that gives bread--but
whose only reward is in the perfect love of the work. This reward eluded
him. Yet he could not go back, because there is nothing more enticing,
disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea. Besides, his
prospects were good. He was gentlemanly, steady, tractable, with a
thorough knowledge of his duties; and in time, when yet very young, he
became chief mate of a fine ship, without ever having been tested by
those events of the sea that show in the light of day the inner worth of
a man, the edge of his temper, and the fibre of his stuff; that reveal
the quality of his resistance and the secret truth of his pretences, not
only to others but also to himself.

Only once in all that time he had again a glimpse of the earnestness in
the anger of the sea. That truth is not so often made apparent as people
might think. There are many shades in the danger of adventures and
gales, and it is only now and then that there appears on the face of
facts a sinister violence of intention--that indefinable something which
forces it upon the mind and the heart of a man, that this complication
of accidents or these elemental furies are coming at him with a purpose
of malice, with a strength beyond control, with an unbridled cruelty
that means to tear out of him his hope and his fear, the pain of his
fatigue and his longing for rest: which means to smash, to destroy, to
annihilate all he has seen, known, loved, enjoyed, or hated; all that is
priceless and necessary--the sunshine, the memories, the future; which
means to sweep the whole precious world utterly away from his sight by
the simple and appalling act of taking his life.

Jim, disabled by a falling spar at the beginning of a week of which his
Scottish captain used to say afterwards, 'Man! it's a pairfect meeracle
to me how she lived through it!' spent many days stretched on his back,
dazed, battered, hopeless, and tormented as if at the bottom of an
abyss of unrest. He did not care what the end would be, and in his lucid
moments overvalued his indifference. The danger, when not seen, has
the imperfect vagueness of human thought. The fear grows shadowy; and
Imagination, the enemy of men, the father of all terrors, unstimulated,
sinks to rest in the dullness of exhausted emotion. Jim saw nothing
but the disorder of his tossed cabin. He lay there battened down in the
midst of a small devastation, and felt secretly glad he had not to go on
deck. But now and again an uncontrollable rush of anguish would grip
him bodily, make him gasp and writhe under the blankets, and then the
unintelligent brutality of an existence liable to the agony of such
sensations filled him with a despairing desire to escape at any cost.
Then fine weather returned, and he thought no more about It.

His lameness, however, persisted, and when the ship arrived at an
Eastern port he had to go to the hospital. His recovery was slow, and he
was left behind.

There were only two other patients in the white men's ward: the purser
of a gunboat, who had broken his leg falling down a hatchway; and a kind
of railway contractor from a neighbouring province, afflicted by
some mysterious tropical disease, who held the doctor for an ass, and
indulged in secret debaucheries of patent medicine which his Tamil
servant used to smuggle in with unwearied devotion. They told each other
the story of their lives, played cards a little, or, yawning and in
pyjamas, lounged through the day in easy-chairs without saying a word.
The hospital stood on a hill, and a gentle breeze entering through the
windows, always flung wide open, brought into the bare room the softness
of the sky, the languor of the earth, the bewitching breath of the
Eastern waters. There were perfumes in it, suggestions of infinite
repose, the gift of endless dreams. Jim looked every day over the
thickets of gardens, beyond the roofs of the town, over the fronds of
palms growing on the shore, at that roadstead which is a thoroughfare
to the East,--at the roadstead dotted by garlanded islets, lighted by
festal sunshine, its ships like toys, its brilliant activity resembling
a holiday pageant, with the eternal serenity of the Eastern sky overhead
and the smiling peace of the Eastern seas possessing the space as far as
the horizon.

Directly he could walk without a stick, he descended into the town to
look for some opportunity to get home. Nothing offered just then, and,
while waiting, he associated naturally with the men of his calling in
the port. These were of two kinds. Some, very few and seen there but
seldom, led mysterious lives, had preserved an undefaced energy with the
temper of buccaneers and the eyes of dreamers. They appeared to live
in a crazy maze of plans, hopes, dangers, enterprises, ahead of
civilisation, in the dark places of the sea; and their death was the
only event of their fantastic existence that seemed to have a reasonable
certitude of achievement. The majority were men who, like himself,
thrown there by some accident, had remained as officers of country
ships. They had now a horror of the home service, with its harder
conditions, severer view of duty, and the hazard of stormy oceans. They
were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea. They
loved short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the
distinction of being white. They shuddered at the thought of hard work,
and led precariously easy lives, always on the verge of dismissal,
always on the verge of engagement, serving Chinamen, Arabs,
half-castes--would have served the devil himself had he made it easy
enough. They talked everlastingly of turns of luck: how So-and-so got
charge of a boat on the coast of China--a soft thing; how this one had
an easy billet in Japan somewhere, and that one was doing well in the
Siamese navy; and in all they said--in their actions, in their looks, in
their persons--could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the
determination to lounge safely through existence.

To Jim that gossiping crowd, viewed as seamen, seemed at first more
unsubstantial than so many shadows. But at length he found a fascination
in the sight of those men, in their appearance of doing so well on
such a small allowance of danger and toil. In time, beside the original
disdain there grew up slowly another sentiment; and suddenly, giving up
the idea of going home, he took a berth as chief mate of the Patna.

The Patna was a local steamer as old as the hills, lean like a
greyhound, and eaten up with rust worse than a condemned water-tank. She
was owned by a Chinaman, chartered by an Arab, and commanded by a sort
of renegade New South Wales German, very anxious to curse publicly
his native country, but who, apparently on the strength of Bismarck's
victorious policy, brutalised all those he was not afraid of, and wore a
'blood-and-iron' air,' combined with a purple nose and a red moustache.
After she had been painted outside and whitewashed inside, eight hundred
pilgrims (more or less) were driven on board of her as she lay with
steam up alongside a wooden jetty.

They streamed aboard over three gangways, they streamed in urged by
faith and the hope of paradise, they streamed in with a continuous tramp
and shuffle of bare feet, without a word, a murmur, or a look back; and
when clear of confining rails spread on all sides over the deck, flowed
forward and aft, overflowed down the yawning hatchways, filled the inner
recesses of the ship--like water filling a cistern, like water flowing
into crevices and crannies, like water rising silently even with the
rim. Eight hundred men and women with faith and hopes, with affections
and memories, they had collected there, coming from north and south
and from the outskirts of the East, after treading the jungle paths,
descending the rivers, coasting in praus along the shallows, crossing in
small canoes from island to island, passing through suffering, meeting
strange sights, beset by strange fears, upheld by one desire. They
came from solitary huts in the wilderness, from populous campongs, from
villages by the sea. At the call of an idea they had left their forests,
their clearings, the protection of their rulers, their prosperity,
their poverty, the surroundings of their youth and the graves of their
fathers. They came covered with dust, with sweat, with grime, with
rags--the strong men at the head of family parties, the lean old men
pressing forward without hope of return; young boys with fearless eyes
glancing curiously, shy little girls with tumbled long hair; the timid
women muffled up and clasping to their breasts, wrapped in loose ends of
soiled head-cloths, their sleeping babies, the unconscious pilgrims of
an exacting belief.

'Look at dese cattle,' said the German skipper to his new chief mate.

An Arab, the leader of that pious voyage, came last. He walked slowly
aboard, handsome and grave in his white gown and large turban. A string
of servants followed, loaded with his luggage; the Patna cast off and
backed away from the wharf.

She was headed between two small islets, crossed obliquely the
anchoring-ground of sailing-ships, swung through half a circle in the
shadow of a hill, then ranged close to a ledge of foaming reefs. The
Arab, standing up aft, recited aloud the prayer of travellers by sea.
He invoked the favour of the Most High upon that journey, implored His
blessing on men's toil and on the secret purposes of their hearts; the
steamer pounded in the dusk the calm water of the Strait; and far astern
of the pilgrim ship a screw-pile lighthouse, planted by unbelievers on
a treacherous shoal, seemed to wink at her its eye of flame, as if in
derision of her errand of faith.

She cleared the Strait, crossed the bay, continued on her way through
the 'One-degree' passage. She held on straight for the Red Sea under a
serene sky, under a sky scorching and unclouded, enveloped in a fulgor
of sunshine that killed all thought, oppressed the heart, withered all
impulses of strength and energy. And under the sinister splendour of
that sky the sea, blue and profound, remained still, without a stir,
without a ripple, without a wrinkle--viscous, stagnant, dead. The
Patna, with a slight hiss, passed over that plain, luminous and smooth,
unrolled a black ribbon of smoke across the sky, left behind her on the
water a white ribbon of foam that vanished at once, like the phantom of
a track drawn upon a lifeless sea by the phantom of a steamer.

Every morning the sun, as if keeping pace in his revolutions with the
progress of the pilgrimage, emerged with a silent burst of light exactly
at the same distance astern of the ship, caught up with her at noon,
pouring the concentrated fire of his rays on the pious purposes of the
men, glided past on his descent, and sank mysteriously into the sea
evening after evening, preserving the same distance ahead of her
advancing bows. The five whites on board lived amidships, isolated from
the human cargo. The awnings covered the deck with a white roof from
stem to stern, and a faint hum, a low murmur of sad voices, alone
revealed the presence of a crowd of people upon the great blaze of the
ocean. Such were the days, still, hot, heavy, disappearing one by one
into the past, as if falling into an abyss for ever open in the wake
of the ship; and the ship, lonely under a wisp of smoke, held on her
steadfast way black and smouldering in a luminous immensity, as if
scorched by a flame flicked at her from a heaven without pity.

The nights descended on her like a benediction.



CHAPTER 3


A marvellous stillness pervaded the world, and the stars, together with
the serenity of their rays, seemed to shed upon the earth the assurance
of everlasting security. The young moon recurved, and shining low in the
west, was like a slender shaving thrown up from a bar of gold, and the
Arabian Sea, smooth and cool to the eye like a sheet of ice, extended
its perfect level to the perfect circle of a dark horizon. The propeller
turned without a check, as though its beat had been part of the scheme
of a safe universe; and on each side of the Patna two deep folds of
water, permanent and sombre on the unwrinkled shimmer, enclosed within
their straight and diverging ridges a few white swirls of foam bursting
in a low hiss, a few wavelets, a few ripples, a few undulations that,
left behind, agitated the surface of the sea for an instant after the
passage of the ship, subsided splashing gently, calmed down at last
into the circular stillness of water and sky with the black speck of the
moving hull remaining everlastingly in its centre.

Jim on the bridge was penetrated by the great certitude of unbounded
safety and peace that could be read on the silent aspect of nature like
the certitude of fostering love upon the placid tenderness of a mother's
face. Below the roof of awnings, surrendered to the wisdom of white men
and to their courage, trusting the power of their unbelief and the iron
shell of their fire-ship, the pilgrims of an exacting faith slept
on mats, on blankets, on bare planks, on every deck, in all the dark
corners, wrapped in dyed cloths, muffled in soiled rags, with their
heads resting on small bundles, with their faces pressed to bent
forearms: the men, the women, the children; the old with the young, the
decrepit with the lusty--all equal before sleep, death's brother.

A draught of air, fanned from forward by the speed of the ship, passed
steadily through the long gloom between the high bulwarks, swept over
the rows of prone bodies; a few dim flames in globe-lamps were hung
short here and there under the ridge-poles, and in the blurred circles
of light thrown down and trembling slightly to the unceasing vibration
of the ship appeared a chin upturned, two closed eyelids, a dark hand
with silver rings, a meagre limb draped in a torn covering, a head bent
back, a naked foot, a throat bared and stretched as if offering itself
to the knife. The well-to-do had made for their families shelters with
heavy boxes and dusty mats; the poor reposed side by side with all they
had on earth tied up in a rag under their heads; the lone old men slept,
with drawn-up legs, upon their prayer-carpets, with their hands over
their ears and one elbow on each side of the face; a father, his
shoulders up and his knees under his forehead, dozed dejectedly by a
boy who slept on his back with tousled hair and one arm commandingly
extended; a woman covered from head to foot, like a corpse, with a piece
of white sheeting, had a naked child in the hollow of each arm; the
Arab's belongings, piled right aft, made a heavy mound of broken
outlines, with a cargo-lamp swung above, and a great confusion of
vague forms behind: gleams of paunchy brass pots, the foot-rest of a
deck-chair, blades of spears, the straight scabbard of an old sword
leaning against a heap of pillows, the spout of a tin coffee-pot. The
patent log on the taffrail periodically rang a single tinkling stroke
for every mile traversed on an errand of faith. Above the mass of
sleepers a faint and patient sigh at times floated, the exhalation of a
troubled dream; and short metallic clangs bursting out suddenly in the
depths of the ship, the harsh scrape of a shovel, the violent slam of a
furnace-door, exploded brutally, as if the men handling the mysterious
things below had their breasts full of fierce anger: while the slim high
hull of the steamer went on evenly ahead, without a sway of her bare
masts, cleaving continuously the great calm of the waters under the
inaccessible serenity of the sky.

Jim paced athwart, and his footsteps in the vast silence were loud to
his own ears, as if echoed by the watchful stars: his eyes, roaming
about the line of the horizon, seemed to gaze hungrily into the
unattainable, and did not see the shadow of the coming event. The only
shadow on the sea was the shadow of the black smoke pouring heavily from
the funnel its immense streamer, whose end was constantly dissolving in
the air. Two Malays, silent and almost motionless, steered, one on each
side of the wheel, whose brass rim shone fragmentarily in the oval
of light thrown out by the binnacle. Now and then a hand, with black
fingers alternately letting go and catching hold of revolving spokes,
appeared in the illumined part; the links of wheel-chains ground heavily
in the grooves of the barrel. Jim would glance at the compass, would
glance around the unattainable horizon, would stretch himself till his
joints cracked, with a leisurely twist of the body, in the very excess
of well-being; and, as if made audacious by the invincible aspect of the
peace, he felt he cared for nothing that could happen to him to the end
of his days. From time to time he glanced idly at a chart pegged
out with four drawing-pins on a low three-legged table abaft the
steering-gear case. The sheet of paper portraying the depths of the sea
presented a shiny surface under the light of a bull's-eye lamp lashed to
a stanchion, a surface as level and smooth as the glimmering surface of
the waters. Parallel rulers with a pair of dividers reposed on it; the
ship's position at last noon was marked with a small black cross, and
the straight pencil-line drawn firmly as far as Perim figured the course
of the ship--the path of souls towards the holy place, the promise of
salvation, the reward of eternal life--while the pencil with its sharp
end touching the Somali coast lay round and still like a naked ship's
spar floating in the pool of a sheltered dock. 'How steady she goes,'
thought Jim with wonder, with something like gratitude for this high
peace of sea and sky. At such times his thoughts would be full of
valorous deeds: he loved these dreams and the success of his imaginary
achievements. They were the best parts of life, its secret truth, its
hidden reality. They had a gorgeous virility, the charm of vagueness,
they passed before him with an heroic tread; they carried his soul away
with them and made it drunk with the divine philtre of an unbounded
confidence in itself. There was nothing he could not face. He was so
pleased with the idea that he smiled, keeping perfunctorily his eyes
ahead; and when he happened to glance back he saw the white streak of
the wake drawn as straight by the ship's keel upon the sea as the black
line drawn by the pencil upon the chart.

The ash-buckets racketed, clanking up and down the stoke-hold
ventilators, and this tin-pot clatter warned him the end of his watch
was near. He sighed with content, with regret as well at having to
part from that serenity which fostered the adventurous freedom of his
thoughts. He was a little sleepy too, and felt a pleasurable languor
running through every limb as though all the blood in his body had
turned to warm milk. His skipper had come up noiselessly, in pyjamas and
with his sleeping-jacket flung wide open. Red of face, only half awake,
the left eye partly closed, the right staring stupid and glassy, he hung
his big head over the chart and scratched his ribs sleepily. There was
something obscene in the sight of his naked flesh. His bared breast
glistened soft and greasy as though he had sweated out his fat in his
sleep. He pronounced a professional remark in a voice harsh and dead,
resembling the rasping sound of a wood-file on the edge of a plank; the
fold of his double chin hung like a bag triced up close under the hinge
of his jaw. Jim started, and his answer was full of deference; but
the odious and fleshy figure, as though seen for the first time in a
revealing moment, fixed itself in his memory for ever as the incarnation
of everything vile and base that lurks in the world we love: in our own
hearts we trust for our salvation, in the men that surround us, in the
sights that fill our eyes, in the sounds that fill our ears, and in the
air that fills our lungs.

The thin gold shaving of the moon floating slowly downwards had lost
itself on the darkened surface of the waters, and the eternity beyond
the sky seemed to come down nearer to the earth, with the augmented
glitter of the stars, with the more profound sombreness in the lustre of
the half-transparent dome covering the flat disc of an opaque sea. The
ship moved so smoothly that her onward motion was imperceptible to the
senses of men, as though she had been a crowded planet speeding through
the dark spaces of ether behind the swarm of suns, in the appalling and
calm solitudes awaiting the breath of future creations. 'Hot is no name
for it down below,' said a voice.

Jim smiled without looking round. The skipper presented an unmoved
breadth of back: it was the renegade's trick to appear pointedly unaware
of your existence unless it suited his purpose to turn at you with a
devouring glare before he let loose a torrent of foamy, abusive jargon
that came like a gush from a sewer. Now he emitted only a sulky grunt;
the second engineer at the head of the bridge-ladder, kneading with
damp palms a dirty sweat-rag, unabashed, continued the tale of his
complaints. The sailors had a good time of it up here, and what was the
use of them in the world he would be blowed if he could see. The poor
devils of engineers had to get the ship along anyhow, and they could
very well do the rest too; by gosh they--'Shut up!' growled the German
stolidly. 'Oh yes! Shut up--and when anything goes wrong you fly to
us, don't you?' went on the other. He was more than half cooked, he
expected; but anyway, now, he did not mind how much he sinned, because
these last three days he had passed through a fine course of training
for the place where the bad boys go when they die--b'gosh, he
had--besides being made jolly well deaf by the blasted racket below.
The durned, compound, surface-condensing, rotten scrap-heap rattled and
banged down there like an old deck-winch, only more so; and what made
him risk his life every night and day that God made amongst the refuse
of a breaking-up yard flying round at fifty-seven revolutions, was more
than _he_ could tell. He must have been born reckless, b'gosh.
He . . . 'Where did you get drink?' inquired the German, very savage; but
motionless in the light of the binnacle, like a clumsy effigy of a
man cut out of a block of fat. Jim went on smiling at the retreating
horizon; his heart was full of generous impulses, and his thought was
contemplating his own superiority. 'Drink!' repeated the engineer with
amiable scorn: he was hanging on with both hands to the rail, a shadowy
figure with flexible legs. 'Not from you, captain. You're far too mean,
b'gosh. You would let a good man die sooner than give him a drop of
schnapps. That's what you Germans call economy. Penny wise, pound
foolish.' He became sentimental. The chief had given him a four-finger
nip about ten o'clock--'only one, s'elp me!'--good old chief; but as to
getting the old fraud out of his bunk--a five-ton crane couldn't do
it. Not it. Not to-night anyhow. He was sleeping sweetly like a little
child, with a bottle of prime brandy under his pillow. From the thick
throat of the commander of the Patna came a low rumble, on which the
sound of the word schwein fluttered high and low like a capricious
feather in a faint stir of air. He and the chief engineer had been
cronies for a good few years--serving the same jovial, crafty, old
Chinaman, with horn-rimmed goggles and strings of red silk plaited into
the venerable grey hairs of his pigtail. The quay-side opinion in the
Patna's home-port was that these two in the way of brazen peculation
'had done together pretty well everything you can think of.' Outwardly
they were badly matched: one dull-eyed, malevolent, and of soft fleshy
curves; the other lean, all hollows, with a head long and bony like the
head of an old horse, with sunken cheeks, with sunken temples, with an
indifferent glazed glance of sunken eyes. He had been stranded out East
somewhere--in Canton, in Shanghai, or perhaps in Yokohama; he probably
did not care to remember himself the exact locality, nor yet the cause
of his shipwreck. He had been, in mercy to his youth, kicked quietly
out of his ship twenty years ago or more, and it might have been so much
worse for him that the memory of the episode had in it hardly a trace
of misfortune. Then, steam navigation expanding in these seas and men
of his craft being scarce at first, he had 'got on' after a sort. He
was eager to let strangers know in a dismal mumble that he was 'an old
stager out here.' When he moved, a skeleton seemed to sway loose in his
clothes; his walk was mere wandering, and he was given to wander thus
around the engine-room skylight, smoking, without relish, doctored
tobacco in a brass bowl at the end of a cherrywood stem four feet long,
with the imbecile gravity of a thinker evolving a system of philosophy
from the hazy glimpse of a truth. He was usually anything but free with
his private store of liquor; but on that night he had departed from his
principles, so that his second, a weak-headed child of Wapping, what
with the unexpectedness of the treat and the strength of the stuff,
had become very happy, cheeky, and talkative. The fury of the New South
Wales German was extreme; he puffed like an exhaust-pipe, and Jim,
faintly amused by the scene, was impatient for the time when he could
get below: the last ten minutes of the watch were irritating like a
gun that hangs fire; those men did not belong to the world of heroic
adventure; they weren't bad chaps though. Even the skipper himself . . .
His gorge rose at the mass of panting flesh from which issued
gurgling mutters, a cloudy trickle of filthy expressions; but he was
too pleasurably languid to dislike actively this or any other thing. The
quality of these men did not matter; he rubbed shoulders with them, but
they could not touch him; he shared the air they breathed, but he was
different. . . . Would the skipper go for the engineer? . . . The life
was easy and he was too sure of himself--too sure of himself to . . .
The line dividing his meditation from a surreptitious doze on his feet
was thinner than a thread in a spider's web.

The second engineer was coming by easy transitions to the consideration
of his finances and of his courage.

'Who's drunk? I? No, no, captain! That won't do. You ought to know by
this time the chief ain't free-hearted enough to make a sparrow drunk,
b'gosh. I've never been the worse for liquor in my life; the stuff ain't
made yet that would make _me_ drunk. I could drink liquid fire against
your whisky peg for peg, b'gosh, and keep as cool as a cucumber. If I
thought I was drunk I would jump overboard--do away with myself, b'gosh.
I would! Straight! And I won't go off the bridge. Where do you expect
me to take the air on a night like this, eh? On deck amongst that vermin
down there? Likely--ain't it! And I am not afraid of anything you can
do.'

The German lifted two heavy fists to heaven and shook them a little
without a word.

'I don't know what fear is,' pursued the engineer, with the enthusiasm
of sincere conviction. 'I am not afraid of doing all the bloomin' work
in this rotten hooker, b'gosh! And a jolly good thing for you that there
are some of us about the world that aren't afraid of their lives, or
where would you be--you and this old thing here with her plates like
brown paper--brown paper, s'elp me? It's all very fine for you--you
get a power of pieces out of her one way and another; but what about
me--what do I get? A measly hundred and fifty dollars a month and
find yourself. I wish to ask you respectfully--respectfully, mind--who
wouldn't chuck a dratted job like this? 'Tain't safe, s'elp me, it
ain't! Only I am one of them fearless fellows . . .'

He let go the rail and made ample gestures as if demonstrating in
the air the shape and extent of his valour; his thin voice darted in
prolonged squeaks upon the sea, he tiptoed back and forth for the better
emphasis of utterance, and suddenly pitched down head-first as though he
had been clubbed from behind. He said 'Damn!' as he tumbled; an instant
of silence followed upon his screeching: Jim and the skipper staggered
forward by common accord, and catching themselves up, stood very stiff
and still gazing, amazed, at the undisturbed level of the sea. Then they
looked upwards at the stars.

What had happened? The wheezy thump of the engines went on. Had the
earth been checked in her course? They could not understand; and
suddenly the calm sea, the sky without a cloud, appeared formidably
insecure in their immobility, as if poised on the brow of yawning
destruction. The engineer rebounded vertically full length and collapsed
again into a vague heap. This heap said 'What's that?' in the muffled
accents of profound grief. A faint noise as of thunder, of thunder
infinitely remote, less than a sound, hardly more than a vibration,
passed slowly, and the ship quivered in response, as if the thunder had
growled deep down in the water. The eyes of the two Malays at the wheel
glittered towards the white men, but their dark hands remained closed
on the spokes. The sharp hull driving on its way seemed to rise a few
inches in succession through its whole length, as though it had become
pliable, and settled down again rigidly to its work of cleaving the
smooth surface of the sea. Its quivering stopped, and the faint noise
of thunder ceased all at once, as though the ship had steamed across a
narrow belt of vibrating water and of humming air.



CHAPTER 4


A month or so afterwards, when Jim, in answer to pointed questions,
tried to tell honestly the truth of this experience, he said, speaking
of the ship: 'She went over whatever it was as easy as a snake crawling
over a stick.' The illustration was good: the questions were aiming at
facts, and the official Inquiry was being held in the police court of an
Eastern port. He stood elevated in the witness-box, with burning cheeks
in a cool lofty room: the big framework of punkahs moved gently to and
fro high above his head, and from below many eyes were looking at him
out of dark faces, out of white faces, out of red faces, out of faces
attentive, spellbound, as if all these people sitting in orderly rows
upon narrow benches had been enslaved by the fascination of his voice.
It was very loud, it rang startling in his own ears, it was the only
sound audible in the world, for the terribly distinct questions that
extorted his answers seemed to shape themselves in anguish and pain
within his breast,--came to him poignant and silent like the
terrible questioning of one's conscience. Outside the court the sun
blazed--within was the wind of great punkahs that made you shiver, the
shame that made you burn, the attentive eyes whose glance stabbed. The
face of the presiding magistrate, clean shaved and impassible, looked at
him deadly pale between the red faces of the two nautical assessors. The
light of a broad window under the ceiling fell from above on the heads
and shoulders of the three men, and they were fiercely distinct in the
half-light of the big court-room where the audience seemed composed of
staring shadows. They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him,
as if facts could explain anything!

'After you had concluded you had collided with something floating awash,
say a water-logged wreck, you were ordered by your captain to go forward
and ascertain if there was any damage done. Did you think it likely from
the force of the blow?' asked the assessor sitting to the left. He had
a thin horseshoe beard, salient cheek-bones, and with both elbows on
the desk clasped his rugged hands before his face, looking at Jim with
thoughtful blue eyes; the other, a heavy, scornful man, thrown back in
his seat, his left arm extended full length, drummed delicately with his
finger-tips on a blotting-pad: in the middle the magistrate upright in
the roomy arm-chair, his head inclined slightly on the shoulder, had his
arms crossed on his breast and a few flowers in a glass vase by the side
of his inkstand.

'I did not,' said Jim. 'I was told to call no one and to make no noise
for fear of creating a panic. I thought the precaution reasonable. I
took one of the lamps that were hung under the awnings and went forward.
After opening the forepeak hatch I heard splashing in there. I lowered
then the lamp the whole drift of its lanyard, and saw that the forepeak
was more than half full of water already. I knew then there must be a
big hole below the water-line.' He paused.

'Yes,' said the big assessor, with a dreamy smile at the blotting-pad;
his fingers played incessantly, touching the paper without noise.

'I did not think of danger just then. I might have been a little
startled: all this happened in such a quiet way and so very suddenly. I
knew there was no other bulkhead in the ship but the collision bulkhead
separating the forepeak from the forehold. I went back to tell the
captain. I came upon the second engineer getting up at the foot of the
bridge-ladder: he seemed dazed, and told me he thought his left arm was
broken; he had slipped on the top step when getting down while I was
forward. He exclaimed, "My God! That rotten bulkhead'll give way in a
minute, and the damned thing will go down under us like a lump of lead."
He pushed me away with his right arm and ran before me up the ladder,
shouting as he climbed. His left arm hung by his side. I followed up in
time to see the captain rush at him and knock him down flat on his back.
He did not strike him again: he stood bending over him and speaking
angrily but quite low. I fancy he was asking him why the devil he didn't
go and stop the engines, instead of making a row about it on deck. I
heard him say, "Get up! Run! fly!" He swore also. The engineer slid down
the starboard ladder and bolted round the skylight to the engine-room
companion which was on the port side. He moaned as he ran. . . .'

He spoke slowly; he remembered swiftly and with extreme vividness; he
could have reproduced like an echo the moaning of the engineer for
the better information of these men who wanted facts. After his first
feeling of revolt he had come round to the view that only a meticulous
precision of statement would bring out the true horror behind the
appalling face of things. The facts those men were so eager to know had
been visible, tangible, open to the senses, occupying their place in
space and time, requiring for their existence a fourteen-hundred-ton
steamer and twenty-seven minutes by the watch; they made a whole that
had features, shades of expression, a complicated aspect that could be
remembered by the eye, and something else besides, something invisible,
a directing spirit of perdition that dwelt within, like a malevolent
soul in a detestable body. He was anxious to make this clear. This
had not been a common affair, everything in it had been of the utmost
importance, and fortunately he remembered everything. He wanted to go on
talking for truth's sake, perhaps for his own sake also; and while his
utterance was deliberate, his mind positively flew round and round the
serried circle of facts that had surged up all about him to cut him off
from the rest of his kind: it was like a creature that, finding itself
imprisoned within an enclosure of high stakes, dashes round and round,
distracted in the night, trying to find a weak spot, a crevice, a place
to scale, some opening through which it may squeeze itself and escape.
This awful activity of mind made him hesitate at times in his
speech. . . .

'The captain kept on moving here and there on the bridge; he seemed calm
enough, only he stumbled several times; and once as I stood speaking to
him he walked right into me as though he had been stone-blind. He made
no definite answer to what I had to tell. He mumbled to himself; all I
heard of it were a few words that sounded like "confounded steam!" and
"infernal steam!"--something about steam. I thought . . .'

He was becoming irrelevant; a question to the point cut short his
speech, like a pang of pain, and he felt extremely discouraged and
weary. He was coming to that, he was coming to that--and now, checked
brutally, he had to answer by yes or no. He answered truthfully by a
curt 'Yes, I did'; and fair of face, big of frame, with young, gloomy
eyes, he held his shoulders upright above the box while his soul writhed
within him. He was made to answer another question so much to the point
and so useless, then waited again. His mouth was tastelessly dry, as
though he had been eating dust, then salt and bitter as after a drink
of sea-water. He wiped his damp forehead, passed his tongue over parched
lips, felt a shiver run down his back. The big assessor had dropped his
eyelids, and drummed on without a sound, careless and mournful; the eyes
of the other above the sunburnt, clasped fingers seemed to glow with
kindliness; the magistrate had swayed forward; his pale face hovered
near the flowers, and then dropping sideways over the arm of his chair,
he rested his temple in the palm of his hand. The wind of the punkahs
eddied down on the heads, on the dark-faced natives wound about in
voluminous draperies, on the Europeans sitting together very hot and in
drill suits that seemed to fit them as close as their skins, and holding
their round pith hats on their knees; while gliding along the walls the
court peons, buttoned tight in long white coats, flitted rapidly to and
fro, running on bare toes, red-sashed, red turban on head, as noiseless
as ghosts, and on the alert like so many retrievers.

Jim's eyes, wandering in the intervals of his answers, rested upon a
white man who sat apart from the others, with his face worn and clouded,
but with quiet eyes that glanced straight, interested and clear. Jim
answered another question and was tempted to cry out, 'What's the good
of this! what's the good!' He tapped with his foot slightly, bit his
lip, and looked away over the heads. He met the eyes of the white man.
The glance directed at him was not the fascinated stare of the others.
It was an act of intelligent volition. Jim between two questions forgot
himself so far as to find leisure for a thought. This fellow--ran the
thought--looks at me as though he could see somebody or something past
my shoulder. He had come across that man before--in the street perhaps.
He was positive he had never spoken to him. For days, for many days,
he had spoken to no one, but had held silent, incoherent, and endless
converse with himself, like a prisoner alone in his cell or like a
wayfarer lost in a wilderness. At present he was answering questions
that did not matter though they had a purpose, but he doubted whether
he would ever again speak out as long as he lived. The sound of his own
truthful statements confirmed his deliberate opinion that speech was
of no use to him any longer. That man there seemed to be aware of his
hopeless difficulty. Jim looked at him, then turned away resolutely, as
after a final parting.

And later on, many times, in distant parts of the world, Marlow showed
himself willing to remember Jim, to remember him at length, in detail
and audibly.

Perhaps it would be after dinner, on a verandah draped in motionless
foliage and crowned with flowers, in the deep dusk speckled by fiery
cigar-ends. The elongated bulk of each cane-chair harboured a silent
listener. Now and then a small red glow would move abruptly, and
expanding light up the fingers of a languid hand, part of a face in
profound repose, or flash a crimson gleam into a pair of pensive eyes
overshadowed by a fragment of an unruffled forehead; and with the very
first word uttered Marlow's body, extended at rest in the seat, would
become very still, as though his spirit had winged its way back into the
lapse of time and were speaking through his lips from the past.



CHAPTER 5


'Oh yes. I attended the inquiry,' he would say, 'and to this day I
haven't left off wondering why I went. I am willing to believe each of
us has a guardian angel, if you fellows will concede to me that each of
us has a familiar devil as well. I want you to own up, because I don't
like to feel exceptional in any way, and I know I have him--the devil,
I mean. I haven't seen him, of course, but I go upon circumstantial
evidence. He is there right enough, and, being malicious, he lets me in
for that kind of thing. What kind of thing, you ask? Why, the inquiry
thing, the yellow-dog thing--you wouldn't think a mangy, native tyke
would be allowed to trip up people in the verandah of a magistrate's
court, would you?--the kind of thing that by devious, unexpected, truly
diabolical ways causes me to run up against men with soft spots, with
hard spots, with hidden plague spots, by Jove! and loosens their tongues
at the sight of me for their infernal confidences; as though, forsooth,
I had no confidences to make to myself, as though--God help me!--I
didn't have enough confidential information about myself to harrow my
own soul till the end of my appointed time. And what I have done to be
thus favoured I want to know. I declare I am as full of my own concerns
as the next man, and I have as much memory as the average pilgrim in
this valley, so you see I am not particularly fit to be a receptacle of
confessions. Then why? Can't tell--unless it be to make time pass away
after dinner. Charley, my dear chap, your dinner was extremely good, and
in consequence these men here look upon a quiet rubber as a tumultuous
occupation. They wallow in your good chairs and think to themselves,
"Hang exertion. Let that Marlow talk."

'Talk? So be it. And it's easy enough to talk of Master Jim, after a
good spread, two hundred feet above the sea-level, with a box of decent
cigars handy, on a blessed evening of freshness and starlight that would
make the best of us forget we are only on sufferance here and got to
pick our way in cross lights, watching every precious minute and every
irremediable step, trusting we shall manage yet to go out decently in
the end--but not so sure of it after all--and with dashed little help to
expect from those we touch elbows with right and left. Of course there
are men here and there to whom the whole of life is like an after-dinner
hour with a cigar; easy, pleasant, empty, perhaps enlivened by some
fable of strife to be forgotten before the end is told--before the end
is told--even if there happens to be any end to it.

'My eyes met his for the first time at that inquiry. You must know
that everybody connected in any way with the sea was there, because the
affair had been notorious for days, ever since that mysterious cable
message came from Aden to start us all cackling. I say mysterious,
because it was so in a sense though it contained a naked fact, about
as naked and ugly as a fact can well be. The whole waterside talked
of nothing else. First thing in the morning as I was dressing in my
state-room, I would hear through the bulkhead my Parsee Dubash jabbering
about the Patna with the steward, while he drank a cup of tea,
by favour, in the pantry. No sooner on shore I would meet some
acquaintance, and the first remark would be, "Did you ever hear of
anything to beat this?" and according to his kind the man would smile
cynically, or look sad, or let out a swear or two. Complete strangers
would accost each other familiarly, just for the sake of easing their
minds on the subject: every confounded loafer in the town came in for
a harvest of drinks over this affair: you heard of it in the harbour
office, at every ship-broker's, at your agent's, from whites, from
natives, from half-castes, from the very boatmen squatting half naked on
the stone steps as you went up--by Jove! There was some indignation, not
a few jokes, and no end of discussions as to what had become of them,
you know. This went on for a couple of weeks or more, and the opinion
that whatever was mysterious in this affair would turn out to be tragic
as well, began to prevail, when one fine morning, as I was standing
in the shade by the steps of the harbour office, I perceived four men
walking towards me along the quay. I wondered for a while where that
queer lot had sprung from, and suddenly, I may say, I shouted to myself,
"Here they are!"

'There they were, sure enough, three of them as large as life, and one
much larger of girth than any living man has a right to be, just landed
with a good breakfast inside of them from an outward-bound Dale Line
steamer that had come in about an hour after sunrise. There could be no
mistake; I spotted the jolly skipper of the Patna at the first glance:
the fattest man in the whole blessed tropical belt clear round that good
old earth of ours. Moreover, nine months or so before, I had come
across him in Samarang. His steamer was loading in the Roads, and he was
abusing the tyrannical institutions of the German empire, and soaking
himself in beer all day long and day after day in De Jongh's back-shop,
till De Jongh, who charged a guilder for every bottle without as much
as the quiver of an eyelid, would beckon me aside, and, with his little
leathery face all puckered up, declare confidentially, "Business is
business, but this man, captain, he make me very sick. Tfui!"

'I was looking at him from the shade. He was hurrying on a little in
advance, and the sunlight beating on him brought out his bulk in a
startling way. He made me think of a trained baby elephant walking
on hind-legs. He was extravagantly gorgeous too--got up in a soiled
sleeping-suit, bright green and deep orange vertical stripes, with a
pair of ragged straw slippers on his bare feet, and somebody's cast-off
pith hat, very dirty and two sizes too small for him, tied up with a
manilla rope-yarn on the top of his big head. You understand a man like
that hasn't the ghost of a chance when it comes to borrowing clothes.
Very well. On he came in hot haste, without a look right or left, passed
within three feet of me, and in the innocence of his heart went on
pelting upstairs into the harbour office to make his deposition, or
report, or whatever you like to call it.

'It appears he addressed himself in the first instance to the principal
shipping-master. Archie Ruthvel had just come in, and, as his story
goes, was about to begin his arduous day by giving a dressing-down to
his chief clerk. Some of you might have known him--an obliging little
Portuguese half-caste with a miserably skinny neck, and always on the
hop to get something from the shipmasters in the way of eatables--a
piece of salt pork, a bag of biscuits, a few potatoes, or what not. One
voyage, I recollect, I tipped him a live sheep out of the remnant of my
sea-stock: not that I wanted him to do anything for me--he couldn't,
you know--but because his childlike belief in the sacred right to
perquisites quite touched my heart. It was so strong as to be almost
beautiful. The race--the two races rather--and the climate . . .
However, never mind. I know where I have a friend for life.

'Well, Ruthvel says he was giving him a severe lecture--on official
morality, I suppose--when he heard a kind of subdued commotion at his
back, and turning his head he saw, in his own words, something round and
enormous, resembling a sixteen-hundred-weight sugar-hogshead wrapped in
striped flannelette, up-ended in the middle of the large floor space
in the office. He declares he was so taken aback that for quite an
appreciable time he did not realise the thing was alive, and sat still
wondering for what purpose and by what means that object had been
transported in front of his desk. The archway from the ante-room was
crowded with punkah-pullers, sweepers, police peons, the coxswain and
crew of the harbour steam-launch, all craning their necks and almost
climbing on each other's backs. Quite a riot. By that time the fellow
had managed to tug and jerk his hat clear of his head, and advanced with
slight bows at Ruthvel, who told me the sight was so discomposing that
for some time he listened, quite unable to make out what that apparition
wanted. It spoke in a voice harsh and lugubrious but intrepid, and
little by little it dawned upon Archie that this was a development of
the Patna case. He says that as soon as he understood who it was before
him he felt quite unwell--Archie is so sympathetic and easily upset--but
pulled himself together and shouted "Stop! I can't listen to you. You
must go to the Master Attendant. I can't possibly listen to you. Captain
Elliot is the man you want to see. This way, this way." He jumped
up, ran round that long counter, pulled, shoved: the other let him,
surprised but obedient at first, and only at the door of the private
office some sort of animal instinct made him hang back and snort like
a frightened bullock. "Look here! what's up? Let go! Look here!" Archie
flung open the door without knocking. "The master of the Patna, sir,"
he shouts. "Go in, captain." He saw the old man lift his head from some
writing so sharp that his nose-nippers fell off, banged the door to, and
fled to his desk, where he had some papers waiting for his signature:
but he says the row that burst out in there was so awful that he
couldn't collect his senses sufficiently to remember the spelling of
his own name. Archie's the most sensitive shipping-master in the two
hemispheres. He declares he felt as though he had thrown a man to a
hungry lion. No doubt the noise was great. I heard it down below, and I
have every reason to believe it was heard clear across the Esplanade as
far as the band-stand. Old father Elliot had a great stock of words and
could shout--and didn't mind who he shouted at either. He would have
shouted at the Viceroy himself. As he used to tell me: "I am as high as
I can get; my pension is safe. I've a few pounds laid by, and if they
don't like my notions of duty I would just as soon go home as not. I am
an old man, and I have always spoken my mind. All I care for now is to
see my girls married before I die." He was a little crazy on that
point. His three daughters were awfully nice, though they resembled him
amazingly, and on the mornings he woke up with a gloomy view of their
matrimonial prospects the office would read it in his eye and tremble,
because, they said, he was sure to have somebody for breakfast. However,
that morning he did not eat the renegade, but, if I may be allowed to
carry on the metaphor, chewed him up very small, so to speak, and--ah!
ejected him again.

'Thus in a very few moments I saw his monstrous bulk descend in haste
and stand still on the outer steps. He had stopped close to me for the
purpose of profound meditation: his large purple cheeks quivered. He
was biting his thumb, and after a while noticed me with a sidelong vexed
look. The other three chaps that had landed with him made a little group
waiting at some distance. There was a sallow-faced, mean little chap
with his arm in a sling, and a long individual in a blue flannel coat,
as dry as a chip and no stouter than a broomstick, with drooping grey
moustaches, who looked about him with an air of jaunty imbecility. The
third was an upstanding, broad-shouldered youth, with his hands in his
pockets, turning his back on the other two who appeared to be talking
together earnestly. He stared across the empty Esplanade. A ramshackle
gharry, all dust and venetian blinds, pulled up short opposite the
group, and the driver, throwing up his right foot over his knee, gave
himself up to the critical examination of his toes. The young chap,
making no movement, not even stirring his head, just stared into the
sunshine. This was my first view of Jim. He looked as unconcerned and
unapproachable as only the young can look. There he stood, clean-limbed,
clean-faced, firm on his feet, as promising a boy as the sun ever shone
on; and, looking at him, knowing all he knew and a little more too, I
was as angry as though I had detected him trying to get something out of
me by false pretences. He had no business to look so sound. I thought
to myself--well, if this sort can go wrong like that . . . and I felt
as though I could fling down my hat and dance on it from sheer
mortification, as I once saw the skipper of an Italian barque do because
his duffer of a mate got into a mess with his anchors when making a
flying moor in a roadstead full of ships. I asked myself, seeing him
there apparently so much at ease--is he silly? is he callous? He seemed
ready to start whistling a tune. And note, I did not care a rap about
the behaviour of the other two. Their persons somehow fitted the tale
that was public property, and was going to be the subject of an official
inquiry. "That old mad rogue upstairs called me a hound," said the
captain of the Patna. I can't tell whether he recognised me--I rather
think he did; but at any rate our glances met. He glared--I smiled;
hound was the very mildest epithet that had reached me through the open
window. "Did he?" I said from some strange inability to hold my tongue.
He nodded, bit his thumb again, swore under his breath: then lifting his
head and looking at me with sullen and passionate impudence--"Bah! the
Pacific is big, my friendt. You damned Englishmen can do your worst; I
know where there's plenty room for a man like me: I am well aguaindt
in Apia, in Honolulu, in . . ." He paused reflectively, while without
effort I could depict to myself the sort of people he was "aguaindt"
with in those places. I won't make a secret of it that I had been
"aguaindt" with not a few of that sort myself. There are times when
a man must act as though life were equally sweet in any company. I've
known such a time, and, what's more, I shan't now pretend to pull a long
face over my necessity, because a good many of that bad company from
want of moral--moral--what shall I say?--posture, or from some other
equally profound cause, were twice as instructive and twenty times more
amusing than the usual respectable thief of commerce you fellows ask
to sit at your table without any real necessity--from habit, from
cowardice, from good-nature, from a hundred sneaking and inadequate
reasons.

'"You Englishmen are all rogues," went on my patriotic Flensborg or
Stettin Australian. I really don't recollect now what decent little
port on the shores of the Baltic was defiled by being the nest of that
precious bird. "What are you to shout? Eh? You tell me? You no better
than other people, and that old rogue he make Gottam fuss with me." His
thick carcass trembled on its legs that were like a pair of pillars; it
trembled from head to foot. "That's what you English always make--make
a tam' fuss--for any little thing, because I was not born in your
tam' country. Take away my certificate. Take it. I don't want the
certificate. A man like me don't want your verfluchte certificate. I
shpit on it." He spat. "I vill an Amerigan citizen begome," he cried,
fretting and fuming and shuffling his feet as if to free his ankles from
some invisible and mysterious grasp that would not let him get away
from that spot. He made himself so warm that the top of his bullet head
positively smoked. Nothing mysterious prevented me from going away:
curiosity is the most obvious of sentiments, and it held me there to see
the effect of a full information upon that young fellow who, hands
in pockets, and turning his back upon the sidewalk, gazed across the
grass-plots of the Esplanade at the yellow portico of the Malabar Hotel
with the air of a man about to go for a walk as soon as his friend is
ready. That's how he looked, and it was odious. I waited to see him
overwhelmed, confounded, pierced through and through, squirming like an
impaled beetle--and I was half afraid to see it too--if you understand
what I mean. Nothing more awful than to watch a man who has been found
out, not in a crime but in a more than criminal weakness. The commonest
sort of fortitude prevents us from becoming criminals in a legal sense;
it is from weakness unknown, but perhaps suspected, as in some parts of
the world you suspect a deadly snake in every bush--from weakness
that may lie hidden, watched or unwatched, prayed against or manfully
scorned, repressed or maybe ignored more than half a lifetime, not one
of us is safe. We are snared into doing things for which we get called
names, and things for which we get hanged, and yet the spirit may well
survive--survive the condemnation, survive the halter, by Jove! And
there are things--they look small enough sometimes too--by which some of
us are totally and completely undone. I watched the youngster there.
I liked his appearance; I knew his appearance; he came from the right
place; he was one of us. He stood there for all the parentage of his
kind, for men and women by no means clever or amusing, but whose very
existence is based upon honest faith, and upon the instinct of courage.
I don't mean military courage, or civil courage, or any special kind of
courage. I mean just that inborn ability to look temptations straight in
the face--a readiness unintellectual enough, goodness knows, but without
pose--a power of resistance, don't you see, ungracious if you like, but
priceless--an unthinking and blessed stiffness before the outward and
inward terrors, before the might of nature and the seductive corruption
of men--backed by a faith invulnerable to the strength of facts, to the
contagion of example, to the solicitation of ideas. Hang ideas! They are
tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back-door of your mind, each taking
a little of your substance, each carrying away some crumb of that belief
in a few simple notions you must cling to if you want to live decently
and would like to die easy!

'This has nothing to do with Jim, directly; only he was outwardly so
typical of that good, stupid kind we like to feel marching right and
left of us in life, of the kind that is not disturbed by the vagaries of
intelligence and the perversions of--of nerves, let us say. He was the
kind of fellow you would, on the strength of his looks, leave in charge
of the deck--figuratively and professionally speaking. I say I would,
and I ought to know. Haven't I turned out youngsters enough in my time,
for the service of the Red Rag, to the craft of the sea, to the craft
whose whole secret could be expressed in one short sentence, and yet
must be driven afresh every day into young heads till it becomes the
component part of every waking thought--till it is present in every
dream of their young sleep! The sea has been good to me, but when I
remember all these boys that passed through my hands, some grown up now
and some drowned by this time, but all good stuff for the sea, I don't
think I have done badly by it either. Were I to go home to-morrow, I bet
that before two days passed over my head some sunburnt young chief mate
would overtake me at some dock gateway or other, and a fresh deep voice
speaking above my hat would ask: "Don't you remember me, sir? Why!
little So-and-so. Such and such a ship. It was my first voyage." And I
would remember a bewildered little shaver, no higher than the back of
this chair, with a mother and perhaps a big sister on the quay, very
quiet but too upset to wave their handkerchiefs at the ship that glides
out gently between the pier-heads; or perhaps some decent middle-aged
father who had come early with his boy to see him off, and stays all the
morning, because he is interested in the windlass apparently, and stays
too long, and has got to scramble ashore at last with no time at all
to say good-bye. The mud pilot on the poop sings out to me in a drawl,
"Hold her with the check line for a moment, Mister Mate. There's a
gentleman wants to get ashore. . . . Up with you, sir. Nearly got
carried off to Talcahuano, didn't you? Now's your time; easy does
it. . . . All right. Slack away again forward there." The tugs, smoking
like the pit of perdition, get hold and churn the old river into fury;
the gentleman ashore is dusting his knees--the benevolent steward has
shied his umbrella after him. All very proper. He has offered his bit of
sacrifice to the sea, and now he may go home pretending he thinks
nothing of it; and the little willing victim shall be very sea-sick
before next morning. By-and-by, when he has learned all the little
mysteries and the one great secret of the craft, he shall be fit to live
or die as the sea may decree; and the man who had taken a hand in this
fool game, in which the sea wins every toss, will be pleased to have his
back slapped by a heavy young hand, and to hear a cheery sea-puppy
voice: "Do you remember me, sir? The little So-and-so."

'I tell you this is good; it tells you that once in your life at least
you had gone the right way to work. I have been thus slapped, and I have
winced, for the slap was heavy, and I have glowed all day long and gone
to bed feeling less lonely in the world by virtue of that hearty thump.
Don't I remember the little So-and-so's! I tell you I ought to know the
right kind of looks. I would have trusted the deck to that youngster on
the strength of a single glance, and gone to sleep with both eyes--and,
by Jove! it wouldn't have been safe. There are depths of horror in that
thought. He looked as genuine as a new sovereign, but there was some
infernal alloy in his metal. How much? The least thing--the least
drop of something rare and accursed; the least drop!--but he made
you--standing there with his don't-care-hang air--he made you wonder
whether perchance he were nothing more rare than brass.

'I couldn't believe it. I tell you I wanted to see him squirm for
the honour of the craft. The other two no-account chaps spotted their
captain, and began to move slowly towards us. They chatted together as
they strolled, and I did not care any more than if they had not been
visible to the naked eye. They grinned at each other--might have been
exchanging jokes, for all I know. I saw that with one of them it was a
case of a broken arm; and as to the long individual with grey moustaches
he was the chief engineer, and in various ways a pretty notorious
personality. They were nobodies. They approached. The skipper gazed
in an inanimate way between his feet: he seemed to be swollen to an
unnatural size by some awful disease, by the mysterious action of an
unknown poison. He lifted his head, saw the two before him waiting,
opened his mouth with an extraordinary, sneering contortion of his
puffed face--to speak to them, I suppose--and then a thought seemed to
strike him. His thick, purplish lips came together without a sound, he
went off in a resolute waddle to the gharry and began to jerk at the
door-handle with such a blind brutality of impatience that I expected to
see the whole concern overturned on its side, pony and all. The driver,
shaken out of his meditation over the sole of his foot, displayed at
once all the signs of intense terror, and held with both hands, looking
round from his box at this vast carcass forcing its way into his
conveyance. The little machine shook and rocked tumultuously, and the
crimson nape of that lowered neck, the size of those straining thighs,
the immense heaving of that dingy, striped green-and-orange back, the
whole burrowing effort of that gaudy and sordid mass, troubled one's
sense of probability with a droll and fearsome effect, like one of those
grotesque and distinct visions that scare and fascinate one in a fever.
He disappeared. I half expected the roof to split in two, the little box
on wheels to burst open in the manner of a ripe cotton-pod--but it only
sank with a click of flattened springs, and suddenly one venetian blind
rattled down. His shoulders reappeared, jammed in the small opening; his
head hung out, distended and tossing like a captive balloon, perspiring,
furious, spluttering. He reached for the gharry-wallah with vicious
flourishes of a fist as dumpy and red as a lump of raw meat. He roared
at him to be off, to go on. Where? Into the Pacific, perhaps. The driver
lashed; the pony snorted, reared once, and darted off at a gallop.
Where? To Apia? To Honolulu? He had 6000 miles of tropical belt to
disport himself in, and I did not hear the precise address. A snorting
pony snatched him into "Ewigkeit" in the twinkling of an eye, and I
never saw him again; and, what's more, I don't know of anybody that ever
had a glimpse of him after he departed from my knowledge sitting inside
a ramshackle little gharry that fled round the corner in a white smother
of dust. He departed, disappeared, vanished, absconded; and absurdly
enough it looked as though he had taken that gharry with him, for
never again did I come across a sorrel pony with a slit ear and a
lackadaisical Tamil driver afflicted by a sore foot. The Pacific is
indeed big; but whether he found a place for a display of his talents
in it or not, the fact remains he had flown into space like a witch on a
broomstick. The little chap with his arm in a sling started to run after
the carriage, bleating, "Captain! I say, Captain! I sa-a-ay!"--but after
a few steps stopped short, hung his head, and walked back slowly. At the
sharp rattle of the wheels the young fellow spun round where he stood.
He made no other movement, no gesture, no sign, and remained facing in
the new direction after the gharry had swung out of sight.

'All this happened in much less time than it takes to tell, since I am
trying to interpret for you into slow speech the instantaneous effect of
visual impressions. Next moment the half-caste clerk, sent by Archie
to look a little after the poor castaways of the Patna, came upon the
scene. He ran out eager and bareheaded, looking right and left, and
very full of his mission. It was doomed to be a failure as far as the
principal person was concerned, but he approached the others with fussy
importance, and, almost immediately, found himself involved in a violent
altercation with the chap that carried his arm in a sling, and who
turned out to be extremely anxious for a row. He wasn't going to be
ordered about--"not he, b'gosh." He wouldn't be terrified with a pack
of lies by a cocky half-bred little quill-driver. He was not going to be
bullied by "no object of that sort," if the story were true "ever so"!
He bawled his wish, his desire, his determination to go to bed. "If you
weren't a God-forsaken Portuguee," I heard him yell, "you would know
that the hospital is the right place for me." He pushed the fist of
his sound arm under the other's nose; a crowd began to collect; the
half-caste, flustered, but doing his best to appear dignified, tried to
explain his intentions. I went away without waiting to see the end.

'But it so happened that I had a man in the hospital at the time, and
going there to see about him the day before the opening of the Inquiry,
I saw in the white men's ward that little chap tossing on his back, with
his arm in splints, and quite light-headed. To my great surprise the
other one, the long individual with drooping white moustache, had also
found his way there. I remembered I had seen him slinking away during
the quarrel, in a half prance, half shuffle, and trying very hard not
to look scared. He was no stranger to the port, it seems, and in his
distress was able to make tracks straight for Mariani's billiard-room
and grog-shop near the bazaar. That unspeakable vagabond, Mariani, who
had known the man and had ministered to his vices in one or two other
places, kissed the ground, in a manner of speaking, before him, and
shut him up with a supply of bottles in an upstairs room of his infamous
hovel. It appears he was under some hazy apprehension as to his personal
safety, and wished to be concealed. However, Mariani told me a long time
after (when he came on board one day to dun my steward for the price
of some cigars) that he would have done more for him without asking
any questions, from gratitude for some unholy favour received very
many years ago--as far as I could make out. He thumped twice his brawny
chest, rolled enormous black-and-white eyes glistening with tears:
"Antonio never forget--Antonio never forget!" What was the precise
nature of the immoral obligation I never learned, but be it what it may,
he had every facility given him to remain under lock and key, with a
chair, a table, a mattress in a corner, and a litter of fallen plaster
on the floor, in an irrational state of funk, and keeping up his pecker
with such tonics as Mariani dispensed. This lasted till the evening of
the third day, when, after letting out a few horrible screams, he found
himself compelled to seek safety in flight from a legion of centipedes.
He burst the door open, made one leap for dear life down the crazy
little stairway, landed bodily on Mariani's stomach, picked himself up,
and bolted like a rabbit into the streets. The police plucked him off
a garbage-heap in the early morning. At first he had a notion they were
carrying him off to be hanged, and fought for liberty like a hero, but
when I sat down by his bed he had been very quiet for two days. His lean
bronzed head, with white moustaches, looked fine and calm on the pillow,
like the head of a war-worn soldier with a child-like soul, had it not
been for a hint of spectral alarm that lurked in the blank glitter of
his glance, resembling a nondescript form of a terror crouching silently
behind a pane of glass. He was so extremely calm, that I began to
indulge in the eccentric hope of hearing something explanatory of the
famous affair from his point of view. Why I longed to go grubbing into
the deplorable details of an occurrence which, after all, concerned me
no more than as a member of an obscure body of men held together by a
community of inglorious toil and by fidelity to a certain standard of
conduct, I can't explain. You may call it an unhealthy curiosity if you
like; but I have a distinct notion I wished to find something. Perhaps,
unconsciously, I hoped I would find that something, some profound and
redeeming cause, some merciful explanation, some convincing shadow of an
excuse. I see well enough now that I hoped for the impossible--for the
laying of what is the most obstinate ghost of man's creation, of the
uneasy doubt uprising like a mist, secret and gnawing like a worm, and
more chilling than the certitude of death--the doubt of the sovereign
power enthroned in a fixed standard of conduct. It is the hardest thing
to stumble against; it is the thing that breeds yelling panics and good
little quiet villainies; it's the true shadow of calamity. Did I believe
in a miracle? and why did I desire it so ardently? Was it for my own
sake that I wished to find some shadow of an excuse for that young
fellow whom I had never seen before, but whose appearance alone added a
touch of personal concern to the thoughts suggested by the knowledge of
his weakness--made it a thing of mystery and terror--like a hint of a
destructive fate ready for us all whose youth--in its day--had resembled
his youth? I fear that such was the secret motive of my prying. I was,
and no mistake, looking for a miracle. The only thing that at
this distance of time strikes me as miraculous is the extent of my
imbecility. I positively hoped to obtain from that battered and shady
invalid some exorcism against the ghost of doubt. I must have been
pretty desperate too, for, without loss of time, after a few indifferent
and friendly sentences which he answered with languid readiness, just as
any decent sick man would do, I produced the word Patna wrapped up in a
delicate question as in a wisp of floss silk. I was delicate selfishly;
I did not want to startle him; I had no solicitude for him; I was not
furious with him and sorry for him: his experience was of no importance,
his redemption would have had no point for me. He had grown old in minor
iniquities, and could no longer inspire aversion or pity. He repeated
Patna? interrogatively, seemed to make a short effort of memory, and
said: "Quite right. I am an old stager out here. I saw her go down." I
made ready to vent my indignation at such a stupid lie, when he added
smoothly, "She was full of reptiles."

'This made me pause. What did he mean? The unsteady phantom of terror
behind his glassy eyes seemed to stand still and look into mine
wistfully. "They turned me out of my bunk in the middle watch to look
at her sinking," he pursued in a reflective tone. His voice sounded
alarmingly strong all at once. I was sorry for my folly. There was
no snowy-winged coif of a nursing sister to be seen flitting in the
perspective of the ward; but away in the middle of a long row of empty
iron bedsteads an accident case from some ship in the Roads sat up brown
and gaunt with a white bandage set rakishly on the forehead. Suddenly my
interesting invalid shot out an arm thin like a tentacle and clawed
my shoulder. "Only my eyes were good enough to see. I am famous for my
eyesight. That's why they called me, I expect. None of them was quick
enough to see her go, but they saw that she was gone right enough, and
sang out together--like this." . . . A wolfish howl searched the very
recesses of my soul. "Oh! make 'im dry up," whined the accident case
irritably. "You don't believe me, I suppose," went on the other, with
an air of ineffable conceit. "I tell you there are no such eyes as mine
this side of the Persian Gulf. Look under the bed."

'Of course I stooped instantly. I defy anybody not to have done so.
"What can you see?" he asked. "Nothing," I said, feeling awfully ashamed
of myself. He scrutinised my face with wild and withering contempt.
"Just so," he said, "but if I were to look I could see--there's no eyes
like mine, I tell you." Again he clawed, pulling at me downwards in his
eagerness to relieve himself by a confidential communication. "Millions
of pink toads. There's no eyes like mine. Millions of pink toads. It's
worse than seeing a ship sink. I could look at sinking ships and smoke
my pipe all day long. Why don't they give me back my pipe? I would get
a smoke while I watched these toads. The ship was full of them. They've
got to be watched, you know." He winked facetiously. The perspiration
dripped on him off my head, my drill coat clung to my wet back: the
afternoon breeze swept impetuously over the row of bedsteads, the stiff
folds of curtains stirred perpendicularly, rattling on brass rods, the
covers of empty beds blew about noiselessly near the bare floor all
along the line, and I shivered to the very marrow. The soft wind of the
tropics played in that naked ward as bleak as a winter's gale in an old
barn at home. "Don't you let him start his hollering, mister," hailed
from afar the accident case in a distressed angry shout that came
ringing between the walls like a quavering call down a tunnel. The
clawing hand hauled at my shoulder; he leered at me knowingly. "The ship
was full of them, you know, and we had to clear out on the strict Q.T.,"
he whispered with extreme rapidity. "All pink. All pink--as big as
mastiffs, with an eye on the top of the head and claws all round their
ugly mouths. Ough! Ough!" Quick jerks as of galvanic shocks disclosed
under the flat coverlet the outlines of meagre and agitated legs; he let
go my shoulder and reached after something in the air; his body trembled
tensely like a released harp-string; and while I looked down, the
spectral horror in him broke through his glassy gaze. Instantly his face
of an old soldier, with its noble and calm outlines, became decomposed
before my eyes by the corruption of stealthy cunning, of an abominable
caution and of desperate fear. He restrained a cry--"Ssh! what are they
doing now down there?" he asked, pointing to the floor with fantastic
precautions of voice and gesture, whose meaning, borne upon my mind in a
lurid flash, made me very sick of my cleverness. "They are all asleep,"
I answered, watching him narrowly. That was it. That's what he wanted
to hear; these were the exact words that could calm him. He drew a long
breath. "Ssh! Quiet, steady. I am an old stager out here. I know them
brutes. Bash in the head of the first that stirs. There's too many of
them, and she won't swim more than ten minutes." He panted again. "Hurry
up," he yelled suddenly, and went on in a steady scream: "They are all
awake--millions of them. They are trampling on me! Wait! Oh, wait!
I'll smash them in heaps like flies. Wait for me! Help! H-e-elp!" An
interminable and sustained howl completed my discomfiture. I saw in
the distance the accident case raise deplorably both his hands to his
bandaged head; a dresser, aproned to the chin showed himself in the
vista of the ward, as if seen in the small end of a telescope. I
confessed myself fairly routed, and without more ado, stepping out
through one of the long windows, escaped into the outside gallery. The
howl pursued me like a vengeance. I turned into a deserted landing, and
suddenly all became very still and quiet around me, and I descended
the bare and shiny staircase in a silence that enabled me to compose my
distracted thoughts. Down below I met one of the resident surgeons
who was crossing the courtyard and stopped me. "Been to see your man,
Captain? I think we may let him go to-morrow. These fools have no
notion of taking care of themselves, though. I say, we've got the chief
engineer of that pilgrim ship here. A curious case. D.T.'s of the worst
kind. He has been drinking hard in that Greek's or Italian's grog-shop
for three days. What can you expect? Four bottles of that kind of brandy
a day, I am told. Wonderful, if true. Sheeted with boiler-iron inside I
should think. The head, ah! the head, of course, gone, but the curious
part is there's some sort of method in his raving. I am trying to
find out. Most unusual--that thread of logic in such a delirium.
Traditionally he ought to see snakes, but he doesn't. Good old
tradition's at a discount nowadays. Eh! His--er--visions are batrachian.
Ha! ha! No, seriously, I never remember being so interested in a case
of jim-jams before. He ought to be dead, don't you know, after such a
festive experiment. Oh! he is a tough object. Four-and-twenty years of
the tropics too. You ought really to take a peep at him. Noble-looking
old boozer. Most extraordinary man I ever met--medically, of course.
Won't you?"

'I have been all along exhibiting the usual polite signs of interest,
but now assuming an air of regret I murmured of want of time, and shook
hands in a hurry. "I say," he cried after me; "he can't attend that
inquiry. Is his evidence material, you think?"

'"Not in the least," I called back from the gateway.'



CHAPTER 6


'The authorities were evidently of the same opinion. The inquiry was not
adjourned. It was held on the appointed day to satisfy the law, and it
was well attended because of its human interest, no doubt. There was no
incertitude as to facts--as to the one material fact, I mean. How the
Patna came by her hurt it was impossible to find out; the court did not
expect to find out; and in the whole audience there was not a man who
cared. Yet, as I've told you, all the sailors in the port attended, and
the waterside business was fully represented. Whether they knew it or
not, the interest that drew them here was purely psychological--the
expectation of some essential disclosure as to the strength, the power,
the horror, of human emotions. Naturally nothing of the kind could be
disclosed. The examination of the only man able and willing to face
it was beating futilely round the well-known fact, and the play of
questions upon it was as instructive as the tapping with a hammer on
an iron box, were the object to find out what's inside. However, an
official inquiry could not be any other thing. Its object was not the
fundamental why, but the superficial how, of this affair.

'The young chap could have told them, and, though that very thing
was the thing that interested the audience, the questions put to him
necessarily led him away from what to me, for instance, would have
been the only truth worth knowing. You can't expect the constituted
authorities to inquire into the state of a man's soul--or is it only of
his liver? Their business was to come down upon the consequences, and
frankly, a casual police magistrate and two nautical assessors are not
much good for anything else. I don't mean to imply these fellows were
stupid. The magistrate was very patient. One of the assessors was a
sailing-ship skipper with a reddish beard, and of a pious disposition.
Brierly was the other. Big Brierly. Some of you must have heard of Big
Brierly--the captain of the crack ship of the Blue Star line. That's the
man.

'He seemed consumedly bored by the honour thrust upon him. He had never
in his life made a mistake, never had an accident, never a mishap,
never a check in his steady rise, and he seemed to be one of those lucky
fellows who know nothing of indecision, much less of self-mistrust.
At thirty-two he had one of the best commands going in the Eastern
trade--and, what's more, he thought a lot of what he had. There was
nothing like it in the world, and I suppose if you had asked him
point-blank he would have confessed that in his opinion there was not
such another commander. The choice had fallen upon the right man. The
rest of mankind that did not command the sixteen-knot steel steamer Ossa
were rather poor creatures. He had saved lives at sea, had rescued
ships in distress, had a gold chronometer presented to him by the
underwriters, and a pair of binoculars with a suitable inscription from
some foreign Government, in commemoration of these services. He was
acutely aware of his merits and of his rewards. I liked him well enough,
though some I know--meek, friendly men at that--couldn't stand him at
any price. I haven't the slightest doubt he considered himself vastly my
superior--indeed, had you been Emperor of East and West, you could not
have ignored your inferiority in his presence--but I couldn't get up any
real sentiment of offence. He did not despise me for anything I could
help, for anything I was--don't you know? I was a negligible quantity
simply because I was not _the_ fortunate man of the earth, not Montague
Brierly in command of the Ossa, not the owner of an inscribed gold
chronometer and of silver-mounted binoculars testifying to the
excellence of my seamanship and to my indomitable pluck; not possessed
of an acute sense of my merits and of my rewards, besides the love and
worship of a black retriever, the most wonderful of its kind--for never
was such a man loved thus by such a dog. No doubt, to have all this
forced upon you was exasperating enough; but when I reflected that I was
associated in these fatal disadvantages with twelve hundred millions of
other more or less human beings, I found I could bear my share of his
good-natured and contemptuous pity for the sake of something indefinite
and attractive in the man. I have never defined to myself this
attraction, but there were moments when I envied him. The sting of life
could do no more to his complacent soul than the scratch of a pin to the
smooth face of a rock. This was enviable. As I looked at him, flanking
on one side the unassuming pale-faced magistrate who presided at the
inquiry, his self-satisfaction presented to me and to the world a
surface as hard as granite. He committed suicide very soon after.

'No wonder Jim's case bored him, and while I thought with something
akin to fear of the immensity of his contempt for the young man under
examination, he was probably holding silent inquiry into his own case.
The verdict must have been of unmitigated guilt, and he took the secret
of the evidence with him in that leap into the sea. If I understand
anything of men, the matter was no doubt of the gravest import, one of
those trifles that awaken ideas--start into life some thought with which
a man unused to such a companionship finds it impossible to live. I am
in a position to know that it wasn't money, and it wasn't drink, and it
wasn't woman. He jumped overboard at sea barely a week after the end of
the inquiry, and less than three days after leaving port on his outward
passage; as though on that exact spot in the midst of waters he had
suddenly perceived the gates of the other world flung open wide for his
reception.

'Yet it was not a sudden impulse. His grey-headed mate, a first-rate
sailor and a nice old chap with strangers, but in his relations with
his commander the surliest chief officer I've ever seen, would tell the
story with tears in his eyes. It appears that when he came on deck in
the morning Brierly had been writing in the chart-room. "It was ten
minutes to four," he said, "and the middle watch was not relieved yet of
course. He heard my voice on the bridge speaking to the second mate, and
called me in. I was loth to go, and that's the truth, Captain Marlow--I
couldn't stand poor Captain Brierly, I tell you with shame; we never
know what a man is made of. He had been promoted over too many heads,
not counting my own, and he had a damnable trick of making you feel
small, nothing but by the way he said 'Good morning.' I never addressed
him, sir, but on matters of duty, and then it was as much as I could do
to keep a civil tongue in my head." (He flattered himself there. I often
wondered how Brierly could put up with his manners for more than half
a voyage.) "I've a wife and children," he went on, "and I had been ten
years in the Company, always expecting the next command--more fool I.
Says he, just like this: 'Come in here, Mr. Jones,' in that swagger
voice of his--'Come in here, Mr. Jones.' In I went. 'We'll lay down her
position,' says he, stooping over the chart, a pair of dividers in hand.
By the standing orders, the officer going off duty would have done that
at the end of his watch. However, I said nothing, and looked on while he
marked off the ship's position with a tiny cross and wrote the date and
the time. I can see him this moment writing his neat figures: seventeen,
eight, four A.M. The year would be written in red ink at the top of
the chart. He never used his charts more than a year, Captain Brierly
didn't. I've the chart now. When he had done he stands looking down
at the mark he had made and smiling to himself, then looks up at me.
'Thirty-two miles more as she goes,' says he, 'and then we shall be
clear, and you may alter the course twenty degrees to the southward.'

'"We were passing to the north of the Hector Bank that voyage. I said,
'All right, sir,' wondering what he was fussing about, since I had to
call him before altering the course anyhow. Just then eight bells were
struck: we came out on the bridge, and the second mate before going off
mentions in the usual way--'Seventy-one on the log.' Captain Brierly
looks at the compass and then all round. It was dark and clear, and
all the stars were out as plain as on a frosty night in high latitudes.
Suddenly he says with a sort of a little sigh: 'I am going aft, and
shall set the log at zero for you myself, so that there can be no
mistake. Thirty-two miles more on this course and then you are safe.
Let's see--the correction on the log is six per cent. additive; say,
then, thirty by the dial to run, and you may come twenty degrees to
starboard at once. No use losing any distance--is there?' I had never
heard him talk so much at a stretch, and to no purpose as it seemed
to me. I said nothing. He went down the ladder, and the dog, that was
always at his heels whenever he moved, night or day, followed,
sliding nose first, after him. I heard his boot-heels tap, tap on the
after-deck, then he stopped and spoke to the dog--'Go back, Rover. On
the bridge, boy! Go on--get.' Then he calls out to me from the dark,
'Shut that dog up in the chart-room, Mr. Jones--will you?'

'"This was the last time I heard his voice, Captain Marlow. These are
the last words he spoke in the hearing of any living human being, sir."
At this point the old chap's voice got quite unsteady. "He was afraid
the poor brute would jump after him, don't you see?" he pursued with
a quaver. "Yes, Captain Marlow. He set the log for me; he--would you
believe it?--he put a drop of oil in it too. There was the oil-feeder
where he left it near by. The boat-swain's mate got the hose along aft
to wash down at half-past five; by-and-by he knocks off and runs up on
the bridge--'Will you please come aft, Mr. Jones,' he says. 'There's a
funny thing. I don't like to touch it.' It was Captain Brierly's gold
chronometer watch carefully hung under the rail by its chain.

'"As soon as my eyes fell on it something struck me, and I knew, sir. My
legs got soft under me. It was as if I had seen him go over; and I could
tell how far behind he was left too. The taffrail-log marked eighteen
miles and three-quarters, and four iron belaying-pins were missing round
the mainmast. Put them in his pockets to help him down, I suppose; but,
Lord! what's four iron pins to a powerful man like Captain Brierly.
Maybe his confidence in himself was just shook a bit at the last. That's
the only sign of fluster he gave in his whole life, I should think; but
I am ready to answer for him, that once over he did not try to swim a
stroke, the same as he would have had pluck enough to keep up all day
long on the bare chance had he fallen overboard accidentally. Yes, sir.
He was second to none--if he said so himself, as I heard him once. He
had written two letters in the middle watch, one to the Company and the
other to me. He gave me a lot of instructions as to the passage--I had
been in the trade before he was out of his time--and no end of hints
as to my conduct with our people in Shanghai, so that I should keep the
command of the Ossa. He wrote like a father would to a favourite son,
Captain Marlow, and I was five-and-twenty years his senior and had
tasted salt water before he was fairly breeched. In his letter to the
owners--it was left open for me to see--he said that he had always done
his duty by them--up to that moment--and even now he was not betraying
their confidence, since he was leaving the ship to as competent a seaman
as could be found--meaning me, sir, meaning me! He told them that if
the last act of his life didn't take away all his credit with them, they
would give weight to my faithful service and to his warm recommendation,
when about to fill the vacancy made by his death. And much more like
this, sir. I couldn't believe my eyes. It made me feel queer all over,"
went on the old chap, in great perturbation, and squashing something
in the corner of his eye with the end of a thumb as broad as a spatula.
"You would think, sir, he had jumped overboard only to give an unlucky
man a last show to get on. What with the shock of him going in this
awful rash way, and thinking myself a made man by that chance, I was
nearly off my chump for a week. But no fear. The captain of the Pelion
was shifted into the Ossa--came aboard in Shanghai--a little popinjay,
sir, in a grey check suit, with his hair parted in the middle. 'Aw--I
am--aw--your new captain, Mister--Mister--aw--Jones.' He was drowned in
scent--fairly stunk with it, Captain Marlow. I dare say it was the look
I gave him that made him stammer. He mumbled something about my natural
disappointment--I had better know at once that his chief officer got
the promotion to the Pelion--he had nothing to do with it, of
course--supposed the office knew best--sorry. . . . Says I, 'Don't
you mind old Jones, sir; dam' his soul, he's used to it.' I could see
directly I had shocked his delicate ear, and while we sat at our first
tiffin together he began to find fault in a nasty manner with this and
that in the ship. I never heard such a voice out of a Punch and Judy
show. I set my teeth hard, and glued my eyes to my plate, and held my
peace as long as I could; but at last I had to say something. Up
he jumps tiptoeing, ruffling all his pretty plumes, like a little
fighting-cock. 'You'll find you have a different person to deal with
than the late Captain Brierly.' 'I've found it,' says I, very glum, but
pretending to be mighty busy with my steak. 'You are an old ruffian,
Mister--aw--Jones; and what's more, you are known for an old ruffian
in the employ,' he squeaks at me. The damned bottle-washers stood about
listening with their mouths stretched from ear to ear. 'I may be a hard
case,' answers I, 'but I ain't so far gone as to put up with the sight
of you sitting in Captain Brierly's chair.' With that I lay down my
knife and fork. 'You would like to sit in it yourself--that's where the
shoe pinches,' he sneers. I left the saloon, got my rags together, and
was on the quay with all my dunnage about my feet before the
stevedores had turned to again. Yes. Adrift--on shore--after ten years'
service--and with a poor woman and four children six thousand miles
off depending on my half-pay for every mouthful they ate. Yes, sir!
I chucked it rather than hear Captain Brierly abused. He left me his
night-glasses--here they are; and he wished me to take care of the
dog--here he is. Hallo, Rover, poor boy. Where's the captain, Rover?"
The dog looked up at us with mournful yellow eyes, gave one desolate
bark, and crept under the table.

'All this was taking place, more than two years afterwards, on board
that nautical ruin the Fire-Queen this Jones had got charge of--quite
by a funny accident, too--from Matherson--mad Matherson they generally
called him--the same who used to hang out in Hai-phong, you know, before
the occupation days. The old chap snuffled on--

'"Ay, sir, Captain Brierly will be remembered here, if there's no other
place on earth. I wrote fully to his father and did not get a word in
reply--neither Thank you, nor Go to the devil!--nothing! Perhaps they
did not want to know."

'The sight of that watery-eyed old Jones mopping his bald head with a
red cotton handkerchief, the sorrowing yelp of the dog, the squalor of
that fly-blown cuddy which was the only shrine of his memory, threw a
veil of inexpressibly mean pathos over Brierly's remembered figure, the
posthumous revenge of fate for that belief in his own splendour which
had almost cheated his life of its legitimate terrors. Almost! Perhaps
wholly. Who can tell what flattering view he had induced himself to take
of his own suicide?

'"Why did he commit the rash act, Captain Marlow--can you think?" asked
Jones, pressing his palms together. "Why? It beats me! Why?" He slapped
his low and wrinkled forehead. "If he had been poor and old and in
debt--and never a show--or else mad. But he wasn't of the kind that
goes mad, not he. You trust me. What a mate don't know about his skipper
isn't worth knowing. Young, healthy, well off, no cares. . . . I sit
here sometimes thinking, thinking, till my head fairly begins to buzz.
There was some reason."

'"You may depend on it, Captain Jones," said I, "it wasn't anything that
would have disturbed much either of us two," I said; and then, as if
a light had been flashed into the muddle of his brain, poor old Jones
found a last word of amazing profundity. He blew his nose, nodding at me
dolefully: "Ay, ay! neither you nor I, sir, had ever thought so much of
ourselves."

'Of course the recollection of my last conversation with Brierly is
tinged with the knowledge of his end that followed so close upon it. I
spoke with him for the last time during the progress of the inquiry. It
was after the first adjournment, and he came up with me in the street.
He was in a state of irritation, which I noticed with surprise, his
usual behaviour when he condescended to converse being perfectly
cool, with a trace of amused tolerance, as if the existence of his
interlocutor had been a rather good joke. "They caught me for that
inquiry, you see," he began, and for a while enlarged complainingly upon
the inconveniences of daily attendance in court. "And goodness knows how
long it will last. Three days, I suppose." I heard him out in silence;
in my then opinion it was a way as good as another of putting on side.
"What's the use of it? It is the stupidest set-out you can imagine," he
pursued hotly. I remarked that there was no option. He interrupted me
with a sort of pent-up violence. "I feel like a fool all the time." I
looked up at him. This was going very far--for Brierly--when talking of
Brierly. He stopped short, and seizing the lapel of my coat, gave it
a slight tug. "Why are we tormenting that young chap?" he asked. This
question chimed in so well to the tolling of a certain thought of mine
that, with the image of the absconding renegade in my eye, I answered
at once, "Hanged if I know, unless it be that he lets you." I was
astonished to see him fall into line, so to speak, with that utterance,
which ought to have been tolerably cryptic. He said angrily, "Why, yes.
Can't he see that wretched skipper of his has cleared out? What does he
expect to happen? Nothing can save him. He's done for." We walked on
in silence a few steps. "Why eat all that dirt?" he exclaimed, with an
oriental energy of expression--about the only sort of energy you can
find a trace of east of the fiftieth meridian. I wondered greatly at the
direction of his thoughts, but now I strongly suspect it was strictly in
character: at bottom poor Brierly must have been thinking of himself.
I pointed out to him that the skipper of the Patna was known to have
feathered his nest pretty well, and could procure almost anywhere the
means of getting away. With Jim it was otherwise: the Government was
keeping him in the Sailors' Home for the time being, and probably he
hadn't a penny in his pocket to bless himself with. It costs some money
to run away. "Does it? Not always," he said, with a bitter laugh, and
to some further remark of mine--"Well, then, let him creep twenty feet
underground and stay there! By heavens! _I_ would." I don't know why his
tone provoked me, and I said, "There is a kind of courage in facing
it out as he does, knowing very well that if he went away nobody would
trouble to run after hmm." "Courage be hanged!" growled Brierly. "That
sort of courage is of no use to keep a man straight, and I don't care
a snap for such courage. If you were to say it was a kind of cowardice
now--of softness. I tell you what, I will put up two hundred rupees if
you put up another hundred and undertake to make the beggar clear out
early to-morrow morning. The fellow's a gentleman if he ain't fit to
be touched--he will understand. He must! This infernal publicity is too
shocking: there he sits while all these confounded natives, serangs,
lascars, quartermasters, are giving evidence that's enough to burn a man
to ashes with shame. This is abominable. Why, Marlow, don't you think,
don't you feel, that this is abominable; don't you now--come--as a
seaman? If he went away all this would stop at once." Brierly said these
words with a most unusual animation, and made as if to reach after his
pocket-book. I restrained him, and declared coldly that the cowardice
of these four men did not seem to me a matter of such great importance.
"And you call yourself a seaman, I suppose," he pronounced angrily. I
said that's what I called myself, and I hoped I was too. He heard me
out, and made a gesture with his big arm that seemed to deprive me of
my individuality, to push me away into the crowd. "The worst of it," he
said, "is that all you fellows have no sense of dignity; you don't think
enough of what you are supposed to be."

'We had been walking slowly meantime, and now stopped opposite the
harbour office, in sight of the very spot from which the immense captain
of the Patna had vanished as utterly as a tiny feather blown away in a
hurricane. I smiled. Brierly went on: "This is a disgrace. We've got all
kinds amongst us--some anointed scoundrels in the lot; but, hang it, we
must preserve professional decency or we become no better than so many
tinkers going about loose. We are trusted. Do you understand?--trusted!
Frankly, I don't care a snap for all the pilgrims that ever came out of
Asia, but a decent man would not have behaved like this to a full cargo
of old rags in bales. We aren't an organised body of men, and the only
thing that holds us together is just the name for that kind of decency.
Such an affair destroys one's confidence. A man may go pretty near
through his whole sea-life without any call to show a stiff upper lip.
But when the call comes . . . Aha! . . . If I . . ."

'He broke off, and in a changed tone, "I'll give you two hundred rupees
now, Marlow, and you just talk to that chap. Confound him! I wish he had
never come out here. Fact is, I rather think some of my people know his.
The old man's a parson, and I remember now I met him once when staying
with my cousin in Essex last year. If I am not mistaken, the old
chap seemed rather to fancy his sailor son. Horrible. I can't do it
myself--but you . . ."

'Thus, apropos of Jim, I had a glimpse of the real Brierly a few days
before he committed his reality and his sham together to the keeping of
the sea. Of course I declined to meddle. The tone of this last "but
you" (poor Brierly couldn't help it), that seemed to imply I was no
more noticeable than an insect, caused me to look at the proposal with
indignation, and on account of that provocation, or for some other
reason, I became positive in my mind that the inquiry was a severe
punishment to that Jim, and that his facing it--practically of his own
free will--was a redeeming feature in his abominable case. I hadn't been
so sure of it before. Brierly went off in a huff. At the time his state
of mind was more of a mystery to me than it is now.

'Next day, coming into court late, I sat by myself. Of course I could
not forget the conversation I had with Brierly, and now I had them both
under my eyes. The demeanour of one suggested gloomy impudence and of
the other a contemptuous boredom; yet one attitude might not have been
truer than the other, and I was aware that one was not true. Brierly was
not bored--he was exasperated; and if so, then Jim might not have been
impudent. According to my theory he was not. I imagined he was hopeless.
Then it was that our glances met. They met, and the look he gave me was
discouraging of any intention I might have had to speak to him. Upon
either hypothesis--insolence or despair--I felt I could be of no use to
him. This was the second day of the proceedings. Very soon after that
exchange of glances the inquiry was adjourned again to the next day. The
white men began to troop out at once. Jim had been told to stand down
some time before, and was able to leave amongst the first. I saw his
broad shoulders and his head outlined in the light of the door, and
while I made my way slowly out talking with some one--some stranger who
had addressed me casually--I could see him from within the court-room
resting both elbows on the balustrade of the verandah and turning his
back on the small stream of people trickling down the few steps. There
was a murmur of voices and a shuffle of boots.

'The next case was that of assault and battery committed upon a
money-lender, I believe; and the defendant--a venerable villager with a
straight white beard--sat on a mat just outside the door with his sons,
daughters, sons-in-law, their wives, and, I should think, half the
population of his village besides, squatting or standing around him. A
slim dark woman, with part of her back and one black shoulder bared,
and with a thin gold ring in her nose, suddenly began to talk in a
high-pitched, shrewish tone. The man with me instinctively looked up
at her. We were then just through the door, passing behind Jim's burly
back.

'Whether those villagers had brought the yellow dog with them, I don't
know. Anyhow, a dog was there, weaving himself in and out amongst
people's legs in that mute stealthy way native dogs have, and my
companion stumbled over him. The dog leaped away without a sound; the
man, raising his voice a little, said with a slow laugh, "Look at that
wretched cur," and directly afterwards we became separated by a lot of
people pushing in. I stood back for a moment against the wall while the
stranger managed to get down the steps and disappeared. I saw Jim spin
round. He made a step forward and barred my way. We were alone; he
glared at me with an air of stubborn resolution. I became aware I was
being held up, so to speak, as if in a wood. The verandah was empty by
then, the noise and movement in court had ceased: a great silence fell
upon the building, in which, somewhere far within, an oriental voice
began to whine abjectly. The dog, in the very act of trying to sneak in
at the door, sat down hurriedly to hunt for fleas.

'"Did you speak to me?" asked Jim very low, and bending forward, not so
much towards me but at me, if you know what I mean. I said "No" at once.
Something in the sound of that quiet tone of his warned me to be on my
defence. I watched him. It was very much like a meeting in a wood, only
more uncertain in its issue, since he could possibly want neither my
money nor my life--nothing that I could simply give up or defend with
a clear conscience. "You say you didn't," he said, very sombre. "But I
heard." "Some mistake," I protested, utterly at a loss, and never taking
my eyes off him. To watch his face was like watching a darkening sky
before a clap of thunder, shade upon shade imperceptibly coming on, the
doom growing mysteriously intense in the calm of maturing violence.

'"As far as I know, I haven't opened my lips in your hearing," I
affirmed with perfect truth. I was getting a little angry, too, at the
absurdity of this encounter. It strikes me now I have never in my life
been so near a beating--I mean it literally; a beating with fists. I
suppose I had some hazy prescience of that eventuality being in the
air. Not that he was actively threatening me. On the contrary, he was
strangely passive--don't you know? but he was lowering, and, though not
exceptionally big, he looked generally fit to demolish a wall. The
most reassuring symptom I noticed was a kind of slow and ponderous
hesitation, which I took as a tribute to the evident sincerity of my
manner and of my tone. We faced each other. In the court the assault
case was proceeding. I caught the words: "Well--buffalo--stick--in the
greatness of my fear. . . ."

'"What did you mean by staring at me all the morning?" said Jim at last.
He looked up and looked down again. "Did you expect us all to sit with
downcast eyes out of regard for your susceptibilities?" I retorted
sharply. I was not going to submit meekly to any of his nonsense. He
raised his eyes again, and this time continued to look me straight
in the face. "No. That's all right," he pronounced with an air of
deliberating with himself upon the truth of this statement--"that's all
right. I am going through with that. Only"--and there he spoke a little
faster--"I won't let any man call me names outside this court. There was
a fellow with you. You spoke to him--oh yes--I know; 'tis all very fine.
You spoke to him, but you meant me to hear. . . ."

'I assured him he was under some extraordinary delusion. I had no
conception how it came about. "You thought I would be afraid to resent
this," he said, with just a faint tinge of bitterness. I was interested
enough to discern the slightest shades of expression, but I was not in
the least enlightened; yet I don't know what in these words, or perhaps
just the intonation of that phrase, induced me suddenly to make all
possible allowances for him. I ceased to be annoyed at my unexpected
predicament. It was some mistake on his part; he was blundering, and I
had an intuition that the blunder was of an odious, of an unfortunate
nature. I was anxious to end this scene on grounds of decency, just as
one is anxious to cut short some unprovoked and abominable confidence.
The funniest part was, that in the midst of all these considerations
of the higher order I was conscious of a certain trepidation as to
the possibility--nay, likelihood--of this encounter ending in some
disreputable brawl which could not possibly be explained, and would make
me ridiculous. I did not hanker after a three days' celebrity as the man
who got a black eye or something of the sort from the mate of the Patna.
He, in all probability, did not care what he did, or at any rate would
be fully justified in his own eyes. It took no magician to see he was
amazingly angry about something, for all his quiet and even torpid
demeanour. I don't deny I was extremely desirous to pacify him at all
costs, had I only known what to do. But I didn't know, as you may well
imagine. It was a blackness without a single gleam. We confronted each
other in silence. He hung fire for about fifteen seconds, then made a
step nearer, and I made ready to ward off a blow, though I don't think I
moved a muscle. "If you were as big as two men and as strong as six,"
he said very softly, "I would tell you what I think of you. You . . ."
"Stop!" I exclaimed. This checked him for a second. "Before you tell me
what you think of me," I went on quickly, "will you kindly tell me what
it is I've said or done?" During the pause that ensued he surveyed me
with indignation, while I made supernatural efforts of memory, in which
I was hindered by the oriental voice within the court-room expostulating
with impassioned volubility against a charge of falsehood. Then we spoke
almost together. "I will soon show you I am not," he said, in a tone
suggestive of a crisis. "I declare I don't know," I protested earnestly
at the same time. He tried to crush me by the scorn of his glance.
"Now that you see I am not afraid you try to crawl out of it," he said.
"Who's a cur now--hey?" Then, at last, I understood.

'He had been scanning my features as though looking for a place where
he would plant his fist. "I will allow no man," . . . he mumbled
threateningly. It was, indeed, a hideous mistake; he had given himself
away utterly. I can't give you an idea how shocked I was. I suppose he
saw some reflection of my feelings in my face, because his expression
changed just a little. "Good God!" I stammered, "you don't think
I . . ." "But I am sure I've heard," he persisted, raising his voice for
the first time since the beginning of this deplorable scene. Then with a
shade of disdain he added, "It wasn't you, then? Very well; I'll find
the other." "Don't be a fool," I cried in exasperation; "it wasn't that
at all." "I've heard," he said again with an unshaken and sombre
perseverance.

'There may be those who could have laughed at his pertinacity; I didn't.
Oh, I didn't! There had never been a man so mercilessly shown up by
his own natural impulse. A single word had stripped him of his
discretion--of that discretion which is more necessary to the decencies
of our inner being than clothing is to the decorum of our body. "Don't
be a fool," I repeated. "But the other man said it, you don't deny
that?" he pronounced distinctly, and looking in my face without
flinching. "No, I don't deny," said I, returning his gaze. At last his
eyes followed downwards the direction of my pointing finger. He appeared
at first uncomprehending, then confounded, and at last amazed and scared
as though a dog had been a monster and he had never seen a dog before.
"Nobody dreamt of insulting you," I said.

'He contemplated the wretched animal, that moved no more than an effigy:
it sat with ears pricked and its sharp muzzle pointed into the doorway,
and suddenly snapped at a fly like a piece of mechanism.

'I looked at him. The red of his fair sunburnt complexion deepened
suddenly under the down of his cheeks, invaded his forehead, spread to
the roots of his curly hair. His ears became intensely crimson, and even
the clear blue of his eyes was darkened many shades by the rush of blood
to his head. His lips pouted a little, trembling as though he had been
on the point of bursting into tears. I perceived he was incapable
of pronouncing a word from the excess of his humiliation. From
disappointment too--who knows? Perhaps he looked forward to that
hammering he was going to give me for rehabilitation, for appeasement?
Who can tell what relief he expected from this chance of a row? He
was naive enough to expect anything; but he had given himself away for
nothing in this case. He had been frank with himself--let alone
with me--in the wild hope of arriving in that way at some effective
refutation, and the stars had been ironically unpropitious. He made an
inarticulate noise in his throat like a man imperfectly stunned by a
blow on the head. It was pitiful.

'I didn't catch up again with him till well outside the gate. I had even
to trot a bit at the last, but when, out of breath at his elbow, I taxed
him with running away, he said, "Never!" and at once turned at bay. I
explained I never meant to say he was running away from _me_. "From no
man--from not a single man on earth," he affirmed with a stubborn mien.
I forbore to point out the one obvious exception which would hold good
for the bravest of us; I thought he would find out by himself very soon.
He looked at me patiently while I was thinking of something to say, but
I could find nothing on the spur of the moment, and he began to walk on.
I kept up, and anxious not to lose him, I said hurriedly that I couldn't
think of leaving him under a false impression of my--of my--I stammered.
The stupidity of the phrase appalled me while I was trying to finish
it, but the power of sentences has nothing to do with their sense or the
logic of their construction. My idiotic mumble seemed to please him. He
cut it short by saying, with courteous placidity that argued an
immense power of self-control or else a wonderful elasticity of
spirits--"Altogether my mistake." I marvelled greatly at this
expression: he might have been alluding to some trifling occurrence.
Hadn't he understood its deplorable meaning? "You may well forgive me,"
he continued, and went on a little moodily, "All these staring people in
court seemed such fools that--that it might have been as I supposed."

'This opened suddenly a new view of him to my wonder. I looked at him
curiously and met his unabashed and impenetrable eyes. "I can't put up
with this kind of thing," he said, very simply, "and I don't mean to. In
court it's different; I've got to stand that--and I can do it too."

'I don't pretend I understood him. The views he let me have of himself
were like those glimpses through the shifting rents in a thick fog--bits
of vivid and vanishing detail, giving no connected idea of the general
aspect of a country. They fed one's curiosity without satisfying it;
they were no good for purposes of orientation. Upon the whole he was
misleading. That's how I summed him up to myself after he left me late
in the evening. I had been staying at the Malabar House for a few days,
and on my pressing invitation he dined with me there.'



CHAPTER 7


'An outward-bound mail-boat had come in that afternoon, and the
big dining-room of the hotel was more than half full of people with
a-hundred-pounds-round-the-world tickets in their pockets. There were
married couples looking domesticated and bored with each other in the
midst of their travels; there were small parties and large parties,
and lone individuals dining solemnly or feasting boisterously, but all
thinking, conversing, joking, or scowling as was their wont at home;
and just as intelligently receptive of new impressions as their trunks
upstairs. Henceforth they would be labelled as having passed through
this and that place, and so would be their luggage. They would cherish
this distinction of their persons, and preserve the gummed tickets on
their portmanteaus as documentary evidence, as the only permanent trace
of their improving enterprise. The dark-faced servants tripped without
noise over the vast and polished floor; now and then a girl's laugh
would be heard, as innocent and empty as her mind, or, in a sudden hush
of crockery, a few words in an affected drawl from some wit embroidering
for the benefit of a grinning tableful the last funny story of shipboard
scandal. Two nomadic old maids, dressed up to kill, worked acrimoniously
through the bill of fare, whispering to each other with faded lips,
wooden-faced and bizarre, like two sumptuous scarecrows. A little wine
opened Jim's heart and loosened his tongue. His appetite was good, too,
I noticed. He seemed to have buried somewhere the opening episode of
our acquaintance. It was like a thing of which there would be no more
question in this world. And all the time I had before me these blue,
boyish eyes looking straight into mine, this young face, these capable
shoulders, the open bronzed forehead with a white line under the roots
of clustering fair hair, this appearance appealing at sight to all
my sympathies: this frank aspect, the artless smile, the youthful
seriousness. He was of the right sort; he was one of us. He talked
soberly, with a sort of composed unreserve, and with a quiet bearing
that might have been the outcome of manly self-control, of impudence, of
callousness, of a colossal unconsciousness, of a gigantic deception. Who
can tell! From our tone we might have been discussing a third person,
a football match, last year's weather. My mind floated in a sea of
conjectures till the turn of the conversation enabled me, without being
offensive, to remark that, upon the whole, this inquiry must have been
pretty trying to him. He darted his arm across the tablecloth, and
clutching my hand by the side of my plate, glared fixedly. I was
startled. "It must be awfully hard," I stammered, confused by this
display of speechless feeling. "It is--hell," he burst out in a muffled
voice.

'This movement and these words caused two well-groomed male
globe-trotters at a neighbouring table to look up in alarm from their
iced pudding. I rose, and we passed into the front gallery for coffee
and cigars.

'On little octagon tables candles burned in glass globes; clumps of
stiff-leaved plants separated sets of cosy wicker chairs; and between
the pairs of columns, whose reddish shafts caught in a long row the
sheen from the tall windows, the night, glittering and sombre, seemed
to hang like a splendid drapery. The riding lights of ships winked afar
like setting stars, and the hills across the roadstead resembled rounded
black masses of arrested thunder-clouds.

'"I couldn't clear out," Jim began. "The skipper did--that's all very
well for him. I couldn't, and I wouldn't. They all got out of it in one
way or another, but it wouldn't do for me."

'I listened with concentrated attention, not daring to stir in my chair;
I wanted to know--and to this day I don't know, I can only guess. He
would be confident and depressed all in the same breath, as if some
conviction of innate blamelessness had checked the truth writhing within
him at every turn. He began by saying, in the tone in which a man would
admit his inability to jump a twenty-foot wall, that he could never
go home now; and this declaration recalled to my mind what Brierly had
said, "that the old parson in Essex seemed to fancy his sailor son not a
little."

'I can't tell you whether Jim knew he was especially "fancied," but the
tone of his references to "my Dad" was calculated to give me a notion
that the good old rural dean was about the finest man that ever had been
worried by the cares of a large family since the beginning of the world.
This, though never stated, was implied with an anxiety that there should
be no mistake about it, which was really very true and charming, but
added a poignant sense of lives far off to the other elements of the
story. "He has seen it all in the home papers by this time," said Jim.
"I can never face the poor old chap." I did not dare to lift my eyes
at this till I heard him add, "I could never explain. He wouldn't
understand." Then I looked up. He was smoking reflectively, and after
a moment, rousing himself, began to talk again. He discovered at once
a desire that I should not confound him with his partners in--in crime,
let us call it. He was not one of them; he was altogether of another
sort. I gave no sign of dissent. I had no intention, for the sake of
barren truth, to rob him of the smallest particle of any saving grace
that would come in his way. I didn't know how much of it he believed
himself. I didn't know what he was playing up to--if he was playing up
to anything at all--and I suspect he did not know either; for it is my
belief no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape
from the grim shadow of self-knowledge. I made no sound all the time
he was wondering what he had better do after "that stupid inquiry was
over."

'Apparently he shared Brierly's contemptuous opinion of these
proceedings ordained by law. He would not know where to turn, he
confessed, clearly thinking aloud rather than talking to me. Certificate
gone, career broken, no money to get away, no work that he could obtain
as far as he could see. At home he could perhaps get something; but it
meant going to his people for help, and that he would not do. He
saw nothing for it but ship before the mast--could get perhaps a
quartermaster's billet in some steamer. Would do for a quartermaster.
. . . "Do you think you would?" I asked pitilessly. He jumped up, and
going to the stone balustrade looked out into the night. In a moment he
was back, towering above my chair with his youthful face clouded yet by
the pain of a conquered emotion. He had understood very well I did not
doubt his ability to steer a ship. In a voice that quavered a bit he
asked me why did I say that? I had been "no end kind" to him. I had not
even laughed at him when--here he began to mumble--"that mistake, you
know--made a confounded ass of myself." I broke in by saying rather
warmly that for me such a mistake was not a matter to laugh at. He sat
down and drank deliberately some coffee, emptying the small cup to the
last drop. "That does not mean I admit for a moment the cap fitted,"
he declared distinctly. "No?" I said. "No," he affirmed with quiet
decision. "Do you know what _you_ would have done? Do you? And you
don't think yourself" . . . he gulped something . . . "you don't think
yourself a--a--cur?"

'And with this--upon my honour!--he looked up at me inquisitively. It
was a question it appears--a bona fide question! However, he didn't wait
for an answer. Before I could recover he went on, with his eyes straight
before him, as if reading off something written on the body of the
night. "It is all in being ready. I wasn't; not--not then. I don't want
to excuse myself; but I would like to explain--I would like somebody to
understand--somebody--one person at least! You! Why not you?"

'It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those
struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what
his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only
one of the rules of the game, nothing more, but all the same so terribly
effective by its assumption of unlimited power over natural instincts,
by the awful penalties of its failure. He began his story quietly
enough. On board that Dale Line steamer that had picked up these four
floating in a boat upon the discreet sunset glow of the sea, they had
been after the first day looked askance upon. The fat skipper told some
story, the others had been silent, and at first it had been accepted.
You don't cross-examine poor castaways you had the good luck to save,
if not from cruel death, then at least from cruel suffering. Afterwards,
with time to think it over, it might have struck the officers of the
Avondale that there was "something fishy" in the affair; but of course
they would keep their doubts to themselves. They had picked up the
captain, the mate, and two engineers of the steamer Patna sunk at sea,
and that, very properly, was enough for them. I did not ask Jim about
the nature of his feelings during the ten days he spent on board. From
the way he narrated that part I was at liberty to infer he was partly
stunned by the discovery he had made--the discovery about himself--and
no doubt was at work trying to explain it away to the only man who
was capable of appreciating all its tremendous magnitude. You must
understand he did not try to minimise its importance. Of that I am sure;
and therein lies his distinction. As to what sensations he experienced
when he got ashore and heard the unforeseen conclusion of the tale in
which he had taken such a pitiful part, he told me nothing of them, and
it is difficult to imagine.

'I wonder whether he felt the ground cut from under his feet? I wonder?
But no doubt he managed to get a fresh foothold very soon. He was ashore
a whole fortnight waiting in the Sailors' Home, and as there were six or
seven men staying there at the time, I had heard of him a little.
Their languid opinion seemed to be that, in addition to his other
shortcomings, he was a sulky brute. He had passed these days on the
verandah, buried in a long chair, and coming out of his place of
sepulture only at meal-times or late at night, when he wandered on the
quays all by himself, detached from his surroundings, irresolute and
silent, like a ghost without a home to haunt. "I don't think I've spoken
three words to a living soul in all that time," he said, making me very
sorry for him; and directly he added, "One of these fellows would have
been sure to blurt out something I had made up my mind not to put up
with, and I didn't want a row. No! Not then. I was too--too . . . I
had no heart for it." "So that bulkhead held out after all," I remarked
cheerfully. "Yes," he murmured, "it held. And yet I swear to you I felt
it bulge under my hand." "It's extraordinary what strains old iron will
stand sometimes," I said. Thrown back in his seat, his legs stiffly out
and arms hanging down, he nodded slightly several times. You could not
conceive a sadder spectacle. Suddenly he lifted his head; he sat up;
he slapped his thigh. "Ah! what a chance missed! My God! what a chance
missed!" he blazed out, but the ring of the last "missed" resembled a
cry wrung out by pain.

'He was silent again with a still, far-away look of fierce yearning
after that missed distinction, with his nostrils for an instant dilated,
sniffing the intoxicating breath of that wasted opportunity. If you
think I was either surprised or shocked you do me an injustice in more
ways than one! Ah, he was an imaginative beggar! He would give himself
away; he would give himself up. I could see in his glance darted into
the night all his inner being carried on, projected headlong into the
fanciful realm of recklessly heroic aspirations. He had no leisure to
regret what he had lost, he was so wholly and naturally concerned for
what he had failed to obtain. He was very far away from me who watched
him across three feet of space. With every instant he was penetrating
deeper into the impossible world of romantic achievements. He got to
the heart of it at last! A strange look of beatitude overspread his
features, his eyes sparkled in the light of the candle burning between
us; he positively smiled! He had penetrated to the very heart--to
the very heart. It was an ecstatic smile that your faces--or mine
either--will never wear, my dear boys. I whisked him back by saying, "If
you had stuck to the ship, you mean!"

'He turned upon me, his eyes suddenly amazed and full of pain, with a
bewildered, startled, suffering face, as though he had tumbled down
from a star. Neither you nor I will ever look like this on any man. He
shuddered profoundly, as if a cold finger-tip had touched his heart.
Last of all he sighed.

'I was not in a merciful mood. He provoked one by his contradictory
indiscretions. "It is unfortunate you didn't know beforehand!" I
said with every unkind intention; but the perfidious shaft fell
harmless--dropped at his feet like a spent arrow, as it were, and he did
not think of picking it up. Perhaps he had not even seen it. Presently,
lolling at ease, he said, "Dash it all! I tell you it bulged. I was
holding up my lamp along the angle-iron in the lower deck when a
flake of rust as big as the palm of my hand fell off the plate, all of
itself." He passed his hand over his forehead. "The thing stirred and
jumped off like something alive while I was looking at it." "That made
you feel pretty bad," I observed casually. "Do you suppose," he said,
"that I was thinking of myself, with a hundred and sixty people at my
back, all fast asleep in that fore-'tween-deck alone--and more of them
aft; more on the deck--sleeping--knowing nothing about it--three times
as many as there were boats for, even if there had been time? I expected
to see the iron open out as I stood there and the rush of water going
over them as they lay. . . . What could I do--what?"

'I can easily picture him to myself in the peopled gloom of the
cavernous place, with the light of the globe-lamp falling on a small
portion of the bulkhead that had the weight of the ocean on the other
side, and the breathing of unconscious sleepers in his ears. I can see
him glaring at the iron, startled by the falling rust, overburdened by
the knowledge of an imminent death. This, I gathered, was the second
time he had been sent forward by that skipper of his, who, I rather
think, wanted to keep him away from the bridge. He told me that his
first impulse was to shout and straightway make all those people
leap out of sleep into terror; but such an overwhelming sense of his
helplessness came over him that he was not able to produce a sound. This
is, I suppose, what people mean by the tongue cleaving to the roof of
the mouth. "Too dry," was the concise expression he used in reference to
this state. Without a sound, then, he scrambled out on deck through
the number one hatch. A windsail rigged down there swung against him
accidentally, and he remembered that the light touch of the canvas on
his face nearly knocked him off the hatchway ladder.

'He confessed that his knees wobbled a good deal as he stood on the
foredeck looking at another sleeping crowd. The engines having been
stopped by that time, the steam was blowing off. Its deep rumble made
the whole night vibrate like a bass string. The ship trembled to it.

'He saw here and there a head lifted off a mat, a vague form uprise in
sitting posture, listen sleepily for a moment, sink down again into the
billowy confusion of boxes, steam-winches, ventilators. He was aware
all these people did not know enough to take intelligent notice of
that strange noise. The ship of iron, the men with white faces, all the
sights, all the sounds, everything on board to that ignorant and pious
multitude was strange alike, and as trustworthy as it would for ever
remain incomprehensible. It occurred to him that the fact was fortunate.
The idea of it was simply terrible.

'You must remember he believed, as any other man would have done in
his place, that the ship would go down at any moment; the bulging,
rust-eaten plates that kept back the ocean, fatally must give way, all
at once like an undermined dam, and let in a sudden and overwhelming
flood. He stood still looking at these recumbent bodies, a doomed man
aware of his fate, surveying the silent company of the dead. They _were_
dead! Nothing could save them! There were boats enough for half of them
perhaps, but there was no time. No time! No time! It did not seem worth
while to open his lips, to stir hand or foot. Before he could shout
three words, or make three steps, he would be floundering in a sea
whitened awfully by the desperate struggles of human beings, clamorous
with the distress of cries for help. There was no help. He imagined
what would happen perfectly; he went through it all motionless by the
hatchway with the lamp in his hand--he went through it to the very last
harrowing detail. I think he went through it again while he was telling
me these things he could not tell the court.

'"I saw as clearly as I see you now that there was nothing I could do.
It seemed to take all life out of my limbs. I thought I might just as
well stand where I was and wait. I did not think I had many
seconds. . . ." Suddenly the steam ceased blowing off. The noise, he
remarked, had been distracting, but the silence at once became
intolerably oppressive.

'"I thought I would choke before I got drowned," he said.

'He protested he did not think of saving himself. The only distinct
thought formed, vanishing, and re-forming in his brain, was: eight
hundred people and seven boats; eight hundred people and seven boats.

'"Somebody was speaking aloud inside my head," he said a little wildly.
"Eight hundred people and seven boats--and no time! Just think of it."
He leaned towards me across the little table, and I tried to avoid his
stare. "Do you think I was afraid of death?" he asked in a voice very
fierce and low. He brought down his open hand with a bang that made the
coffee-cups dance. "I am ready to swear I was not--I was not. . . . By
God--no!" He hitched himself upright and crossed his arms; his chin fell
on his breast.

'The soft clashes of crockery reached us faintly through the high
windows. There was a burst of voices, and several men came out in high
good-humour into the gallery. They were exchanging jocular reminiscences
of the donkeys in Cairo. A pale anxious youth stepping softly on long
legs was being chaffed by a strutting and rubicund globe-trotter about
his purchases in the bazaar. "No, really--do you think I've been done
to that extent?" he inquired very earnest and deliberate. The band moved
away, dropping into chairs as they went; matches flared, illuminating
for a second faces without the ghost of an expression and the flat glaze
of white shirt-fronts; the hum of many conversations animated with the
ardour of feasting sounded to me absurd and infinitely remote.

'"Some of the crew were sleeping on the number one hatch within reach of
my arm," began Jim again.

'You must know they kept Kalashee watch in that ship, all hands sleeping
through the night, and only the reliefs of quartermasters and look-out
men being called. He was tempted to grip and shake the shoulder of the
nearest lascar, but he didn't. Something held his arms down along his
sides. He was not afraid--oh no! only he just couldn't--that's all. He
was not afraid of death perhaps, but I'll tell you what, he was afraid
of the emergency. His confounded imagination had evoked for him all
the horrors of panic, the trampling rush, the pitiful screams, boats
swamped--all the appalling incidents of a disaster at sea he had ever
heard of. He might have been resigned to die but I suspect he wanted
to die without added terrors, quietly, in a sort of peaceful trance. A
certain readiness to perish is not so very rare, but it is seldom
that you meet men whose souls, steeled in the impenetrable armour of
resolution, are ready to fight a losing battle to the last; the desire
of peace waxes stronger as hope declines, till at last it conquers the
very desire of life. Which of us here has not observed this, or maybe
experienced something of that feeling in his own person--this extreme
weariness of emotions, the vanity of effort, the yearning for rest?
Those striving with unreasonable forces know it well,--the shipwrecked
castaways in boats, wanderers lost in a desert, men battling against the
unthinking might of nature, or the stupid brutality of crowds.'



CHAPTER 8


'How long he stood stock-still by the hatch expecting every moment to
feel the ship dip under his feet and the rush of water take him at the
back and toss him like a chip, I cannot say. Not very long--two minutes
perhaps. A couple of men he could not make out began to converse
drowsily, and also, he could not tell where, he detected a curious
noise of shuffling feet. Above these faint sounds there was that awful
stillness preceding a catastrophe, that trying silence of the moment
before the crash; then it came into his head that perhaps he would have
time to rush along and cut all the lanyards of the gripes, so that the
boats would float as the ship went down.

'The Patna had a long bridge, and all the boats were up there, four on
one side and three on the other--the smallest of them on the port-side
and nearly abreast of the steering gear. He assured me, with evident
anxiety to be believed, that he had been most careful to keep them ready
for instant service. He knew his duty. I dare say he was a good enough
mate as far as that went. "I always believed in being prepared for the
worst," he commented, staring anxiously in my face. I nodded my approval
of the sound principle, averting my eyes before the subtle unsoundness
of the man.

'He started unsteadily to run. He had to step over legs, avoid stumbling
against the heads. Suddenly some one caught hold of his coat from below,
and a distressed voice spoke under his elbow. The light of the lamp he
carried in his right hand fell upon an upturned dark face whose eyes
entreated him together with the voice. He had picked up enough of the
language to understand the word water, repeated several times in a tone
of insistence, of prayer, almost of despair. He gave a jerk to get away,
and felt an arm embrace his leg.

'"The beggar clung to me like a drowning man," he said impressively.
"Water, water! What water did he mean? What did he know? As calmly as
I could I ordered him to let go. He was stopping me, time was pressing,
other men began to stir; I wanted time--time to cut the boats adrift.
He got hold of my hand now, and I felt that he would begin to shout. It
flashed upon me it was enough to start a panic, and I hauled off with
my free arm and slung the lamp in his face. The glass jingled, the light
went out, but the blow made him let go, and I ran off--I wanted to get
at the boats; I wanted to get at the boats. He leaped after me from
behind. I turned on him. He would not keep quiet; he tried to shout; I
had half throttled him before I made out what he wanted. He wanted some
water--water to drink; they were on strict allowance, you know, and
he had with him a young boy I had noticed several times. His child was
sick--and thirsty. He had caught sight of me as I passed by, and was
begging for a little water. That's all. We were under the bridge, in
the dark. He kept on snatching at my wrists; there was no getting rid of
him. I dashed into my berth, grabbed my water-bottle, and thrust it into
his hands. He vanished. I didn't find out till then how much I was in
want of a drink myself." He leaned on one elbow with a hand over his
eyes.

'I felt a creepy sensation all down my backbone; there was something
peculiar in all this. The fingers of the hand that shaded his brow
trembled slightly. He broke the short silence.

'"These things happen only once to a man and . . . Ah! well! When I got
on the bridge at last the beggars were getting one of the boats off the
chocks. A boat! I was running up the ladder when a heavy blow fell on
my shoulder, just missing my head. It didn't stop me, and the chief
engineer--they had got him out of his bunk by then--raised the
boat-stretcher again. Somehow I had no mind to be surprised at anything.
All this seemed natural--and awful--and awful. I dodged that miserable
maniac, lifted him off the deck as though he had been a little child,
and he started whispering in my arms: 'Don't! don't! I thought you were
one of them niggers.' I flung him away, he skidded along the bridge and
knocked the legs from under the little chap--the second. The skipper,
busy about the boat, looked round and came at me head down, growling
like a wild beast. I flinched no more than a stone. I was as solid
standing there as this," he tapped lightly with his knuckles the wall
beside his chair. "It was as though I had heard it all, seen it all,
gone through it all twenty times already. I wasn't afraid of them. I
drew back my fist and he stopped short, muttering--

'"'Ah! it's you. Lend a hand quick.'

'"That's what he said. Quick! As if anybody could be quick enough.
'Aren't you going to do something?' I asked. 'Yes. Clear out,' he
snarled over his shoulder.

'"I don't think I understood then what he meant. The other two had
picked themselves up by that time, and they rushed together to the boat.
They tramped, they wheezed, they shoved, they cursed the boat, the ship,
each other--cursed me. All in mutters. I didn't move, I didn't speak.
I watched the slant of the ship. She was as still as if landed on the
blocks in a dry dock--only she was like this," He held up his hand,
palm under, the tips of the fingers inclined downwards. "Like this," he
repeated. "I could see the line of the horizon before me, as clear as a
bell, above her stem-head; I could see the water far off there black
and sparkling, and still--still as a-pond, deadly still, more still than
ever sea was before--more still than I could bear to look at. Have you
watched a ship floating head down, checked in sinking by a sheet of old
iron too rotten to stand being shored up? Have you? Oh yes, shored up? I
thought of that--I thought of every mortal thing; but can you shore up a
bulkhead in five minutes--or in fifty for that matter? Where was I going
to get men that would go down below? And the timber--the timber! Would
you have had the courage to swing the maul for the first blow if you
had seen that bulkhead? Don't say you would: you had not seen it; nobody
would. Hang it--to do a thing like that you must believe there is a
chance, one in a thousand, at least, some ghost of a chance; and you
would not have believed. Nobody would have believed. You think me a
cur for standing there, but what would you have done? What! You can't
tell--nobody can tell. One must have time to turn round. What would you
have me do? Where was the kindness in making crazy with fright all those
people I could not save single-handed--that nothing could save? Look
here! As true as I sit on this chair before you . . ."

'He drew quick breaths at every few words and shot quick glances at my
face, as though in his anguish he were watchful of the effect. He was
not speaking to me, he was only speaking before me, in a dispute with
an invisible personality, an antagonistic and inseparable partner of his
existence--another possessor of his soul. These were issues beyond the
competency of a court of inquiry: it was a subtle and momentous quarrel
as to the true essence of life, and did not want a judge. He wanted
an ally, a helper, an accomplice. I felt the risk I ran of being
circumvented, blinded, decoyed, bullied, perhaps, into taking a definite
part in a dispute impossible of decision if one had to be fair to all
the phantoms in possession--to the reputable that had its claims and
to the disreputable that had its exigencies. I can't explain to you who
haven't seen him and who hear his words only at second hand the mixed
nature of my feelings. It seemed to me I was being made to comprehend
the Inconceivable--and I know of nothing to compare with the discomfort
of such a sensation. I was made to look at the convention that lurks in
all truth and on the essential sincerity of falsehood. He appealed to
all sides at once--to the side turned perpetually to the light of day,
and to that side of us which, like the other hemisphere of the moon,
exists stealthily in perpetual darkness, with only a fearful ashy light
falling at times on the edge. He swayed me. I own to it, I own up. The
occasion was obscure, insignificant--what you will: a lost youngster,
one in a million--but then he was one of us; an incident as completely
devoid of importance as the flooding of an ant-heap, and yet the mystery
of his attitude got hold of me as though he had been an individual
in the forefront of his kind, as if the obscure truth involved were
momentous enough to affect mankind's conception of itself. . . .'

Marlow paused to put new life into his expiring cheroot, seemed to
forget all about the story, and abruptly began again.

'My fault of course. One has no business really to get interested. It's
a weakness of mine. His was of another kind. My weakness consists in not
having a discriminating eye for the incidental--for the externals--no
eye for the hod of the rag-picker or the fine linen of the next man.
Next man--that's it. I have met so many men,' he pursued, with momentary
sadness--'met them too with a certain--certain--impact, let us say; like
this fellow, for instance--and in each case all I could see was merely
the human being. A confounded democratic quality of vision which may be
better than total blindness, but has been of no advantage to me, I can
assure you. Men expect one to take into account their fine linen. But
I never could get up any enthusiasm about these things. Oh! it's a
failing; it's a failing; and then comes a soft evening; a lot of men too
indolent for whist--and a story. . . .'

He paused again to wait for an encouraging remark, perhaps, but nobody
spoke; only the host, as if reluctantly performing a duty, murmured--

'You are so subtle, Marlow.'

'Who? I?' said Marlow in a low voice. 'Oh no! But _he_ was; and try as I
may for the success of this yarn, I am missing innumerable shades--they
were so fine, so difficult to render in colourless words. Because he
complicated matters by being so simple, too--the simplest poor
devil! . . . By Jove! he was amazing. There he sat telling me that just
as I saw him before my eyes he wouldn't be afraid to face anything--and
believing in it too. I tell you it was fabulously innocent and it was
enormous, enormous! I watched him covertly, just as though I had
suspected him of an intention to take a jolly good rise out of me. He
was confident that, on the square, "on the square, mind!" there was
nothing he couldn't meet. Ever since he had been "so high"--"quite a
little chap," he had been preparing himself for all the difficulties
that can beset one on land and water. He confessed proudly to this kind
of foresight. He had been elaborating dangers and defences, expecting
the worst, rehearsing his best. He must have led a most exalted
existence. Can you fancy it? A succession of adventures, so much glory,
such a victorious progress! and the deep sense of his sagacity crowning
every day of his inner life. He forgot himself; his eyes shone; and with
every word my heart, searched by the light of his absurdity, was growing
heavier in my breast. I had no mind to laugh, and lest I should smile I
made for myself a stolid face. He gave signs of irritation.

'"It is always the unexpected that happens," I said in a propitiatory
tone. My obtuseness provoked him into a contemptuous "Pshaw!" I suppose
he meant that the unexpected couldn't touch him; nothing less than the
unconceivable itself could get over his perfect state of preparation. He
had been taken unawares--and he whispered to himself a malediction upon
the waters and the firmament, upon the ship, upon the men. Everything
had betrayed him! He had been tricked into that sort of high-minded
resignation which prevented him lifting as much as his little finger,
while these others who had a very clear perception of the actual
necessity were tumbling against each other and sweating desperately over
that boat business. Something had gone wrong there at the last moment.
It appears that in their flurry they had contrived in some mysterious
way to get the sliding bolt of the foremost boat-chock jammed tight, and
forthwith had gone out of the remnants of their minds over the deadly
nature of that accident. It must have been a pretty sight, the fierce
industry of these beggars toiling on a motionless ship that floated
quietly in the silence of a world asleep, fighting against time for the
freeing of that boat, grovelling on all-fours, standing up in despair,
tugging, pushing, snarling at each other venomously, ready to kill,
ready to weep, and only kept from flying at each other's throats by
the fear of death that stood silent behind them like an inflexible and
cold-eyed taskmaster. Oh yes! It must have been a pretty sight. He
saw it all, he could talk about it with scorn and bitterness; he had a
minute knowledge of it by means of some sixth sense, I conclude, because
he swore to me he had remained apart without a glance at them and at the
boat--without one single glance. And I believe him. I should think he
was too busy watching the threatening slant of the ship, the suspended
menace discovered in the midst of the most perfect security--fascinated
by the sword hanging by a hair over his imaginative head.

'Nothing in the world moved before his eyes, and he could depict to
himself without hindrance the sudden swing upwards of the dark sky-line,
the sudden tilt up of the vast plain of the sea, the swift still rise,
the brutal fling, the grasp of the abyss, the struggle without hope, the
starlight closing over his head for ever like the vault of a tomb--the
revolt of his young life--the black end. He could! By Jove! who
couldn't? And you must remember he was a finished artist in that
peculiar way, he was a gifted poor devil with the faculty of swift and
forestalling vision. The sights it showed him had turned him into cold
stone from the soles of his feet to the nape of his neck; but there
was a hot dance of thoughts in his head, a dance of lame, blind, mute
thoughts--a whirl of awful cripples. Didn't I tell you he confessed
himself before me as though I had the power to bind and to loose? He
burrowed deep, deep, in the hope of my absolution, which would have been
of no good to him. This was one of those cases which no solemn deception
can palliate, where no man can help; where his very Maker seems to
abandon a sinner to his own devices.

'He stood on the starboard side of the bridge, as far as he could get
from the struggle for the boat, which went on with the agitation
of madness and the stealthiness of a conspiracy. The two Malays had
meantime remained holding to the wheel. Just picture to yourselves
the actors in that, thank God! unique, episode of the sea, four beside
themselves with fierce and secret exertions, and three looking on in
complete immobility, above the awnings covering the profound ignorance
of hundreds of human beings, with their weariness, with their dreams,
with their hopes, arrested, held by an invisible hand on the brink of
annihilation. For that they were so, makes no doubt to me: given the
state of the ship, this was the deadliest possible description of
accident that could happen. These beggars by the boat had every reason
to go distracted with funk. Frankly, had I been there, I would not have
given as much as a counterfeit farthing for the ship's chance to keep
above water to the end of each successive second. And still she
floated! These sleeping pilgrims were destined to accomplish their
whole pilgrimage to the bitterness of some other end. It was as if the
Omnipotence whose mercy they confessed had needed their humble testimony
on earth for a while longer, and had looked down to make a sign,
"Thou shalt not!" to the ocean. Their escape would trouble me as a
prodigiously inexplicable event, did I not know how tough old iron can
be--as tough sometimes as the spirit of some men we meet now and then,
worn to a shadow and breasting the weight of life. Not the least
wonder of these twenty minutes, to my mind, is the behaviour of the two
helmsmen. They were amongst the native batch of all sorts brought over
from Aden to give evidence at the inquiry. One of them, labouring under
intense bashfulness, was very young, and with his smooth, yellow,
cheery countenance looked even younger than he was. I remember perfectly
Brierly asking him, through the interpreter, what he thought of it at
the time, and the interpreter, after a short colloquy, turning to the
court with an important air--

'"He says he thought nothing."

'The other, with patient blinking eyes, a blue cotton handkerchief,
faded with much washing, bound with a smart twist over a lot of grey
wisps, his face shrunk into grim hollows, his brown skin made darker by
a mesh of wrinkles, explained that he had a knowledge of some evil thing
befalling the ship, but there had been no order; he could not remember
an order; why should he leave the helm? To some further questions he
jerked back his spare shoulders, and declared it never came into his
mind then that the white men were about to leave the ship through
fear of death. He did not believe it now. There might have been secret
reasons. He wagged his old chin knowingly. Aha! secret reasons. He was
a man of great experience, and he wanted _that_ white Tuan to know--he
turned towards Brierly, who didn't raise his head--that he had acquired
a knowledge of many things by serving white men on the sea for a great
number of years--and, suddenly, with shaky excitement he poured upon
our spellbound attention a lot of queer-sounding names, names of
dead-and-gone skippers, names of forgotten country ships, names of
familiar and distorted sound, as if the hand of dumb time had been at
work on them for ages. They stopped him at last. A silence fell upon
the court,--a silence that remained unbroken for at least a minute, and
passed gently into a deep murmur. This episode was the sensation of
the second day's proceedings--affecting all the audience, affecting
everybody except Jim, who was sitting moodily at the end of the first
bench, and never looked up at this extraordinary and damning witness
that seemed possessed of some mysterious theory of defence.

'So these two lascars stuck to the helm of that ship without
steerage-way, where death would have found them if such had been their
destiny. The whites did not give them half a glance, had probably
forgotten their existence. Assuredly Jim did not remember it. He
remembered he could do nothing; he could do nothing, now he was alone.
There was nothing to do but to sink with the ship. No use making a
disturbance about it. Was there? He waited upstanding, without a sound,
stiffened in the idea of some sort of heroic discretion. The first
engineer ran cautiously across the bridge to tug at his sleeve.

'"Come and help! For God's sake, come and help!"

'He ran back to the boat on the points of his toes, and returned
directly to worry at his sleeve, begging and cursing at the same time.

'"I believe he would have kissed my hands," said Jim savagely, "and,
next moment, he starts foaming and whispering in my face, 'If I had
the time I would like to crack your skull for you.' I pushed him away.
Suddenly he caught hold of me round the neck. Damn him! I hit him. I
hit out without looking. 'Won't you save your own life--you infernal
coward?' he sobs. Coward! He called me an infernal coward! Ha! ha! ha!
ha! He called me--ha! ha! ha! . . ."

'He had thrown himself back and was shaking with laughter. I had never
in my life heard anything so bitter as that noise. It fell like a blight
on all the merriment about donkeys, pyramids, bazaars, or what not.
Along the whole dim length of the gallery the voices dropped, the pale
blotches of faces turned our way with one accord, and the silence
became so profound that the clear tinkle of a teaspoon falling on
the tesselated floor of the verandah rang out like a tiny and silvery
scream.

'"You mustn't laugh like this, with all these people about," I
remonstrated. "It isn't nice for them, you know."

'He gave no sign of having heard at first, but after a while, with a
stare that, missing me altogether, seemed to probe the heart of some
awful vision, he muttered carelessly--"Oh! they'll think I am drunk."

'And after that you would have thought from his appearance he would
never make a sound again. But--no fear! He could no more stop telling
now than he could have stopped living by the mere exertion of his will.'



CHAPTER 9


'"I was saying to myself, 'Sink--curse you! Sink!'" These were the
words with which he began again. He wanted it over. He was severely left
alone, and he formulated in his head this address to the ship in a
tone of imprecation, while at the same time he enjoyed the privilege of
witnessing scenes--as far as I can judge--of low comedy. They were still
at that bolt. The skipper was ordering, "Get under and try to lift"; and
the others naturally shirked. You understand that to be squeezed flat
under the keel of a boat wasn't a desirable position to be caught in if
the ship went down suddenly. "Why don't you--you the strongest?" whined
the little engineer. "Gott-for-dam! I am too thick," spluttered the
skipper in despair. It was funny enough to make angels weep. They stood
idle for a moment, and suddenly the chief engineer rushed again at Jim.

'"Come and help, man! Are you mad to throw your only chance away? Come
and help, man! Man! Look there--look!"

'And at last Jim looked astern where the other pointed with maniacal
insistence. He saw a silent black squall which had eaten up already
one-third of the sky. You know how these squalls come up there about
that time of the year. First you see a darkening of the horizon--no
more; then a cloud rises opaque like a wall. A straight edge of vapour
lined with sickly whitish gleams flies up from the southwest, swallowing
the stars in whole constellations; its shadow flies over the waters, and
confounds sea and sky into one abyss of obscurity. And all is still.
No thunder, no wind, no sound; not a flicker of lightning. Then in
the tenebrous immensity a livid arch appears; a swell or two like
undulations of the very darkness run past, and suddenly, wind and rain
strike together with a peculiar impetuosity as if they had burst through
something solid. Such a cloud had come up while they weren't looking.
They had just noticed it, and were perfectly justified in surmising
that if in absolute stillness there was some chance for the ship to keep
afloat a few minutes longer, the least disturbance of the sea would make
an end of her instantly. Her first nod to the swell that precedes the
burst of such a squall would be also her last, would become a plunge,
would, so to speak, be prolonged into a long dive, down, down to the
bottom. Hence these new capers of their fright, these new antics in
which they displayed their extreme aversion to die.

'"It was black, black," pursued Jim with moody steadiness. "It had
sneaked upon us from behind. The infernal thing! I suppose there had
been at the back of my head some hope yet. I don't know. But that was
all over anyhow. It maddened me to see myself caught like this. I was
angry, as though I had been trapped. I _was_ trapped! The night was hot,
too, I remember. Not a breath of air."

'He remembered so well that, gasping in the chair, he seemed to sweat
and choke before my eyes. No doubt it maddened him; it knocked him over
afresh--in a manner of speaking--but it made him also remember that
important purpose which had sent him rushing on that bridge only to slip
clean out of his mind. He had intended to cut the lifeboats clear of the
ship. He whipped out his knife and went to work slashing as though he
had seen nothing, had heard nothing, had known of no one on board. They
thought him hopelessly wrong-headed and crazy, but dared not protest
noisily against this useless loss of time. When he had done he returned
to the very same spot from which he had started. The chief was there,
ready with a clutch at him to whisper close to his head, scathingly, as
though he wanted to bite his ear--

'"You silly fool! do you think you'll get the ghost of a show when all
that lot of brutes is in the water? Why, they will batter your head for
you from these boats."

'He wrung his hands, ignored, at Jim's elbow. The skipper kept up a
nervous shuffle in one place and mumbled, "Hammer! hammer! Mein Gott!
Get a hammer."

'The little engineer whimpered like a child, but, broken arm and all,
he turned out the least craven of the lot as it seems, and, actually,
mustered enough pluck to run an errand to the engine-room. No trifle, it
must be owned in fairness to him. Jim told me he darted desperate looks
like a cornered man, gave one low wail, and dashed off. He was back
instantly clambering, hammer in hand, and without a pause flung himself
at the bolt. The others gave up Jim at once and ran off to assist.
He heard the tap, tap of the hammer, the sound of the released chock
falling over. The boat was clear. Only then he turned to look--only
then. But he kept his distance--he kept his distance. He wanted me to
know he had kept his distance; that there was nothing in common between
him and these men--who had the hammer. Nothing whatever. It is more than
probable he thought himself cut off from them by a space that could
not be traversed, by an obstacle that could not be overcome, by a chasm
without bottom. He was as far as he could get from them--the whole
breadth of the ship.

'His feet were glued to that remote spot and his eyes to their
indistinct group bowed together and swaying strangely in the common
torment of fear. A hand-lamp lashed to a stanchion above a little table
rigged up on the bridge--the Patna had no chart-room amidships--threw a
light on their labouring shoulders, on their arched and bobbing backs.
They pushed at the bow of the boat; they pushed out into the night; they
pushed, and would no more look back at him. They had given him up as if
indeed he had been too far, too hopelessly separated from themselves, to
be worth an appealing word, a glance, or a sign. They had no leisure to
look back upon his passive heroism, to feel the sting of his abstention.
The boat was heavy; they pushed at the bow with no breath to spare for
an encouraging word: but the turmoil of terror that had scattered their
self-command like chaff before the wind, converted their desperate
exertions into a bit of fooling, upon my word, fit for knockabout clowns
in a farce. They pushed with their hands, with their heads, they pushed
for dear life with all the weight of their bodies, they pushed with all
the might of their souls--only no sooner had they succeeded in canting
the stem clear of the davit than they would leave off like one man and
start a wild scramble into her. As a natural consequence the boat would
swing in abruptly, driving them back, helpless and jostling against each
other. They would stand nonplussed for a while, exchanging in fierce
whispers all the infamous names they could call to mind, and go at it
again. Three times this occurred. He described it to me with morose
thoughtfulness. He hadn't lost a single movement of that comic business.
"I loathed them. I hated them. I had to look at all that," he said
without emphasis, turning upon me a sombrely watchful glance. "Was ever
there any one so shamefully tried?"

'He took his head in his hands for a moment, like a man driven to
distraction by some unspeakable outrage. These were things he could not
explain to the court--and not even to me; but I would have been little
fitted for the reception of his confidences had I not been able at times
to understand the pauses between the words. In this assault upon
his fortitude there was the jeering intention of a spiteful and
vile vengeance; there was an element of burlesque in his ordeal--a
degradation of funny grimaces in the approach of death or dishonour.

'He related facts which I have not forgotten, but at this distance of
time I couldn't recall his very words: I only remember that he managed
wonderfully to convey the brooding rancour of his mind into the bare
recital of events. Twice, he told me, he shut his eyes in the certitude
that the end was upon him already, and twice he had to open them again.
Each time he noted the darkening of the great stillness. The shadow of
the silent cloud had fallen upon the ship from the zenith, and seemed
to have extinguished every sound of her teeming life. He could no longer
hear the voices under the awnings. He told me that each time he closed
his eyes a flash of thought showed him that crowd of bodies, laid out
for death, as plain as daylight. When he opened them, it was to see the
dim struggle of four men fighting like mad with a stubborn boat. "They
would fall back before it time after time, stand swearing at each other,
and suddenly make another rush in a bunch. . . . Enough to make you
die laughing," he commented with downcast eyes; then raising them for a
moment to my face with a dismal smile, "I ought to have a merry life
of it, by God! for I shall see that funny sight a good many times yet
before I die." His eyes fell again. "See and hear. . . . See and hear,"
he repeated twice, at long intervals, filled by vacant staring.

'He roused himself.

'"I made up my mind to keep my eyes shut," he said, "and I couldn't. I
couldn't, and I don't care who knows it. Let them go through that kind
of thing before they talk. Just let them--and do better--that's all. The
second time my eyelids flew open and my mouth too. I had felt the
ship move. She just dipped her bows--and lifted them gently--and slow!
everlastingly slow; and ever so little. She hadn't done that much for
days. The cloud had raced ahead, and this first swell seemed to travel
upon a sea of lead. There was no life in that stir. It managed, though,
to knock over something in my head. What would you have done? You are
sure of yourself--aren't you? What would you do if you felt now--this
minute--the house here move, just move a little under your chair. Leap!
By heavens! you would take one spring from where you sit and land in
that clump of bushes yonder."

'He flung his arm out at the night beyond the stone balustrade. I held
my peace. He looked at me very steadily, very severe. There could be no
mistake: I was being bullied now, and it behoved me to make no sign lest
by a gesture or a word I should be drawn into a fatal admission about
myself which would have had some bearing on the case. I was not disposed
to take any risk of that sort. Don't forget I had him before me, and
really he was too much like one of us not to be dangerous. But if you
want to know I don't mind telling you that I did, with a rapid glance,
estimate the distance to the mass of denser blackness in the middle of
the grass-plot before the verandah. He exaggerated. I would have landed
short by several feet--and that's the only thing of which I am fairly
certain.

'The last moment had come, as he thought, and he did not move. His feet
remained glued to the planks if his thoughts were knocking about loose
in his head. It was at this moment too that he saw one of the men around
the boat step backwards suddenly, clutch at the air with raised arms,
totter and collapse. He didn't exactly fall, he only slid gently into a
sitting posture, all hunched up, and with his shoulders propped against
the side of the engine-room skylight. "That was the donkey-man.
A haggard, white-faced chap with a ragged moustache. Acted third
engineer," he explained.

'"Dead," I said. We had heard something of that in court.

'"So they say," he pronounced with sombre indifference. "Of course I
never knew. Weak heart. The man had been complaining of being out of
sorts for some time before. Excitement. Over-exertion. Devil only knows.
Ha! ha! ha! It was easy to see he did not want to die either. Droll,
isn't it? May I be shot if he hadn't been fooled into killing himself!
Fooled--neither more nor less. Fooled into it, by heavens! just as
I . . . Ah! If he had only kept still; if he had only told them to go to
the devil when they came to rush him out of his bunk because the ship
was sinking! If he had only stood by with his hands in his pockets and
called them names!"

'He got up, shook his fist, glared at me, and sat down.

'"A chance missed, eh?" I murmured.

'"Why don't you laugh?" he said. "A joke hatched in hell. Weak
heart! . . . I wish sometimes mine had been."

'This irritated me. "Do you?" I exclaimed with deep-rooted irony. "Yes!
Can't _you_ understand?" he cried. "I don't know what more you could
wish for," I said angrily. He gave me an utterly uncomprehending glance.
This shaft had also gone wide of the mark, and he was not the man to
bother about stray arrows. Upon my word, he was too unsuspecting; he was
not fair game. I was glad that my missile had been thrown away,--that he
had not even heard the twang of the bow.

'Of course he could not know at the time the man was dead. The next
minute--his last on board--was crowded with a tumult of events and
sensations which beat about him like the sea upon a rock. I use the
simile advisedly, because from his relation I am forced to believe
he had preserved through it all a strange illusion of passiveness, as
though he had not acted but had suffered himself to be handled by the
infernal powers who had selected him for the victim of their practical
joke. The first thing that came to him was the grinding surge of the
heavy davits swinging out at last--a jar which seemed to enter his body
from the deck through the soles of his feet, and travel up his spine to
the crown of his head. Then, the squall being very near now, another
and a heavier swell lifted the passive hull in a threatening heave that
checked his breath, while his brain and his heart together were pierced
as with daggers by panic-stricken screams. "Let go! For God's sake,
let go! Let go! She's going." Following upon that the boat-falls ripped
through the blocks, and a lot of men began to talk in startled tones
under the awnings. "When these beggars did break out, their yelps were
enough to wake the dead," he said. Next, after the splashing shock
of the boat literally dropped in the water, came the hollow noises of
stamping and tumbling in her, mingled with confused shouts: "Unhook!
Unhook! Shove! Unhook! Shove for your life! Here's the squall down on
us. . . ." He heard, high above his head, the faint muttering of the
wind; he heard below his feet a cry of pain. A lost voice alongside
started cursing a swivel hook. The ship began to buzz fore and aft
like a disturbed hive, and, as quietly as he was telling me of all
this--because just then he was very quiet in attitude, in face, in
voice--he went on to say without the slightest warning as it were, "I
stumbled over his legs."

'This was the first I heard of his having moved at all. I could not
restrain a grunt of surprise. Something had started him off at last, but
of the exact moment, of the cause that tore him out of his immobility,
he knew no more than the uprooted tree knows of the wind that laid it
low. All this had come to him: the sounds, the sights, the legs of the
dead man--by Jove! The infernal joke was being crammed devilishly down
his throat, but--look you--he was not going to admit of any sort of
swallowing motion in his gullet. It's extraordinary how he could cast
upon you the spirit of his illusion. I listened as if to a tale of black
magic at work upon a corpse.

'"He went over sideways, very gently, and this is the last thing I
remember seeing on board," he continued. "I did not care what he did.
It looked as though he were picking himself up: I thought he was picking
himself up, of course: I expected him to bolt past me over the rail and
drop into the boat after the others. I could hear them knocking about
down there, and a voice as if crying up a shaft called out 'George!'
Then three voices together raised a yell. They came to me separately:
one bleated, another screamed, one howled. Ough!"

'He shivered a little, and I beheld him rise slowly as if a steady
hand from above had been pulling him out of the chair by his hair. Up,
slowly--to his full height, and when his knees had locked stiff the hand
let him go, and he swayed a little on his feet. There was a suggestion
of awful stillness in his face, in his movements, in his very voice when
he said "They shouted"--and involuntarily I pricked up my ears for
the ghost of that shout that would be heard directly through the false
effect of silence. "There were eight hundred people in that ship," he
said, impaling me to the back of my seat with an awful blank stare.
"Eight hundred living people, and they were yelling after the one dead
man to come down and be saved. 'Jump, George! Jump! Oh, jump!' I stood
by with my hand on the davit. I was very quiet. It had come over pitch
dark. You could see neither sky nor sea. I heard the boat alongside go
bump, bump, and not another sound down there for a while, but the ship
under me was full of talking noises. Suddenly the skipper howled 'Mein
Gott! The squall! The squall! Shove off!' With the first hiss of rain,
and the first gust of wind, they screamed, 'Jump, George! We'll catch
you! Jump!' The ship began a slow plunge; the rain swept over her like
a broken sea; my cap flew off my head; my breath was driven back into
my throat. I heard as if I had been on the top of a tower another wild
screech, 'Geo-o-o-orge! Oh, jump!' She was going down, down, head first
under me. . . ."

'He raised his hand deliberately to his face, and made picking motions
with his fingers as though he had been bothered with cobwebs, and
afterwards he looked into the open palm for quite half a second before
he blurted out--

'"I had jumped . . ." He checked himself, averted his gaze. . . . "It
seems," he added.

'His clear blue eyes turned to me with a piteous stare, and looking at
him standing before me, dumfounded and hurt, I was oppressed by a sad
sense of resigned wisdom, mingled with the amused and profound pity of
an old man helpless before a childish disaster.

'"Looks like it," I muttered.

'"I knew nothing about it till I looked up," he explained hastily. And
that's possible, too. You had to listen to him as you would to a small
boy in trouble. He didn't know. It had happened somehow. It would never
happen again. He had landed partly on somebody and fallen across a
thwart. He felt as though all his ribs on his left side must be broken;
then he rolled over, and saw vaguely the ship he had deserted uprising
above him, with the red side-light glowing large in the rain like a fire
on the brow of a hill seen through a mist. "She seemed higher than a
wall; she loomed like a cliff over the boat . . . I wished I could die,"
he cried. "There was no going back. It was as if I had jumped into a
well--into an everlasting deep hole. . . ."'



CHAPTER 10


'He locked his fingers together and tore them apart. Nothing could be
more true: he had indeed jumped into an everlasting deep hole. He had
tumbled from a height he could never scale again. By that time the boat
had gone driving forward past the bows. It was too dark just then
for them to see each other, and, moreover, they were blinded and half
drowned with rain. He told me it was like being swept by a flood through
a cavern. They turned their backs to the squall; the skipper, it seems,
got an oar over the stern to keep the boat before it, and for two or
three minutes the end of the world had come through a deluge in a pitchy
blackness. The sea hissed "like twenty thousand kettles." That's his
simile, not mine. I fancy there was not much wind after the first gust;
and he himself had admitted at the inquiry that the sea never got up
that night to any extent. He crouched down in the bows and stole a
furtive glance back. He saw just one yellow gleam of the mast-head light
high up and blurred like a last star ready to dissolve. "It terrified me
to see it still there," he said. That's what he said. What terrified him
was the thought that the drowning was not over yet. No doubt he wanted
to be done with that abomination as quickly as possible. Nobody in the
boat made a sound. In the dark she seemed to fly, but of course she
could not have had much way. Then the shower swept ahead, and the great,
distracting, hissing noise followed the rain into distance and died out.
There was nothing to be heard then but the slight wash about the boat's
sides. Somebody's teeth were chattering violently. A hand touched his
back. A faint voice said, "You there?" Another cried out shakily,
"She's gone!" and they all stood up together to look astern. They saw no
lights. All was black. A thin cold drizzle was driving into their faces.
The boat lurched slightly. The teeth chattered faster, stopped, and
began again twice before the man could master his shiver sufficiently to
say, "Ju-ju-st in ti-ti-me. . . . Brrrr." He recognised the voice of the
chief engineer saying surlily, "I saw her go down. I happened to turn my
head." The wind had dropped almost completely.

'They watched in the dark with their heads half turned to windward as if
expecting to hear cries. At first he was thankful the night had covered
up the scene before his eyes, and then to know of it and yet to have
seen and heard nothing appeared somehow the culminating point of an
awful misfortune. "Strange, isn't it?" he murmured, interrupting himself
in his disjointed narrative.

'It did not seem so strange to me. He must have had an unconscious
conviction that the reality could not be half as bad, not half as
anguishing, appalling, and vengeful as the created terror of his
imagination. I believe that, in this first moment, his heart was wrung
with all the suffering, that his soul knew the accumulated savour of all
the fear, all the horror, all the despair of eight hundred human beings
pounced upon in the night by a sudden and violent death, else why should
he have said, "It seemed to me that I must jump out of that accursed
boat and swim back to see--half a mile--more--any distance--to the very
spot . . ."? Why this impulse? Do you see the significance? Why back to
the very spot? Why not drown alongside--if he meant drowning? Why back
to the very spot, to see--as if his imagination had to be soothed by the
assurance that all was over before death could bring relief? I defy any
one of you to offer another explanation. It was one of those bizarre and
exciting glimpses through the fog. It was an extraordinary disclosure.
He let it out as the most natural thing one could say. He fought down
that impulse and then he became conscious of the silence. He mentioned
this to me. A silence of the sea, of the sky, merged into one indefinite
immensity still as death around these saved, palpitating lives.
"You might have heard a pin drop in the boat," he said with a queer
contraction of his lips, like a man trying to master his sensibilities
while relating some extremely moving fact. A silence! God alone, who had
willed him as he was, knows what he made of it in his heart. "I didn't
think any spot on earth could be so still," he said. "You couldn't
distinguish the sea from the sky; there was nothing to see and nothing
to hear. Not a glimmer, not a shape, not a sound. You could have
believed that every bit of dry land had gone to the bottom; that every
man on earth but I and these beggars in the boat had got drowned." He
leaned over the table with his knuckles propped amongst coffee-cups,
liqueur-glasses, cigar-ends. "I seemed to believe it. Everything was
gone and--all was over . . ." he fetched a deep sigh . . . "with me."'

Marlow sat up abruptly and flung away his cheroot with force. It made
a darting red trail like a toy rocket fired through the drapery of
creepers. Nobody stirred.

'Hey, what do you think of it?' he cried with sudden animation. 'Wasn't
he true to himself, wasn't he? His saved life was over for want of
ground under his feet, for want of sights for his eyes, for want of
voices in his ears. Annihilation--hey! And all the time it was only a
clouded sky, a sea that did not break, the air that did not stir. Only a
night; only a silence.

'It lasted for a while, and then they were suddenly and unanimously
moved to make a noise over their escape. "I knew from the first she
would go." "Not a minute too soon." "A narrow squeak, b'gosh!" He said
nothing, but the breeze that had dropped came back, a gentle draught
freshened steadily, and the sea joined its murmuring voice to this
talkative reaction succeeding the dumb moments of awe. She was gone! She
was gone! Not a doubt of it. Nobody could have helped. They repeated the
same words over and over again as though they couldn't stop themselves.
Never doubted she would go. The lights were gone. No mistake. The
lights were gone. Couldn't expect anything else. She had to go. . . . He
noticed that they talked as though they had left behind them nothing but
an empty ship. They concluded she would not have been long when she once
started. It seemed to cause them some sort of satisfaction. They assured
each other that she couldn't have been long about it--"Just shot down
like a flat-iron." The chief engineer declared that the mast-head light
at the moment of sinking seemed to drop "like a lighted match you throw
down." At this the second laughed hysterically. "I am g-g-glad, I am
gla-a-a-d." His teeth went on "like an electric rattle," said Jim,
"and all at once he began to cry. He wept and blubbered like a child,
catching his breath and sobbing 'Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear!' He would
be quiet for a while and start suddenly, 'Oh, my poor arm! oh, my poor
a-a-a-arm!' I felt I could knock him down. Some of them sat in the
stern-sheets. I could just make out their shapes. Voices came to me,
mumble, mumble, grunt, grunt. All this seemed very hard to bear. I was
cold too. And I could do nothing. I thought that if I moved I would have
to go over the side and . . ."

'His hand groped stealthily, came in contact with a liqueur-glass, and
was withdrawn suddenly as if it had touched a red-hot coal. I pushed the
bottle slightly. "Won't you have some more?" I asked. He looked at me
angrily. "Don't you think I can tell you what there is to tell without
screwing myself up?" he asked. The squad of globe-trotters had gone to
bed. We were alone but for a vague white form erect in the shadow, that,
being looked at, cringed forward, hesitated, backed away silently. It
was getting late, but I did not hurry my guest.

'In the midst of his forlorn state he heard his companions begin to
abuse some one. "What kept you from jumping, you lunatic?" said a
scolding voice. The chief engineer left the stern-sheets, and could
be heard clambering forward as if with hostile intentions against "the
greatest idiot that ever was." The skipper shouted with rasping effort
offensive epithets from where he sat at the oar. He lifted his head
at that uproar, and heard the name "George," while a hand in the dark
struck him on the breast. "What have you got to say for yourself, you
fool?" queried somebody, with a sort of virtuous fury. "They were after
me," he said. "They were abusing me--abusing me . . . by the name of
George."

'He paused to stare, tried to smile, turned his eyes away and went on.
"That little second puts his head right under my nose, 'Why, it's that
blasted mate!' 'What!' howls the skipper from the other end of the boat.
'No!' shrieks the chief. And he too stooped to look at my face."

'The wind had left the boat suddenly. The rain began to fall again, and
the soft, uninterrupted, a little mysterious sound with which the sea
receives a shower arose on all sides in the night. "They were too taken
aback to say anything more at first," he narrated steadily, "and what
could I have to say to them?" He faltered for a moment, and made an
effort to go on. "They called me horrible names." His voice, sinking to
a whisper, now and then would leap up suddenly, hardened by the passion
of scorn, as though he had been talking of secret abominations. "Never
mind what they called me," he said grimly. "I could hear hate in their
voices. A good thing too. They could not forgive me for being in that
boat. They hated it. It made them mad. . . ." He laughed short. . . .
"But it kept me from--Look! I was sitting with my arms crossed, on the
gunwale! . . ." He perched himself smartly on the edge of the table and
crossed his arms. . . . "Like this--see? One little tilt backwards and
I would have been gone--after the others. One little tilt--the least
bit--the least bit." He frowned, and tapping his forehead with the tip
of his middle finger, "It was there all the time," he said impressively.
"All the time--that notion. And the rain--cold, thick, cold as melted
snow--colder--on my thin cotton clothes--I'll never be so cold again in
my life, I know. And the sky was black too--all black. Not a star, not
a light anywhere. Nothing outside that confounded boat and those two
yapping before me like a couple of mean mongrels at a tree'd thief. Yap!
yap! 'What you doing here? You're a fine sort! Too much of a bloomin'
gentleman to put your hand to it. Come out of your trance, did you? To
sneak in? Did you?' Yap! yap! 'You ain't fit to live!' Yap! yap! Two of
them together trying to out-bark each other. The other would bay from
the stern through the rain--couldn't see him--couldn't make it out--some
of his filthy jargon. Yap! yap! Bow-ow-ow-ow-ow! Yap! yap! It was sweet
to hear them; it kept me alive, I tell you. It saved my life. At it they
went, as if trying to drive me overboard with the noise! . . . 'I wonder
you had pluck enough to jump. You ain't wanted here. If I had known who
it was, I would have tipped you over--you skunk! What have you done with
the other? Where did you get the pluck to jump--you coward? What's to
prevent us three from firing you overboard?' . . . They were out of
breath; the shower passed away upon the sea. Then nothing. There was
nothing round the boat, not even a sound. Wanted to see me overboard,
did they? Upon my soul! I think they would have had their wish if they
had only kept quiet. Fire me overboard! Would they? 'Try,' I said. 'I
would for twopence.' 'Too good for you,' they screeched together. It was
so dark that it was only when one or the other of them moved that I was
quite sure of seeing him. By heavens! I only wish they had tried."

'I couldn't help exclaiming, "What an extraordinary affair!"

'"Not bad--eh?" he said, as if in some sort astounded. "They pretended
to think I had done away with that donkey-man for some reason or other.
Why should I? And how the devil was I to know? Didn't I get somehow
into that boat? into that boat--I . . ." The muscles round his lips
contracted into an unconscious grimace that tore through the mask of his
usual expression--something violent, short-lived and illuminating like
a twist of lightning that admits the eye for an instant into the secret
convolutions of a cloud. "I did. I was plainly there with them--wasn't
I? Isn't it awful a man should be driven to do a thing like that--and be
responsible? What did I know about their George they were howling after?
I remembered I had seen him curled up on the deck. 'Murdering coward!'
the chief kept on calling me. He didn't seem able to remember any other
two words. I didn't care, only his noise began to worry me. 'Shut up,' I
said. At that he collected himself for a confounded screech. 'You killed
him! You killed him!' 'No,' I shouted, 'but I will kill you directly.' I
jumped up, and he fell backwards over a thwart with an awful loud thump.
I don't know why. Too dark. Tried to step back I suppose. I stood still
facing aft, and the wretched little second began to whine, 'You
ain't going to hit a chap with a broken arm--and you call yourself a
gentleman, too.' I heard a heavy tramp--one--two--and wheezy grunting.
The other beast was coming at me, clattering his oar over the stern. I
saw him moving, big, big--as you see a man in a mist, in a dream. 'Come
on,' I cried. I would have tumbled him over like a bale of shakings. He
stopped, muttered to himself, and went back. Perhaps he had heard the
wind. I didn't. It was the last heavy gust we had. He went back to his
oar. I was sorry. I would have tried to--to . . ."

'He opened and closed his curved fingers, and his hands had an eager and
cruel flutter. "Steady, steady," I murmured.

'"Eh? What? I am not excited," he remonstrated, awfully hurt, and with
a convulsive jerk of his elbow knocked over the cognac bottle. I started
forward, scraping my chair. He bounced off the table as if a mine had
been exploded behind his back, and half turned before he alighted,
crouching on his feet to show me a startled pair of eyes and a face
white about the nostrils. A look of intense annoyance succeeded.
"Awfully sorry. How clumsy of me!" he mumbled, very vexed, while the
pungent odour of spilt alcohol enveloped us suddenly with an atmosphere
of a low drinking-bout in the cool, pure darkness of the night. The
lights had been put out in the dining-hall; our candle glimmered
solitary in the long gallery, and the columns had turned black from
pediment to capital. On the vivid stars the high corner of the Harbour
Office stood out distinct across the Esplanade, as though the sombre
pile had glided nearer to see and hear.

'He assumed an air of indifference.

'"I dare say I am less calm now than I was then. I was ready for
anything. These were trifles. . . ."

'"You had a lively time of it in that boat," I remarked

'"I was ready," he repeated. "After the ship's lights had gone, anything
might have happened in that boat--anything in the world--and the world
no wiser. I felt this, and I was pleased. It was just dark enough too.
We were like men walled up quick in a roomy grave. No concern with
anything on earth. Nobody to pass an opinion. Nothing mattered." For the
third time during this conversation he laughed harshly, but there was
no one about to suspect him of being only drunk. "No fear, no law, no
sounds, no eyes--not even our own, till--till sunrise at least."

'I was struck by the suggestive truth of his words. There is something
peculiar in a small boat upon the wide sea. Over the lives borne from
under the shadow of death there seems to fall the shadow of madness.
When your ship fails you, your whole world seems to fail you; the world
that made you, restrained you, took care of you. It is as if the souls
of men floating on an abyss and in touch with immensity had been set
free for any excess of heroism, absurdity, or abomination. Of course, as
with belief, thought, love, hate, conviction, or even the visual aspect
of material things, there are as many shipwrecks as there are men, and
in this one there was something abject which made the isolation more
complete--there was a villainy of circumstances that cut these men off
more completely from the rest of mankind, whose ideal of conduct had
never undergone the trial of a fiendish and appalling joke. They were
exasperated with him for being a half-hearted shirker: he focussed on
them his hatred of the whole thing; he would have liked to take a signal
revenge for the abhorrent opportunity they had put in his way. Trust
a boat on the high seas to bring out the Irrational that lurks at the
bottom of every thought, sentiment, sensation, emotion. It was part of
the burlesque meanness pervading that particular disaster at sea that
they did not come to blows. It was all threats, all a terribly effective
feint, a sham from beginning to end, planned by the tremendous disdain
of the Dark Powers whose real terrors, always on the verge of triumph,
are perpetually foiled by the steadfastness of men. I asked, after
waiting for a while, "Well, what happened?" A futile question. I knew
too much already to hope for the grace of a single uplifting touch, for
the favour of hinted madness, of shadowed horror. "Nothing," he said. "I
meant business, but they meant noise only. Nothing happened."

'And the rising sun found him just as he had jumped up first in the bows
of the boat. What a persistence of readiness! He had been holding the
tiller in his hand, too, all the night. They had dropped the rudder
overboard while attempting to ship it, and I suppose the tiller got
kicked forward somehow while they were rushing up and down that boat
trying to do all sorts of things at once so as to get clear of the
side. It was a long heavy piece of hard wood, and apparently he had been
clutching it for six hours or so. If you don't call that being ready!
Can you imagine him, silent and on his feet half the night, his face to
the gusts of rain, staring at sombre forms watchful of vague movements,
straining his ears to catch rare low murmurs in the stern-sheets!
Firmness of courage or effort of fear? What do you think? And the
endurance is undeniable too. Six hours more or less on the defensive;
six hours of alert immobility while the boat drove slowly or floated
arrested, according to the caprice of the wind; while the sea, calmed,
slept at last; while the clouds passed above his head; while the sky
from an immensity lustreless and black, diminished to a sombre and
lustrous vault, scintillated with a greater brilliance, faded to the
east, paled at the zenith; while the dark shapes blotting the low
stars astern got outlines, relief became shoulders, heads, faces,
features,--confronted him with dreary stares, had dishevelled hair, torn
clothes, blinked red eyelids at the white dawn. "They looked as though
they had been knocking about drunk in gutters for a week," he described
graphically; and then he muttered something about the sunrise being of a
kind that foretells a calm day. You know that sailor habit of referring
to the weather in every connection. And on my side his few mumbled words
were enough to make me see the lower limb of the sun clearing the
line of the horizon, the tremble of a vast ripple running over all the
visible expanse of the sea, as if the waters had shuddered, giving birth
to the globe of light, while the last puff of the breeze would stir the
air in a sigh of relief.

'"They sat in the stern shoulder to shoulder, with the skipper in the
middle, like three dirty owls, and stared at me," I heard him say
with an intention of hate that distilled a corrosive virtue into the
commonplace words like a drop of powerful poison falling into a glass
of water; but my thoughts dwelt upon that sunrise. I could imagine
under the pellucid emptiness of the sky these four men imprisoned in the
solitude of the sea, the lonely sun, regardless of the speck of life,
ascending the clear curve of the heaven as if to gaze ardently from a
greater height at his own splendour reflected in the still ocean. "They
called out to me from aft," said Jim, "as though we had been chums
together. I heard them. They were begging me to be sensible and drop
that 'blooming piece of wood.' Why _would_ I carry on so? They hadn't
done me any harm--had they? There had been no harm. . . . No harm!"

'His face crimsoned as though he could not get rid of the air in his
lungs.

'"No harm!" he burst out. "I leave it to you. You can understand. Can't
you? You see it--don't you? No harm! Good God! What more could they have
done? Oh yes, I know very well--I jumped. Certainly. I jumped! I told
you I jumped; but I tell you they were too much for any man. It was
their doing as plainly as if they had reached up with a boat-hook and
pulled me over. Can't you see it? You must see it. Come. Speak--straight
out."

'His uneasy eyes fastened upon mine, questioned, begged, challenged,
entreated. For the life of me I couldn't help murmuring, "You've been
tried." "More than is fair," he caught up swiftly. "I wasn't given half
a chance--with a gang like that. And now they were friendly--oh, so
damnably friendly! Chums, shipmates. All in the same boat. Make the best
of it. They hadn't meant anything. They didn't care a hang for George.
George had gone back to his berth for something at the last moment and
got caught. The man was a manifest fool. Very sad, of course. . . .
Their eyes looked at me; their lips moved; they wagged their heads at
the other end of the boat--three of them; they beckoned--to me. Why
not? Hadn't I jumped? I said nothing. There are no words for the sort of
things I wanted to say. If I had opened my lips just then I would have
simply howled like an animal. I was asking myself when I would wake up.
They urged me aloud to come aft and hear quietly what the skipper had to
say. We were sure to be picked up before the evening--right in the track
of all the Canal traffic; there was smoke to the north-west now.

'"It gave me an awful shock to see this faint, faint blur, this low
trail of brown mist through which you could see the boundary of sea and
sky. I called out to them that I could hear very well where I was. The
skipper started swearing, as hoarse as a crow. He wasn't going to talk
at the top of his voice for _my_ accommodation. 'Are you afraid they
will hear you on shore?' I asked. He glared as if he would have liked to
claw me to pieces. The chief engineer advised him to humour me. He
said I wasn't right in my head yet. The other rose astern, like a thick
pillar of flesh--and talked--talked. . . ."

'Jim remained thoughtful. "Well?" I said. "What did I care what story
they agreed to make up?" he cried recklessly. "They could tell what they
jolly well liked. It was their business. I knew the story. Nothing
they could make people believe could alter it for me. I let him talk,
argue--talk, argue. He went on and on and on. Suddenly I felt my legs
give way under me. I was sick, tired--tired to death. I let fall the
tiller, turned my back on them, and sat down on the foremost thwart. I
had enough. They called to me to know if I understood--wasn't it true,
every word of it? It was true, by God! after their fashion. I did not
turn my head. I heard them palavering together. 'The silly ass won't say
anything.' 'Oh, he understands well enough.' 'Let him be; he will be all
right.' 'What can he do?' What could I do? Weren't we all in the same
boat? I tried to be deaf. The smoke had disappeared to the northward.
It was a dead calm. They had a drink from the water-breaker, and I drank
too. Afterwards they made a great business of spreading the boat-sail
over the gunwales. Would I keep a look-out? They crept under, out of my
sight, thank God! I felt weary, weary, done up, as if I hadn't had one
hour's sleep since the day I was born. I couldn't see the water for the
glitter of the sunshine. From time to time one of them would creep out,
stand up to take a look all round, and get under again. I could hear
spells of snoring below the sail. Some of them could sleep. One of them
at least. I couldn't! All was light, light, and the boat seemed to be
falling through it. Now and then I would feel quite surprised to find
myself sitting on a thwart. . . ."

'He began to walk with measured steps to and fro before my chair, one
hand in his trousers-pocket, his head bent thoughtfully, and his right
arm at long intervals raised for a gesture that seemed to put out of his
way an invisible intruder.

'"I suppose you think I was going mad," he began in a changed tone. "And
well you may, if you remember I had lost my cap. The sun crept all the
way from east to west over my bare head, but that day I could not come
to any harm, I suppose. The sun could not make me mad. . . ." His right
arm put aside the idea of madness. . . . "Neither could it kill
me. . . ." Again his arm repulsed a shadow. . . . "_That_ rested with
me."

'"Did it?" I said, inexpressibly amazed at this new turn, and I looked
at him with the same sort of feeling I might be fairly conceived to
experience had he, after spinning round on his heel, presented an
altogether new face.

'"I didn't get brain fever, I did not drop dead either," he went on. "I
didn't bother myself at all about the sun over my head. I was thinking
as coolly as any man that ever sat thinking in the shade. That greasy
beast of a skipper poked his big cropped head from under the canvas
and screwed his fishy eyes up at me. 'Donnerwetter! you will die,' he
growled, and drew in like a turtle. I had seen him. I had heard him. He
didn't interrupt me. I was thinking just then that I wouldn't."

'He tried to sound my thought with an attentive glance dropped on me
in passing. "Do you mean to say you had been deliberating with yourself
whether you would die?" I asked in as impenetrable a tone as I could
command. He nodded without stopping. "Yes, it had come to that as I sat
there alone," he said. He passed on a few steps to the imaginary end
of his beat, and when he flung round to come back both his hands were
thrust deep into his pockets. He stopped short in front of my chair and
looked down. "Don't you believe it?" he inquired with tense curiosity.
I was moved to make a solemn declaration of my readiness to believe
implicitly anything he thought fit to tell me.'



CHAPTER 11


'He heard me out with his head on one side, and I had another glimpse
through a rent in the mist in which he moved and had his being. The dim
candle spluttered within the ball of glass, and that was all I had to
see him by; at his back was the dark night with the clear stars, whose
distant glitter disposed in retreating planes lured the eye into the
depths of a greater darkness; and yet a mysterious light seemed to show
me his boyish head, as if in that moment the youth within him had, for
a moment, glowed and expired. "You are an awful good sort to listen like
this," he said. "It does me good. You don't know what it is to me. You
don't" . . . words seemed to fail him. It was a distinct glimpse. He was
a youngster of the sort you like to see about you; of the sort you like
to imagine yourself to have been; of the sort whose appearance claims
the fellowship of these illusions you had thought gone out, extinct,
cold, and which, as if rekindled at the approach of another flame, give
a flutter deep, deep down somewhere, give a flutter of light . . . of
heat! . . . Yes; I had a glimpse of him then . . . and it was not the
last of that kind. . . . "You don't know what it is for a fellow in my
position to be believed--make a clean breast of it to an elder man. It
is so difficult--so awfully unfair--so hard to understand."

'The mists were closing again. I don't know how old I appeared to
him--and how much wise. Not half as old as I felt just then; not half
as uselessly wise as I knew myself to be. Surely in no other craft as in
that of the sea do the hearts of those already launched to sink or swim
go out so much to the youth on the brink, looking with shining eyes upon
that glitter of the vast surface which is only a reflection of his
own glances full of fire. There is such magnificent vagueness in
the expectations that had driven each of us to sea, such a glorious
indefiniteness, such a beautiful greed of adventures that are their own
and only reward. What we get--well, we won't talk of that; but can one
of us restrain a smile? In no other kind of life is the illusion more
wide of reality--in no other is the beginning _all_ illusion--the
disenchantment more swift--the subjugation more complete. Hadn't we all
commenced with the same desire, ended with the same knowledge, carried
the memory of the same cherished glamour through the sordid days of
imprecation? What wonder that when some heavy prod gets home the bond
is found to be close; that besides the fellowship of the craft there is
felt the strength of a wider feeling--the feeling that binds a man to a
child. He was there before me, believing that age and wisdom can find
a remedy against the pain of truth, giving me a glimpse of himself as a
young fellow in a scrape that is the very devil of a scrape, the sort
of scrape greybeards wag at solemnly while they hide a smile. And he
had been deliberating upon death--confound him! He had found that to
meditate about because he thought he had saved his life, while all its
glamour had gone with the ship in the night. What more natural! It
was tragic enough and funny enough in all conscience to call aloud for
compassion, and in what was I better than the rest of us to refuse him
my pity? And even as I looked at him the mists rolled into the rent, and
his voice spoke--

'"I was so lost, you know. It was the sort of thing one does not expect
to happen to one. It was not like a fight, for instance."

'"It was not," I admitted. He appeared changed, as if he had suddenly
matured.

'"One couldn't be sure," he muttered.

'"Ah! You were not sure," I said, and was placated by the sound of
a faint sigh that passed between us like the flight of a bird in the
night.

'"Well, I wasn't," he said courageously. "It was something like that
wretched story they made up. It was not a lie--but it wasn't truth all
the same. It was something. . . . One knows a downright lie. There was
not the thickness of a sheet of paper between the right and the wrong of
this affair."

'"How much more did you want?" I asked; but I think I spoke so low that
he did not catch what I said. He had advanced his argument as though
life had been a network of paths separated by chasms. His voice sounded
reasonable.

'"Suppose I had not--I mean to say, suppose I had stuck to the ship?
Well. How much longer? Say a minute--half a minute. Come. In thirty
seconds, as it seemed certain then, I would have been overboard; and do
you think I would not have laid hold of the first thing that came in my
way--oar, life-buoy, grating--anything? Wouldn't you?"

'"And be saved," I interjected.

'"I would have meant to be," he retorted. "And that's more than I meant
when I" . . . he shivered as if about to swallow some nauseous
drug . . . "jumped," he pronounced with a convulsive effort, whose
stress, as if propagated by the waves of the air, made my body stir a
little in the chair. He fixed me with lowering eyes. "Don't you believe
me?" he cried. "I swear! . . . Confound it! You got me here to talk,
and . . . You must! . . . You said you would believe." "Of course I do,"
I protested, in a matter-of-fact tone which produced a calming effect.
"Forgive me," he said. "Of course I wouldn't have talked to you about
all this if you had not been a gentleman. I ought to have known . . . I
am--I am--a gentleman too . . ." "Yes, yes," I said hastily. He was
looking me squarely in the face, and withdrew his gaze slowly. "Now you
understand why I didn't after all . . . didn't go out in that way. I
wasn't going to be frightened at what I had done. And, anyhow, if I had
stuck to the ship I would have done my best to be saved. Men have been
known to float for hours--in the open sea--and be picked up not much the
worse for it. I might have lasted it out better than many others.
There's nothing the matter with my heart." He withdrew his right fist
from his pocket, and the blow he struck on his chest resounded like a
muffled detonation in the night.

'"No," I said. He meditated, with his legs slightly apart and his
chin sunk. "A hair's-breadth," he muttered. "Not the breadth of a hair
between this and that. And at the time . . ."

'"It is difficult to see a hair at midnight," I put in, a little
viciously I fear. Don't you see what I mean by the solidarity of the
craft? I was aggrieved against him, as though he had cheated me--me!--of
a splendid opportunity to keep up the illusion of my beginnings, as
though he had robbed our common life of the last spark of its glamour.
"And so you cleared out--at once."

'"Jumped," he corrected me incisively. "Jumped--mind!" he repeated, and
I wondered at the evident but obscure intention. "Well, yes! Perhaps I
could not see then. But I had plenty of time and any amount of light
in that boat. And I could think, too. Nobody would know, of course, but
this did not make it any easier for me. You've got to believe that, too.
I did not want all this talk. . . . No . . . Yes . . . I won't
lie . . . I wanted it: it is the very thing I wanted--there. Do you
think you or anybody could have made me if I . . . I am--I am not afraid
to tell. And I wasn't afraid to think either. I looked it in the face. I
wasn't going to run away. At first--at night, if it hadn't been for
those fellows I might have . . . No! by heavens! I was not going to give
them that satisfaction. They had done enough. They made up a story, and
believed it for all I know. But I knew the truth, and I would live it
down--alone, with myself. I wasn't going to give in to such a beastly
unfair thing. What did it prove after all? I was confoundedly cut up.
Sick of life--to tell you the truth; but what would have been the good
to shirk it--in--in--that way? That was not the way. I believe--I
believe it would have--it would have ended--nothing."

'He had been walking up and down, but with the last word he turned short
at me.

'"What do _you_ believe?" he asked with violence. A pause ensued, and
suddenly I felt myself overcome by a profound and hopeless fatigue, as
though his voice had startled me out of a dream of wandering through
empty spaces whose immensity had harassed my soul and exhausted my body.

'". . . Would have ended nothing," he muttered over me obstinately,
after a little while. "No! the proper thing was to face it out--alone
for myself--wait for another chance--find out . . ."'



CHAPTER 12


'All around everything was still as far as the ear could reach. The mist
of his feelings shifted between us, as if disturbed by his struggles,
and in the rifts of the immaterial veil he would appear to my staring
eyes distinct of form and pregnant with vague appeal like a symbolic
figure in a picture. The chill air of the night seemed to lie on my
limbs as heavy as a slab of marble.

'"I see," I murmured, more to prove to myself that I could break my
state of numbness than for any other reason.

'"The Avondale picked us up just before sunset," he remarked moodily.
"Steamed right straight for us. We had only to sit and wait."

'After a long interval, he said, "They told their story." And again
there was that oppressive silence. "Then only I knew what it was I had
made up my mind to," he added.

'"You said nothing," I whispered.

'"What could I say?" he asked, in the same low tone. . . . "Shock
slight. Stopped the ship. Ascertained the damage. Took measures to get
the boats out without creating a panic. As the first boat was lowered
ship went down in a squall. Sank like lead. . . . What could be more
clear" . . . he hung his head . . . "and more awful?" His lips quivered
while he looked straight into my eyes. "I had jumped--hadn't I?" he
asked, dismayed. "That's what I had to live down. The story didn't
matter." . . . He clasped his hands for an instant, glanced right and
left into the gloom: "It was like cheating the dead," he stammered.

'"And there were no dead," I said.

'He went away from me at this. That is the only way I can describe it.
In a moment I saw his back close to the balustrade. He stood there for
some time, as if admiring the purity and the peace of the night. Some
flowering-shrub in the garden below spread its powerful scent through
the damp air. He returned to me with hasty steps.

'"And that did not matter," he said, as stubbornly as you please.

'"Perhaps not," I admitted. I began to have a notion he was too much for
me. After all, what did _I_ know?

'"Dead or not dead, I could not get clear," he said. "I had to live;
hadn't I?"

'"Well, yes--if you take it in that way," I mumbled.

'"I was glad, of course," he threw out carelessly, with his mind fixed
on something else. "The exposure," he pronounced slowly, and lifted
his head. "Do you know what was my first thought when I heard? I was
relieved. I was relieved to learn that those shouts--did I tell you I
had heard shouts? No? Well, I did. Shouts for help . . . blown along
with the drizzle. Imagination, I suppose. And yet I can hardly . . . How
stupid. . . . The others did not. I asked them afterwards. They all
said No. No? And I was hearing them even then! I might have known--but
I didn't think--I only listened. Very faint screams--day after day. Then
that little half-caste chap here came up and spoke to me. 'The
Patna . . . French gunboat . . . towed successfully to Aden . . .
Investigation . . . Marine Office . . . Sailors' Home . . . arrangements
made for your board and lodging!' I walked along with him, and I enjoyed
the silence. So there had been no shouting. Imagination. I had to
believe him. I could hear nothing any more. I wonder how long I could
have stood it. It was getting worse, too . . . I mean--louder." 'He fell
into thought.

'"And I had heard nothing! Well--so be it. But the lights! The lights
did go! We did not see them. They were not there. If they had been, I
would have swam back--I would have gone back and shouted alongside--I
would have begged them to take me on board. . . . I would have had my
chance. . . . You doubt me? . . . How do you know how I felt? . . . What
right have you to doubt? . . . I very nearly did it as it was--do you
understand?" His voice fell. "There was not a glimmer--not a glimmer,"
he protested mournfully. "Don't you understand that if there had been,
you would not have seen me here? You see me--and you doubt."

'I shook my head negatively. This question of the lights being lost
sight of when the boat could not have been more than a quarter of a mile
from the ship was a matter for much discussion. Jim stuck to it that
there was nothing to be seen after the first shower had cleared away;
and the others had affirmed the same thing to the officers of the
Avondale. Of course people shook their heads and smiled. One old skipper
who sat near me in court tickled my ear with his white beard to murmur,
"Of course they would lie." As a matter of fact nobody lied; not even
the chief engineer with his story of the mast-head light dropping like a
match you throw down. Not consciously, at least. A man with his liver in
such a state might very well have seen a floating spark in the corner of
his eye when stealing a hurried glance over his shoulder. They had seen
no light of any sort though they were well within range, and they could
only explain this in one way: the ship had gone down. It was obvious
and comforting. The foreseen fact coming so swiftly had justified their
haste. No wonder they did not cast about for any other explanation. Yet
the true one was very simple, and as soon as Brierly suggested it the
court ceased to bother about the question. If you remember, the ship had
been stopped, and was lying with her head on the course steered through
the night, with her stern canted high and her bows brought low down in
the water through the filling of the fore-compartment. Being thus out of
trim, when the squall struck her a little on the quarter, she swung head
to wind as sharply as though she had been at anchor. By this change in
her position all her lights were in a very few moments shut off from
the boat to leeward. It may very well be that, had they been seen, they
would have had the effect of a mute appeal--that their glimmer lost in
the darkness of the cloud would have had the mysterious power of the
human glance that can awaken the feelings of remorse and pity. It would
have said, "I am here--still here" . . . and what more can the eye of
the most forsaken of human beings say? But she turned her back on them
as if in disdain of their fate: she had swung round, burdened, to glare
stubbornly at the new danger of the open sea which she so strangely
survived to end her days in a breaking-up yard, as if it had been her
recorded fate to die obscurely under the blows of many hammers. What
were the various ends their destiny provided for the pilgrims I am
unable to say; but the immediate future brought, at about nine o'clock
next morning, a French gunboat homeward bound from Reunion. The report
of her commander was public property. He had swept a little out of
his course to ascertain what was the matter with that steamer floating
dangerously by the head upon a still and hazy sea. There was an ensign,
union down, flying at her main gaff (the serang had the sense to make a
signal of distress at daylight); but the cooks were preparing the food
in the cooking-boxes forward as usual. The decks were packed as close
as a sheep-pen: there were people perched all along the rails, jammed on
the bridge in a solid mass; hundreds of eyes stared, and not a sound was
heard when the gunboat ranged abreast, as if all that multitude of lips
had been sealed by a spell.

'The Frenchman hailed, could get no intelligible reply, and after
ascertaining through his binoculars that the crowd on deck did not look
plague-stricken, decided to send a boat. Two officers came on board,
listened to the serang, tried to talk with the Arab, couldn't make head
or tail of it: but of course the nature of the emergency was obvious
enough. They were also very much struck by discovering a white man, dead
and curled up peacefully on the bridge. "Fort intrigues par ce cadavre,"
as I was informed a long time after by an elderly French lieutenant whom
I came across one afternoon in Sydney, by the merest chance, in a sort
of cafe, and who remembered the affair perfectly. Indeed this affair,
I may notice in passing, had an extraordinary power of defying the
shortness of memories and the length of time: it seemed to live, with
a sort of uncanny vitality, in the minds of men, on the tips of their
tongues. I've had the questionable pleasure of meeting it often, years
afterwards, thousands of miles away, emerging from the remotest possible
talk, coming to the surface of the most distant allusions. Has it not
turned up to-night between us? And I am the only seaman here. I am the
only one to whom it is a memory. And yet it has made its way out! But if
two men who, unknown to each other, knew of this affair met accidentally
on any spot of this earth, the thing would pop up between them as sure
as fate, before they parted. I had never seen that Frenchman before, and
at the end of an hour we had done with each other for life: he did not
seem particularly talkative either; he was a quiet, massive chap in a
creased uniform, sitting drowsily over a tumbler half full of some
dark liquid. His shoulder-straps were a bit tarnished, his clean-shaved
cheeks were large and sallow; he looked like a man who would be given
to taking snuff--don't you know? I won't say he did; but the habit would
have fitted that kind of man. It all began by his handing me a number of
Home News, which I didn't want, across the marble table. I said "Merci."
We exchanged a few apparently innocent remarks, and suddenly, before
I knew how it had come about, we were in the midst of it, and he was
telling me how much they had been "intrigued by that corpse." It turned
out he had been one of the boarding officers.

'In the establishment where we sat one could get a variety of foreign
drinks which were kept for the visiting naval officers, and he took a
sip of the dark medical-looking stuff, which probably was nothing more
nasty than cassis a l'eau, and glancing with one eye into the tumbler,
shook his head slightly. "Impossible de comprendre--vous concevez," he
said, with a curious mixture of unconcern and thoughtfulness. I could
very easily conceive how impossible it had been for them to understand.
Nobody in the gunboat knew enough English to get hold of the story as
told by the serang. There was a good deal of noise, too, round the two
officers. "They crowded upon us. There was a circle round that dead
man (autour de ce mort)," he described. "One had to attend to the most
pressing. These people were beginning to agitate themselves--Parbleu!
A mob like that--don't you see?" he interjected with philosophic
indulgence. As to the bulkhead, he had advised his commander that the
safest thing was to leave it alone, it was so villainous to look at.
They got two hawsers on board promptly (en toute hale) and took the
Patna in tow--stern foremost at that--which, under the circumstances,
was not so foolish, since the rudder was too much out of the water to
be of any great use for steering, and this manoeuvre eased the strain on
the bulkhead, whose state, he expounded with stolid glibness, demanded
the greatest care (exigeait les plus grands menagements). I could not
help thinking that my new acquaintance must have had a voice in most of
these arrangements: he looked a reliable officer, no longer very active,
and he was seamanlike too, in a way, though as he sat there, with his
thick fingers clasped lightly on his stomach, he reminded you of one
of those snuffy, quiet village priests, into whose ears are poured the
sins, the sufferings, the remorse of peasant generations, on whose faces
the placid and simple expression is like a veil thrown over the mystery
of pain and distress. He ought to have had a threadbare black soutane
buttoned smoothly up to his ample chin, instead of a frock-coat with
shoulder-straps and brass buttons. His broad bosom heaved regularly
while he went on telling me that it had been the very devil of a job,
as doubtless (sans doute) I could figure to myself in my quality of a
seaman (en votre qualite de marin). At the end of the period he inclined
his body slightly towards me, and, pursing his shaved lips, allowed the
air to escape with a gentle hiss. "Luckily," he continued, "the sea was
level like this table, and there was no more wind than there is here."
. . . The place struck me as indeed intolerably stuffy, and very hot;
my face burned as though I had been young enough to be embarrassed and
blushing. They had directed their course, he pursued, to the nearest
English port "naturellement," where their responsibility ceased, "Dieu
merci." . . . He blew out his flat cheeks a little. . . . "Because,
mind you (notez bien), all the time of towing we had two quartermasters
stationed with axes by the hawsers, to cut us clear of our tow in case
she . . ." He fluttered downwards his heavy eyelids, making his meaning
as plain as possible. . . . "What would you! One does what one can
(on fait ce qu'on peut)," and for a moment he managed to invest
his ponderous immobility with an air of resignation. "Two
quartermasters--thirty hours--always there. Two!" he repeated, lifting
up his right hand a little, and exhibiting two fingers. This was
absolutely the first gesture I saw him make. It gave me the opportunity
to "note" a starred scar on the back of his hand--effect of a gunshot
clearly; and, as if my sight had been made more acute by this discovery,
I perceived also the seam of an old wound, beginning a little below the
temple and going out of sight under the short grey hair at the side of
his head--the graze of a spear or the cut of a sabre. He clasped his
hands on his stomach again. "I remained on board that--that--my memory
is going (s'en va). Ah! Patt-na. C'est bien ca. Patt-na. Merci. It is
droll how one forgets. I stayed on that ship thirty hours. . . ."

'"You did!" I exclaimed. Still gazing at his hands, he pursed his lips a
little, but this time made no hissing sound. "It was judged proper," he
said, lifting his eyebrows dispassionately, "that one of the officers
should remain to keep an eye open (pour ouvrir l'oeil)" . . . he sighed
idly . . . "and for communicating by signals with the towing ship--do
you see?--and so on. For the rest, it was my opinion too. We made our
boats ready to drop over--and I also on that ship took measures. . . .
Enfin! One has done one's possible. It was a delicate position. Thirty
hours! They prepared me some food. As for the wine--go and whistle for
it--not a drop." In some extraordinary way, without any marked change in
his inert attitude and in the placid expression of his face, he managed
to convey the idea of profound disgust. "I--you know--when it comes to
eating without my glass of wine--I am nowhere."

'I was afraid he would enlarge upon the grievance, for though he didn't
stir a limb or twitch a feature, he made one aware how much he was
irritated by the recollection. But he seemed to forget all about it.
They delivered their charge to the "port authorities," as he expressed
it. He was struck by the calmness with which it had been received. "One
might have thought they had such a droll find (drole de trouvaille)
brought them every day. You are extraordinary--you others," he
commented, with his back propped against the wall, and looking himself
as incapable of an emotional display as a sack of meal. There happened
to be a man-of-war and an Indian Marine steamer in the harbour at the
time, and he did not conceal his admiration of the efficient manner in
which the boats of these two ships cleared the Patna of her passengers.
Indeed his torpid demeanour concealed nothing: it had that mysterious,
almost miraculous, power of producing striking effects by means
impossible of detection which is the last word of the highest art.
"Twenty-five minutes--watch in hand--twenty-five, no more." . . . He
unclasped and clasped again his fingers without removing his hands from
his stomach, and made it infinitely more effective than if he had thrown
up his arms to heaven in amazement. . . . "All that lot (tout ce monde)
on shore--with their little affairs--nobody left but a guard of
seamen (marins de l'Etat) and that interesting corpse (cet interessant
cadavre). Twenty-five minutes." . . . With downcast eyes and his head
tilted slightly on one side he seemed to roll knowingly on his tongue
the savour of a smart bit of work. He persuaded one without any further
demonstration that his approval was eminently worth having, and resuming
his hardly interrupted immobility, he went on to inform me that, being
under orders to make the best of their way to Toulon, they left in
two hours' time, "so that (de sorte que) there are many things in this
incident of my life (dans cet episode de ma vie) which have remained
obscure."'



CHAPTER 13


'After these words, and without a change of attitude, he, so to speak,
submitted himself passively to a state of silence. I kept him company;
and suddenly, but not abruptly, as if the appointed time had arrived
for his moderate and husky voice to come out of his immobility, he
pronounced, "Mon Dieu! how the time passes!" Nothing could have been
more commonplace than this remark; but its utterance coincided for me
with a moment of vision. It's extraordinary how we go through life with
eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it's just
as well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to
the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless,
there can be but few of us who had never known one of these rare moments
of awakening when we see, hear, understand ever so much--everything--in
a flash--before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence. I
raised my eyes when he spoke, and I saw him as though I had never seen
him before. I saw his chin sunk on his breast, the clumsy folds of his
coat, his clasped hands, his motionless pose, so curiously suggestive
of his having been simply left there. Time had passed indeed: it had
overtaken him and gone ahead. It had left him hopelessly behind with
a few poor gifts: the iron-grey hair, the heavy fatigue of the tanned
face, two scars, a pair of tarnished shoulder-straps; one of those
steady, reliable men who are the raw material of great reputations,
one of those uncounted lives that are buried without drums and
trumpets under the foundations of monumental successes. "I am now third
lieutenant of the Victorieuse" (she was the flagship of the French
Pacific squadron at the time), he said, detaching his shoulders from
the wall a couple of inches to introduce himself. I bowed slightly on my
side of the table, and told him I commanded a merchant vessel at present
anchored in Rushcutters' Bay. He had "remarked" her,--a pretty little
craft. He was very civil about it in his impassive way. I even fancy
he went the length of tilting his head in compliment as he repeated,
breathing visibly the while, "Ah, yes. A little craft painted
black--very pretty--very pretty (tres coquet)." After a time he twisted
his body slowly to face the glass door on our right. "A dull town
(triste ville)," he observed, staring into the street. It was a
brilliant day; a southerly buster was raging, and we could see the
passers-by, men and women, buffeted by the wind on the sidewalks, the
sunlit fronts of the houses across the road blurred by the tall whirls
of dust. "I descended on shore," he said, "to stretch my legs a little,
but . . ." He didn't finish, and sank into the depths of his repose.
"Pray--tell me," he began, coming up ponderously, "what was there at the
bottom of this affair--precisely (au juste)? It is curious. That dead
man, for instance--and so on."

'"There were living men too," I said; "much more curious."

'"No doubt, no doubt," he agreed half audibly, then, as if after
mature consideration, murmured, "Evidently." I made no difficulty in
communicating to him what had interested me most in this affair. It
seemed as though he had a right to know: hadn't he spent thirty hours
on board the Palna--had he not taken the succession, so to speak, had
he not done "his possible"? He listened to me, looking more priest-like
than ever, and with what--probably on account of his downcast eyes--had
the appearance of devout concentration. Once or twice he elevated
his eyebrows (but without raising his eyelids), as one would say "The
devil!" Once he calmly exclaimed, "Ah, bah!" under his breath, and when
I had finished he pursed his lips in a deliberate way and emitted a sort
of sorrowful whistle.

'In any one else it might have been an evidence of boredom, a sign of
indifference; but he, in his occult way, managed to make his immobility
appear profoundly responsive, and as full of valuable thoughts as an
egg is of meat. What he said at last was nothing more than a "Very
interesting," pronounced politely, and not much above a whisper. Before
I got over my disappointment he added, but as if speaking to himself,
"That's it. That _is_ it." His chin seemed to sink lower on his breast,
his body to weigh heavier on his seat. I was about to ask him what he
meant, when a sort of preparatory tremor passed over his whole person,
as a faint ripple may be seen upon stagnant water even before the wind
is felt. "And so that poor young man ran away along with the others," he
said, with grave tranquillity.

'I don't know what made me smile: it is the only genuine smile of mine
I can remember in connection with Jim's affair. But somehow this simple
statement of the matter sounded funny in French. . . . "S'est enfui avec
les autres," had said the lieutenant. And suddenly I began to admire the
discrimination of the man. He had made out the point at once: he did
get hold of the only thing I cared about. I felt as though I were taking
professional opinion on the case. His imperturbable and mature calmness
was that of an expert in possession of the facts, and to whom one's
perplexities are mere child's-play. "Ah! The young, the young," he said
indulgently. "And after all, one does not die of it." "Die of what?" I
asked swiftly. "Of being afraid." He elucidated his meaning and sipped
his drink.

'I perceived that the three last fingers of his wounded hand were stiff
and could not move independently of each other, so that he took up his
tumbler with an ungainly clutch. "One is always afraid. One may talk,
but . . ." He put down the glass awkwardly. . . . "The fear, the
fear--look you--it is always there." . . . He touched his breast near
a brass button, on the very spot where Jim had given a thump to his
own when protesting that there was nothing the matter with his heart. I
suppose I made some sign of dissent, because he insisted, "Yes! yes! One
talks, one talks; this is all very fine; but at the end of the reckoning
one is no cleverer than the next man--and no more brave. Brave! This
is always to be seen. I have rolled my hump (roule ma bosse)," he said,
using the slang expression with imperturbable seriousness, "in all parts
of the world; I have known brave men--famous ones! Allez!" . . . He
drank carelessly. . . . "Brave--you conceive--in the Service--one has
got to be--the trade demands it (le metier veut ca). Is it not so?" he
appealed to me reasonably. "Eh bien! Each of them--I say each of them,
if he were an honest man--bien entendu--would confess that there is a
point--there is a point--for the best of us--there is somewhere a point
when you let go everything (vous lachez tout). And you have got to
live with that truth--do you see? Given a certain combination
of circumstances, fear is sure to come. Abominable funk (un trac
epouvantable). And even for those who do not believe this truth there is
fear all the same--the fear of themselves. Absolutely so. Trust me. Yes.
Yes. . . . At my age one knows what one is talking about--que diable!"
. . . He had delivered himself of all this as immovably as though he had
been the mouthpiece of abstract wisdom, but at this point he heightened
the effect of detachment by beginning to twirl his thumbs slowly. "It's
evident--parbleu!" he continued; "for, make up your mind as much as you
like, even a simple headache or a fit of indigestion (un derangement
d'estomac) is enough to . . . Take me, for instance--I have made my
proofs. Eh bien! I, who am speaking to you, once . . ."

'He drained his glass and returned to his twirling. "No, no; one does
not die of it," he pronounced finally, and when I found he did not mean
to proceed with the personal anecdote, I was extremely disappointed; the
more so as it was not the sort of story, you know, one could very well
press him for. I sat silent, and he too, as if nothing could please him
better. Even his thumbs were still now. Suddenly his lips began to move.
"That is so," he resumed placidly. "Man is born a coward (L'homme est ne
poltron). It is a difficulty--parbleu! It would be too easy other vise.
But habit--habit--necessity--do you see?--the eye of others--voila. One
puts up with it. And then the example of others who are no better than
yourself, and yet make good countenance. . . ."

'His voice ceased.

'"That young man--you will observe--had none of these inducements--at
least at the moment," I remarked.

'He raised his eyebrows forgivingly: "I don't say; I don't say. The
young man in question might have had the best dispositions--the best
dispositions," he repeated, wheezing a little.

'"I am glad to see you taking a lenient view," I said. "His own feeling
in the matter was--ah!--hopeful, and . . ."

'The shuffle of his feet under the table interrupted me. He drew up
his heavy eyelids. Drew up, I say--no other expression can describe the
steady deliberation of the act--and at last was disclosed completely to
me. I was confronted by two narrow grey circlets, like two tiny steel
rings around the profound blackness of the pupils. The sharp glance,
coming from that massive body, gave a notion of extreme efficiency, like
a razor-edge on a battle-axe. "Pardon," he said punctiliously. His right
hand went up, and he swayed forward. "Allow me . . . I contended that
one may get on knowing very well that one's courage does not come of
itself (ne vient pas tout seul). There's nothing much in that to
get upset about. One truth the more ought not to make life
impossible. . . . But the honour--the honour, monsieur! . . . The honour
. . . that is real--that is! And what life may be worth when" . . . he
got on his feet with a ponderous impetuosity, as a startled ox might
scramble up from the grass . . . "when the honour is gone--ah
ca! par exemple--I can offer no opinion. I can offer no
opinion--because--monsieur--I know nothing of it."

'I had risen too, and, trying to throw infinite politeness into
our attitudes, we faced each other mutely, like two china dogs on a
mantelpiece. Hang the fellow! he had pricked the bubble. The blight
of futility that lies in wait for men's speeches had fallen upon our
conversation, and made it a thing of empty sounds. "Very well," I said,
with a disconcerted smile; "but couldn't it reduce itself to not being
found out?" He made as if to retort readily, but when he spoke he had
changed his mind. "This, monsieur, is too fine for me--much above me--I
don't think about it." He bowed heavily over his cap, which he held
before him by the peak, between the thumb and the forefinger of his
wounded hand. I bowed too. We bowed together: we scraped our feet at
each other with much ceremony, while a dirty specimen of a waiter looked
on critically, as though he had paid for the performance. "Serviteur,"
said the Frenchman. Another scrape. "Monsieur" . . . "Monsieur." . . .
The glass door swung behind his burly back. I saw the southerly buster
get hold of him and drive him down wind with his hand to his head, his
shoulders braced, and the tails of his coat blown hard against his legs.

'I sat down again alone and discouraged--discouraged about Jim's case.
If you wonder that after more than three years it had preserved its
actuality, you must know that I had seen him only very lately. I had
come straight from Samarang, where I had loaded a cargo for Sydney: an
utterly uninteresting bit of business,--what Charley here would call one
of my rational transactions,--and in Samarang I had seen something
of Jim. He was then working for De Jongh, on my recommendation.
Water-clerk. "My representative afloat," as De Jongh called him. You
can't imagine a mode of life more barren of consolation, less capable of
being invested with a spark of glamour--unless it be the business of an
insurance canvasser. Little Bob Stanton--Charley here knew him well--had
gone through that experience. The same who got drowned afterwards trying
to save a lady's-maid in the Sephora disaster. A case of collision on a
hazy morning off the Spanish coast--you may remember. All the passengers
had been packed tidily into the boats and shoved clear of the ship, when
Bob sheered alongside again and scrambled back on deck to fetch that
girl. How she had been left behind I can't make out; anyhow, she had
gone completely crazy--wouldn't leave the ship--held to the rail like
grim death. The wrestling-match could be seen plainly from the boats;
but poor Bob was the shortest chief mate in the merchant service, and
the woman stood five feet ten in her shoes and was as strong as a horse,
I've been told. So it went on, pull devil, pull baker, the wretched girl
screaming all the time, and Bob letting out a yell now and then to
warn his boat to keep well clear of the ship. One of the hands told me,
hiding a smile at the recollection, "It was for all the world, sir, like
a naughty youngster fighting with his mother." The same old chap said
that "At the last we could see that Mr. Stanton had given up hauling
at the gal, and just stood by looking at her, watchful like. We thought
afterwards he must've been reckoning that, maybe, the rush of water
would tear her away from the rail by-and-by and give him a show to save
her. We daren't come alongside for our life; and after a bit the old
ship went down all on a sudden with a lurch to starboard--plop. The suck
in was something awful. We never saw anything alive or dead come up."
Poor Bob's spell of shore-life had been one of the complications of a
love affair, I believe. He fondly hoped he had done with the sea for
ever, and made sure he had got hold of all the bliss on earth, but it
came to canvassing in the end. Some cousin of his in Liverpool put up
to it. He used to tell us his experiences in that line. He made us laugh
till we cried, and, not altogether displeased at the effect, undersized
and bearded to the waist like a gnome, he would tiptoe amongst us and
say, "It's all very well for you beggars to laugh, but my immortal soul
was shrivelled down to the size of a parched pea after a week of that
work." I don't know how Jim's soul accommodated itself to the new
conditions of his life--I was kept too busy in getting him something to
do that would keep body and soul together--but I am pretty certain his
adventurous fancy was suffering all the pangs of starvation. It had
certainly nothing to feed upon in this new calling. It was distressing
to see him at it, though he tackled it with a stubborn serenity for
which I must give him full credit. I kept my eye on his shabby plodding
with a sort of notion that it was a punishment for the heroics of his
fancy--an expiation for his craving after more glamour than he could
carry. He had loved too well to imagine himself a glorious racehorse,
and now he was condemned to toil without honour like a costermonger's
donkey. He did it very well. He shut himself in, put his head down, said
never a word. Very well; very well indeed--except for certain
fantastic and violent outbreaks, on the deplorable occasions when the
irrepressible Patna case cropped up. Unfortunately that scandal of the
Eastern seas would not die out. And this is the reason why I could never
feel I had done with Jim for good.

'I sat thinking of him after the French lieutenant had left, not,
however, in connection with De Jongh's cool and gloomy backshop, where
we had hurriedly shaken hands not very long ago, but as I had seen him
years before in the last flickers of the candle, alone with me in the
long gallery of the Malabar House, with the chill and the darkness of
the night at his back. The respectable sword of his country's law was
suspended over his head. To-morrow--or was it to-day? (midnight had
slipped by long before we parted)--the marble-faced police
magistrate, after distributing fines and terms of imprisonment in the
assault-and-battery case, would take up the awful weapon and smite his
bowed neck. Our communion in the night was uncommonly like a last vigil
with a condemned man. He was guilty too. He was guilty--as I had told
myself repeatedly, guilty and done for; nevertheless, I wished to spare
him the mere detail of a formal execution. I don't pretend to explain
the reasons of my desire--I don't think I could; but if you haven't got
a sort of notion by this time, then I must have been very obscure in
my narrative, or you too sleepy to seize upon the sense of my words.
I don't defend my morality. There was no morality in the impulse which
induced me to lay before him Brierly's plan of evasion--I may call
it--in all its primitive simplicity. There were the rupees--absolutely
ready in my pocket and very much at his service. Oh! a loan; a loan of
course--and if an introduction to a man (in Rangoon) who could put some
work in his way . . . Why! with the greatest pleasure. I had pen, ink,
and paper in my room on the first floor And even while I was speaking I
was impatient to begin the letter--day, month, year, 2.30 A.M. . . . for
the sake of our old friendship I ask you to put some work in the way of
Mr. James So-and-so, in whom, &c., &c. . . . I was even ready to write
in that strain about him. If he had not enlisted my sympathies he had
done better for himself--he had gone to the very fount and origin of
that sentiment he had reached the secret sensibility of my egoism. I
am concealing nothing from you, because were I to do so my action would
appear more unintelligible than any man's action has the right to be,
and--in the second place--to-morrow you will forget my sincerity along
with the other lessons of the past. In this transaction, to speak
grossly and precisely, I was the irreproachable man; but the subtle
intentions of my immorality were defeated by the moral simplicity of the
criminal. No doubt he was selfish too, but his selfishness had a higher
origin, a more lofty aim. I discovered that, say what I would, he was
eager to go through the ceremony of execution, and I didn't say much,
for I felt that in argument his youth would tell against me heavily: he
believed where I had already ceased to doubt. There was something fine
in the wildness of his unexpressed, hardly formulated hope. "Clear out!
Couldn't think of it," he said, with a shake of the head. "I make you
an offer for which I neither demand nor expect any sort of gratitude,"
I said; "you shall repay the money when convenient, and . . ." "Awfully
good of you," he muttered without looking up. I watched him narrowly:
the future must have appeared horribly uncertain to him; but he did not
falter, as though indeed there had been nothing wrong with his heart.
I felt angry--not for the first time that night. "The whole wretched
business," I said, "is bitter enough, I should think, for a man of your
kind . . ." "It is, it is," he whispered twice, with his eyes fixed on
the floor. It was heartrending. He towered above the light, and I could
see the down on his cheek, the colour mantling warm under the smooth
skin of his face. Believe me or not, I say it was outrageously
heartrending. It provoked me to brutality. "Yes," I said; "and allow me
to confess that I am totally unable to imagine what advantage you can
expect from this licking of the dregs." "Advantage!" he murmured out of
his stillness. "I am dashed if I do," I said, enraged. "I've been trying
to tell you all there is in it," he went on slowly, as if meditating
something unanswerable. "But after all, it is _my_ trouble." I opened my
mouth to retort, and discovered suddenly that I'd lost all confidence in
myself; and it was as if he too had given me up, for he mumbled like a
man thinking half aloud. "Went away . . . went into hospitals. . . . Not
one of them would face it. . . . They! . . ." He moved his hand slightly
to imply disdain. "But I've got to get over this thing, and I mustn't
shirk any of it or . . . I won't shirk any of it." He was silent. He
gazed as though he had been haunted. His unconscious face reflected the
passing expressions of scorn, of despair, of resolution--reflected
them in turn, as a magic mirror would reflect the gliding passage of
unearthly shapes. He lived surrounded by deceitful ghosts, by austere
shades. "Oh! nonsense, my dear fellow," I began. He had a movement of
impatience. "You don't seem to understand," he said incisively; then
looking at me without a wink, "I may have jumped, but I don't run away."
"I meant no offence," I said; and added stupidly, "Better men than you
have found it expedient to run, at times." He coloured all over, while
in my confusion I half-choked myself with my own tongue. "Perhaps so,"
he said at last, "I am not good enough; I can't afford it. I am bound to
fight this thing down--I am fighting it now." I got out of my chair and
felt stiff all over. The silence was embarrassing, and to put an end
to it I imagined nothing better but to remark, "I had no idea it was so
late," in an airy tone. . . . "I dare say you have had enough of this,"
he said brusquely: "and to tell you the truth"--he began to look round
for his hat--"so have I."

'Well! he had refused this unique offer. He had struck aside my helping
hand; he was ready to go now, and beyond the balustrade the night seemed
to wait for him very still, as though he had been marked down for its
prey. I heard his voice. "Ah! here it is." He had found his hat. For a
few seconds we hung in the wind. "What will you do after--after . . ."
I asked very low. "Go to the dogs as likely as not," he answered in a
gruff mutter. I had recovered my wits in a measure, and judged best to
take it lightly. "Pray remember," I said, "that I should like very much
to see you again before you go." "I don't know what's to prevent
you. The damned thing won't make me invisible," he said with intense
bitterness,--"no such luck." And then at the moment of taking leave he
treated me to a ghastly muddle of dubious stammers and movements, to an
awful display of hesitations. God forgive him--me! He had taken it
into his fanciful head that I was likely to make some difficulty as to
shaking hands. It was too awful for words. I believe I shouted suddenly
at him as you would bellow to a man you saw about to walk over a cliff;
I remember our voices being raised, the appearance of a miserable grin
on his face, a crushing clutch on my hand, a nervous laugh. The candle
spluttered out, and the thing was over at last, with a groan that
floated up to me in the dark. He got himself away somehow. The night
swallowed his form. He was a horrible bungler. Horrible. I heard the
quick crunch-crunch of the gravel under his boots. He was running.
Absolutely running, with nowhere to go to. And he was not yet
four-and-twenty.'



CHAPTER 14


'I slept little, hurried over my breakfast, and after a slight
hesitation gave up my early morning visit to my ship. It was really
very wrong of me, because, though my chief mate was an excellent man all
round, he was the victim of such black imaginings that if he did not get
a letter from his wife at the expected time he would go quite distracted
with rage and jealousy, lose all grip on the work, quarrel with all
hands, and either weep in his cabin or develop such a ferocity of temper
as all but drove the crew to the verge of mutiny. The thing had always
seemed inexplicable to me: they had been married thirteen years; I had a
glimpse of her once, and, honestly, I couldn't conceive a man abandoned
enough to plunge into sin for the sake of such an unattractive person. I
don't know whether I have not done wrong by refraining from putting
that view before poor Selvin: the man made a little hell on earth for
himself, and I also suffered indirectly, but some sort of, no doubt,
false delicacy prevented me. The marital relations of seamen would make
an interesting subject, and I could tell you instances. . . . However,
this is not the place, nor the time, and we are concerned with Jim--who
was unmarried. If his imaginative conscience or his pride; if all the
extravagant ghosts and austere shades that were the disastrous familiars
of his youth would not let him run away from the block, I, who of course
can't be suspected of such familiars, was irresistibly impelled to go
and see his head roll off. I wended my way towards the court. I didn't
hope to be very much impressed or edified, or interested or even
frightened--though, as long as there is any life before one, a jolly
good fright now and then is a salutary discipline. But neither did I
expect to be so awfully depressed. The bitterness of his punishment was
in its chill and mean atmosphere. The real significance of crime is in
its being a breach of faith with the community of mankind, and from
that point of view he was no mean traitor, but his execution was a
hole-and-corner affair. There was no high scaffolding, no scarlet cloth
(did they have scarlet cloth on Tower Hill? They should have had), no
awe-stricken multitude to be horrified at his guilt and be moved to
tears at his fate--no air of sombre retribution. There was, as I walked
along, the clear sunshine, a brilliance too passionate to be consoling,
the streets full of jumbled bits of colour like a damaged kaleidoscope:
yellow, green, blue, dazzling white, the brown nudity of an undraped
shoulder, a bullock-cart with a red canopy, a company of native infantry
in a drab body with dark heads marching in dusty laced boots, a native
policeman in a sombre uniform of scanty cut and belted in patent
leather, who looked up at me with orientally pitiful eyes as though his
migrating spirit were suffering exceedingly from that unforeseen--what
d'ye call 'em?--avatar--incarnation. Under the shade of a lonely tree
in the courtyard, the villagers connected with the assault case sat in a
picturesque group, looking like a chromo-lithograph of a camp in a book
of Eastern travel. One missed the obligatory thread of smoke in the
foreground and the pack-animals grazing. A blank yellow wall rose behind
overtopping the tree, reflecting the glare. The court-room was sombre,
seemed more vast. High up in the dim space the punkahs were swaying
short to and fro, to and fro. Here and there a draped figure, dwarfed
by the bare walls, remained without stirring amongst the rows of empty
benches, as if absorbed in pious meditation. The plaintiff, who had
been beaten,--an obese chocolate-coloured man with shaved head, one
fat breast bare and a bright yellow caste-mark above the bridge of his
nose,--sat in pompous immobility: only his eyes glittered, rolling
in the gloom, and the nostrils dilated and collapsed violently as he
breathed. Brierly dropped into his seat looking done up, as though
he had spent the night in sprinting on a cinder-track. The pious
sailing-ship skipper appeared excited and made uneasy movements, as
if restraining with difficulty an impulse to stand up and exhort
us earnestly to prayer and repentance. The head of the magistrate,
delicately pale under the neatly arranged hair, resembled the head of a
hopeless invalid after he had been washed and brushed and propped up in
bed. He moved aside the vase of flowers--a bunch of purple with a few
pink blossoms on long stalks--and seizing in both hands a long sheet of
bluish paper, ran his eye over it, propped his forearms on the edge of
the desk, and began to read aloud in an even, distinct, and careless
voice.

'By Jove! For all my foolishness about scaffolds and heads rolling
off--I assure you it was infinitely worse than a beheading. A heavy
sense of finality brooded over all this, unrelieved by the hope of rest
and safety following the fall of the axe. These proceedings had all the
cold vengefulness of a death-sentence, and the cruelty of a sentence of
exile. This is how I looked at it that morning--and even now I seem to
see an undeniable vestige of truth in that exaggerated view of a common
occurrence. You may imagine how strongly I felt this at the time.
Perhaps it is for that reason that I could not bring myself to admit
the finality. The thing was always with me, I was always eager to take
opinion on it, as though it had not been practically settled: individual
opinion--international opinion--by Jove! That Frenchman's, for instance.
His own country's pronouncement was uttered in the passionless and
definite phraseology a machine would use, if machines could speak. The
head of the magistrate was half hidden by the paper, his brow was like
alabaster.

'There were several questions before the court. The first as to whether
the ship was in every respect fit and seaworthy for the voyage. The
court found she was not. The next point, I remember, was, whether up
to the time of the accident the ship had been navigated with proper and
seamanlike care. They said Yes to that, goodness knows why, and then
they declared that there was no evidence to show the exact cause of
the accident. A floating derelict probably. I myself remember that a
Norwegian barque bound out with a cargo of pitch-pine had been given up
as missing about that time, and it was just the sort of craft that would
capsize in a squall and float bottom up for months--a kind of maritime
ghoul on the prowl to kill ships in the dark. Such wandering corpses are
common enough in the North Atlantic, which is haunted by all the terrors
of the sea,--fogs, icebergs, dead ships bent upon mischief, and long
sinister gales that fasten upon one like a vampire till all the strength
and the spirit and even hope are gone, and one feels like the empty
shell of a man. But there--in those seas--the incident was rare enough
to resemble a special arrangement of a malevolent providence, which,
unless it had for its object the killing of a donkeyman and the bringing
of worse than death upon Jim, appeared an utterly aimless piece of
devilry. This view occurring to me took off my attention. For a time I
was aware of the magistrate's voice as a sound merely; but in a moment
it shaped itself into distinct words . . . "in utter disregard of their
plain duty," it said. The next sentence escaped me somehow, and
then . . . "abandoning in the moment of danger the lives and property
confided to their charge" . . . went on the voice evenly, and stopped. A
pair of eyes under the white forehead shot darkly a glance above the
edge of the paper. I looked for Jim hurriedly, as though I had expected
him to disappear. He was very still--but he was there. He sat pink and
fair and extremely attentive. "Therefore, . . ." began the voice
emphatically. He stared with parted lips, hanging upon the words of the
man behind the desk. These came out into the stillness wafted on the
wind made by the punkahs, and I, watching for their effect upon him,
caught only the fragments of official language. . . . "The Court . . .
Gustav So-and-so . . . master . . . native of Germany . . . James
So-and-so . . . mate . . . certificates cancelled." A silence fell. The
magistrate had dropped the paper, and, leaning sideways on the arm of
his chair, began to talk with Brierly easily. People started to move
out; others were pushing in, and I also made for the door. Outside I
stood still, and when Jim passed me on his way to the gate, I caught at
his arm and detained him. The look he gave discomposed me, as though I
had been responsible for his state he looked at me as if I had been the
embodied evil of life. "It's all over," I stammered. "Yes," he said
thickly. "And now let no man . . ." He jerked his arm out of my grasp. I
watched his back as he went away. It was a long street, and he remained
in sight for some time. He walked rather slow, and straddling his legs a
little, as if he had found it difficult to keep a straight line. Just
before I lost him I fancied he staggered a bit.

'"Man overboard," said a deep voice behind me. Turning round, I saw a
fellow I knew slightly, a West Australian; Chester was his name. He,
too, had been looking after Jim. He was a man with an immense girth of
chest, a rugged, clean-shaved face of mahogany colour, and two blunt
tufts of iron-grey, thick, wiry hairs on his upper lip. He had
been pearler, wrecker, trader, whaler too, I believe; in his own
words--anything and everything a man may be at sea, but a pirate. The
Pacific, north and south, was his proper hunting-ground; but he had
wandered so far afield looking for a cheap steamer to buy. Lately he
had discovered--so he said--a guano island somewhere, but its approaches
were dangerous, and the anchorage, such as it was, could not be
considered safe, to say the least of it. "As good as a gold-mine," he
would exclaim. "Right bang in the middle of the Walpole Reefs, and if
it's true enough that you can get no holding-ground anywhere in less
than forty fathom, then what of that? There are the hurricanes, too. But
it's a first-rate thing. As good as a gold-mine--better! Yet there's not
a fool of them that will see it. I can't get a skipper or a shipowner
to go near the place. So I made up my mind to cart the blessed stuff
myself." . . . This was what he required a steamer for, and I knew he
was just then negotiating enthusiastically with a Parsee firm for an
old, brig-rigged, sea-anachronism of ninety horse-power. We had met and
spoken together several times. He looked knowingly after Jim. "Takes
it to heart?" he asked scornfully. "Very much," I said. "Then he's no
good," he opined. "What's all the to-do about? A bit of ass's skin. That
never yet made a man. You must see things exactly as they are--if you
don't, you may just as well give in at once. You will never do anything
in this world. Look at me. I made it a practice never to take anything
to heart." "Yes," I said, "you see things as they are." "I wish I could
see my partner coming along, that's what I wish to see," he said. "Know
my partner? Old Robinson. Yes; _the_ Robinson. Don't _you_ know? The
notorious Robinson. The man who smuggled more opium and bagged more
seals in his time than any loose Johnny now alive. They say he used to
board the sealing-schooners up Alaska way when the fog was so thick that
the Lord God, He alone, could tell one man from another. Holy-Terror
Robinson. That's the man. He is with me in that guano thing. The best
chance he ever came across in his life." He put his lips to my ear.
"Cannibal?--well, they used to give him the name years and years ago.
You remember the story? A shipwreck on the west side of Stewart Island;
that's right; seven of them got ashore, and it seems they did not get
on very well together. Some men are too cantankerous for anything--don't
know how to make the best of a bad job--don't see things as they are--as
they _are_, my boy! And then what's the consequence? Obvious! Trouble,
trouble; as likely as not a knock on the head; and serve 'em right too.
That sort is the most useful when it's dead. The story goes that a boat
of Her Majesty's ship Wolverine found him kneeling on the kelp, naked as
the day he was born, and chanting some psalm-tune or other; light snow
was falling at the time. He waited till the boat was an oar's length
from the shore, and then up and away. They chased him for an hour up and
down the boulders, till a marihe flung a stone that took him behind
the ear providentially and knocked him senseless. Alone? Of course. But
that's like that tale of sealing-schooners; the Lord God knows the right
and the wrong of that story. The cutter did not investigate much. They
wrapped him in a boat-cloak and took him off as quick as they could,
with a dark night coming on, the weather threatening, and the ship
firing recall guns every five minutes. Three weeks afterwards he was as
well as ever. He didn't allow any fuss that was made on shore to upset
him; he just shut his lips tight, and let people screech. It was bad
enough to have lost his ship, and all he was worth besides, without
paying attention to the hard names they called him. That's the man for
me." He lifted his arm for a signal to some one down the street. "He's
got a little money, so I had to let him into my thing. Had to! It
would have been sinful to throw away such a find, and I was cleaned out
myself. It cut me to the quick, but I could see the matter just as
it was, and if I _must_ share--thinks I--with any man, then give me
Robinson. I left him at breakfast in the hotel to come to court, because
I've an idea. . . . Ah! Good morning, Captain Robinson. . . . Friend of
mine, Captain Robinson."

'An emaciated patriarch in a suit of white drill, a solah topi with a
green-lined rim on a head trembling with age, joined us after crossing
the street in a trotting shuffle, and stood propped with both hands on
the handle of an umbrella. A white beard with amber streaks hung lumpily
down to his waist. He blinked his creased eyelids at me in a bewildered
way. "How do you do? how do you do?" he piped amiably, and tottered. "A
little deaf," said Chester aside. "Did you drag him over six thousand
miles to get a cheap steamer?" I asked. "I would have taken him twice
round the world as soon as look at him," said Chester with immense
energy. "The steamer will be the making of us, my lad. Is it my fault
that every skipper and shipowner in the whole of blessed Australasia
turns out a blamed fool? Once I talked for three hours to a man in
Auckland. 'Send a ship,' I said, 'send a ship. I'll give you half of the
first cargo for yourself, free gratis for nothing--just to make a good
start.' Says he, 'I wouldn't do it if there was no other place on
earth to send a ship to.' Perfect ass, of course. Rocks, currents, no
anchorage, sheer cliff to lay to, no insurance company would take the
risk, didn't see how he could get loaded under three years. Ass! I
nearly went on my knees to him. 'But look at the thing as it is,' says
I. 'Damn rocks and hurricanes. Look at it as it is. There's guano there
Queensland sugar-planters would fight for--fight for on the quay, I
tell you.' . . . What can you do with a fool? . . . 'That's one of your
little jokes, Chester,' he says. . . . Joke! I could have wept. Ask
Captain Robinson here. . . . And there was another shipowning fellow--a
fat chap in a white waistcoat in Wellington, who seemed to think I was
up to some swindle or other. 'I don't know what sort of fool you're
looking for,' he says, 'but I am busy just now. Good morning.' I longed
to take him in my two hands and smash him through the window of his own
office. But I didn't. I was as mild as a curate. 'Think of it,' says I.
'_Do_ think it over. I'll call to-morrow.' He grunted something about
being 'out all day.' On the stairs I felt ready to beat my head against
the wall from vexation. Captain Robinson here can tell you. It was awful
to think of all that lovely stuff lying waste under the sun--stuff that
would send the sugar-cane shooting sky-high. The making of Queensland!
The making of Queensland! And in Brisbane, where I went to have a last
try, they gave me the name of a lunatic. Idiots! The only sensible man
I came across was the cabman who drove me about. A broken-down swell he
was, I fancy. Hey! Captain Robinson? You remember I told you about my
cabby in Brisbane--don't you? The chap had a wonderful eye for things.
He saw it all in a jiffy. It was a real pleasure to talk with him. One
evening after a devil of a day amongst shipowners I felt so bad that,
says I, 'I must get drunk. Come along; I must get drunk, or I'll go
mad.' 'I am your man,' he says; 'go ahead.' I don't know what I would
have done without him. Hey! Captain Robinson."

'He poked the ribs of his partner. "He! he! he!" laughed the Ancient,
looked aimlessly down the street, then peered at me doubtfully with sad,
dim pupils. . . . "He! he! he!" . . . He leaned heavier on the umbrella,
and dropped his gaze on the ground. I needn't tell you I had tried to
get away several times, but Chester had foiled every attempt by simply
catching hold of my coat. "One minute. I've a notion." "What's your
infernal notion?" I exploded at last. "If you think I am going in with
you . . ." "No, no, my boy. Too late, if you wanted ever so much. We've
got a steamer." "You've got the ghost of a steamer," I said. "Good
enough for a start--there's no superior nonsense about us. Is there,
Captain Robinson?" "No! no! no!" croaked the old man without lifting
his eyes, and the senile tremble of his head became almost fierce with
determination. "I understand you know that young chap," said Chester,
with a nod at the street from which Jim had disappeared long ago. "He's
been having grub with you in the Malabar last night--so I was told."

'I said that was true, and after remarking that he too liked to live
well and in style, only that, for the present, he had to be saving of
every penny--"none too many for the business! Isn't that so, Captain
Robinson?"--he squared his shoulders and stroked his dumpy moustache,
while the notorious Robinson, coughing at his side, clung more than ever
to the handle of the umbrella, and seemed ready to subside passively
into a heap of old bones. "You see, the old chap has all the money,"
whispered Chester confidentially. "I've been cleaned out trying to
engineer the dratted thing. But wait a bit, wait a bit. The good time is
coming." . . . He seemed suddenly astonished at the signs of impatience
I gave. "Oh, crakee!" he cried; "I am telling you of the biggest thing
that ever was, and you . . ." "I have an appointment," I pleaded mildly.
"What of that?" he asked with genuine surprise; "let it wait." "That's
exactly what I am doing now," I remarked; "hadn't you better tell me
what it is you want?" "Buy twenty hotels like that," he growled to
himself; "and every joker boarding in them too--twenty times over." He
lifted his head smartly "I want that young chap." "I don't understand,"
I said. "He's no good, is he?" said Chester crisply. "I know nothing
about it," I protested. "Why, you told me yourself he was taking it to
heart," argued Chester. "Well, in my opinion a chap who . . . Anyhow, he
can't be much good; but then you see I am on the look-out for somebody,
and I've just got a thing that will suit him. I'll give him a job on
my island." He nodded significantly. "I'm going to dump forty coolies
there--if I've to steal 'em. Somebody must work the stuff. Oh! I mean
to act square: wooden shed, corrugated-iron roof--I know a man in Hobart
who will take my bill at six months for the materials. I do. Honour
bright. Then there's the water-supply. I'll have to fly round and get
somebody to trust me for half-a-dozen second-hand iron tanks. Catch
rain-water, hey? Let him take charge. Make him supreme boss over the
coolies. Good idea, isn't it? What do you say?" "There are whole years
when not a drop of rain falls on Walpole," I said, too amazed to laugh.
He bit his lip and seemed bothered. "Oh, well, I will fix up something
for them--or land a supply. Hang it all! That's not the question."

'I said nothing. I had a rapid vision of Jim perched on a shadowless
rock, up to his knees in guano, with the screams of sea-birds in his
ears, the incandescent ball of the sun above his head; the empty sky and
the empty ocean all a-quiver, simmering together in the heat as far as
the eye could reach. "I wouldn't advise my worst enemy . . ." I began.
"What's the matter with you?" cried Chester; "I mean to give him a good
screw--that is, as soon as the thing is set going, of course. It's as
easy as falling off a log. Simply nothing to do; two six-shooters in his
belt . . . Surely he wouldn't be afraid of anything forty coolies could
do--with two six-shooters and he the only armed man too! It's much
better than it looks. I want you to help me to talk him over." "No!"
I shouted. Old Robinson lifted his bleared eyes dismally for a moment,
Chester looked at me with infinite contempt. "So you wouldn't advise
him?" he uttered slowly. "Certainly not," I answered, as indignant as
though he had requested me to help murder somebody; "moreover, I am sure
he wouldn't. He is badly cut up, but he isn't mad as far as I know." "He
is no earthly good for anything," Chester mused aloud. "He would just
have done for me. If you only could see a thing as it is, you would
see it's the very thing for him. And besides . . . Why! it's the most
splendid, sure chance . . ." He got angry suddenly. "I must have a man.
There! . . ." He stamped his foot and smiled unpleasantly. "Anyhow, I
could guarantee the island wouldn't sink under him--and I believe he
is a bit particular on that point." "Good morning," I said curtly. He
looked at me as though I had been an incomprehensible fool. . . . "Must
be moving, Captain Robinson," he yelled suddenly into the old man's ear.
"These Parsee Johnnies are waiting for us to clinch the bargain." He
took his partner under the arm with a firm grip, swung him round, and,
unexpectedly, leered at me over his shoulder. "I was trying to do him
a kindness," he asserted, with an air and tone that made my blood boil.
"Thank you for nothing--in his name," I rejoined. "Oh! you are devilish
smart," he sneered; "but you are like the rest of them. Too much in the
clouds. See what you will do with him." "I don't know that I want to
do anything with him." "Don't you?" he spluttered; his grey moustache
bristled with anger, and by his side the notorious Robinson, propped
on the umbrella, stood with his back to me, as patient and still as a
worn-out cab-horse. "I haven't found a guano island," I said. "It's
my belief you wouldn't know one if you were led right up to it by the
hand," he riposted quickly; "and in this world you've got to see a thing
first, before you can make use of it. Got to see it through and through
at that, neither more nor less." "And get others to see it, too," I
insinuated, with a glance at the bowed back by his side. Chester snorted
at me. "His eyes are right enough--don't you worry. He ain't a puppy."
"Oh, dear, no!" I said. "Come along, Captain Robinson," he shouted, with
a sort of bullying deference under the rim of the old man's hat; the
Holy Terror gave a submissive little jump. The ghost of a steamer was
waiting for them, Fortune on that fair isle! They made a curious pair
of Argonauts. Chester strode on leisurely, well set up, portly, and of
conquering mien; the other, long, wasted, drooping, and hooked to his
arm, shuffled his withered shanks with desperate haste.'



CHAPTER 15


'I did not start in search of Jim at once, only because I had really an
appointment which I could not neglect. Then, as ill-luck would have
it, in my agent's office I was fastened upon by a fellow fresh from
Madagascar with a little scheme for a wonderful piece of business. It
had something to do with cattle and cartridges and a Prince Ravonalo
something; but the pivot of the whole affair was the stupidity of some
admiral--Admiral Pierre, I think. Everything turned on that, and the
chap couldn't find words strong enough to express his confidence. He had
globular eyes starting out of his head with a fishy glitter, bumps on
his forehead, and wore his long hair brushed back without a parting.
He had a favourite phrase which he kept on repeating triumphantly, "The
minimum of risk with the maximum of profit is my motto. What?" He made
my head ache, spoiled my tiffin, but got his own out of me all right;
and as soon as I had shaken him off, I made straight for the water-side.
I caught sight of Jim leaning over the parapet of the quay. Three native
boatmen quarrelling over five annas were making an awful row at his
elbow. He didn't hear me come up, but spun round as if the slight
contact of my finger had released a catch. "I was looking," he
stammered. I don't remember what I said, not much anyhow, but he made no
difficulty in following me to the hotel.

'He followed me as manageable as a little child, with an obedient air,
with no sort of manifestation, rather as though he had been waiting
for me there to come along and carry him off. I need not have been so
surprised as I was at his tractability. On all the round earth, which to
some seems so big and that others affect to consider as rather smaller
than a mustard-seed, he had no place where he could--what shall I
say?--where he could withdraw. That's it! Withdraw--be alone with his
loneliness. He walked by my side very calm, glancing here and there, and
once turned his head to look after a Sidiboy fireman in a cutaway coat
and yellowish trousers, whose black face had silky gleams like a lump
of anthracite coal. I doubt, however, whether he saw anything, or even
remained all the time aware of my companionship, because if I had not
edged him to the left here, or pulled him to the right there, I believe
he would have gone straight before him in any direction till stopped by
a wall or some other obstacle. I steered him into my bedroom, and sat
down at once to write letters. This was the only place in the world
(unless, perhaps, the Walpole Reef--but that was not so handy) where he
could have it out with himself without being bothered by the rest of
the universe. The damned thing--as he had expressed it--had not made
him invisible, but I behaved exactly as though he were. No sooner in my
chair I bent over my writing-desk like a medieval scribe, and, but for
the movement of the hand holding the pen, remained anxiously quiet. I
can't say I was frightened; but I certainly kept as still as if there
had been something dangerous in the room, that at the first hint of a
movement on my part would be provoked to pounce upon me. There was not
much in the room--you know how these bedrooms are--a sort of four-poster
bedstead under a mosquito-net, two or three chairs, the table I was
writing at, a bare floor. A glass door opened on an upstairs verandah,
and he stood with his face to it, having a hard time with all possible
privacy. Dusk fell; I lit a candle with the greatest economy of movement
and as much prudence as though it were an illegal proceeding. There is
no doubt that he had a very hard time of it, and so had I, even to the
point, I must own, of wishing him to the devil, or on Walpole Reef at
least. It occurred to me once or twice that, after all, Chester was,
perhaps, the man to deal effectively with such a disaster. That strange
idealist had found a practical use for it at once--unerringly, as it
were. It was enough to make one suspect that, maybe, he really could see
the true aspect of things that appeared mysterious or utterly hopeless
to less imaginative persons. I wrote and wrote; I liquidated all the
arrears of my correspondence, and then went on writing to people who had
no reason whatever to expect from me a gossipy letter about nothing at
all. At times I stole a sidelong glance. He was rooted to the spot,
but convulsive shudders ran down his back; his shoulders would heave
suddenly. He was fighting, he was fighting--mostly for his breath, as it
seemed. The massive shadows, cast all one way from the straight flame of
the candle, seemed possessed of gloomy consciousness; the immobility of
the furniture had to my furtive eye an air of attention. I was becoming
fanciful in the midst of my industrious scribbling; and though, when the
scratching of my pen stopped for a moment, there was complete silence
and stillness in the room, I suffered from that profound disturbance
and confusion of thought which is caused by a violent and menacing
uproar--of a heavy gale at sea, for instance. Some of you may know what
I mean: that mingled anxiety, distress, and irritation with a sort of
craven feeling creeping in--not pleasant to acknowledge, but which gives
a quite special merit to one's endurance. I don't claim any merit
for standing the stress of Jim's emotions; I could take refuge in the
letters; I could have written to strangers if necessary. Suddenly, as I
was taking up a fresh sheet of notepaper, I heard a low sound, the first
sound that, since we had been shut up together, had come to my ears in
the dim stillness of the room. I remained with my head down, with my
hand arrested. Those who have kept vigil by a sick-bed have heard such
faint sounds in the stillness of the night watches, sounds wrung from a
racked body, from a weary soul. He pushed the glass door with such force
that all the panes rang: he stepped out, and I held my breath, straining
my ears without knowing what else I expected to hear. He was really
taking too much to heart an empty formality which to Chester's rigorous
criticism seemed unworthy the notice of a man who could see things as
they were. An empty formality; a piece of parchment. Well, well. As to
an inaccessible guano deposit, that was another story altogether. One
could intelligibly break one's heart over that. A feeble burst of many
voices mingled with the tinkle of silver and glass floated up from the
dining-room below; through the open door the outer edge of the light
from my candle fell on his back faintly; beyond all was black; he stood
on the brink of a vast obscurity, like a lonely figure by the shore of
a sombre and hopeless ocean. There was the Walpole Reef in it--to
be sure--a speck in the dark void, a straw for the drowning man. My
compassion for him took the shape of the thought that I wouldn't have
liked his people to see him at that moment. I found it trying myself.
His back was no longer shaken by his gasps; he stood straight as an
arrow, faintly visible and still; and the meaning of this stillness sank
to the bottom of my soul like lead into the water, and made it so heavy
that for a second I wished heartily that the only course left open for
me was to pay for his funeral. Even the law had done with him. To bury
him would have been such an easy kindness! It would have been so much
in accordance with the wisdom of life, which consists in putting out of
sight all the reminders of our folly, of our weakness, of our mortality;
all that makes against our efficiency--the memory of our failures, the
hints of our undying fears, the bodies of our dead friends. Perhaps he
did take it too much to heart. And if so then--Chester's offer. . . . At
this point I took up a fresh sheet and began to write resolutely. There
was nothing but myself between him and the dark ocean. I had a sense of
responsibility. If I spoke, would that motionless and suffering youth
leap into the obscurity--clutch at the straw? I found out how difficult
it may be sometimes to make a sound. There is a weird power in a spoken
word. And why the devil not? I was asking myself persistently while I
drove on with my writing. All at once, on the blank page, under the very
point of the pen, the two figures of Chester and his antique partner,
very distinct and complete, would dodge into view with stride and
gestures, as if reproduced in the field of some optical toy. I would
watch them for a while. No! They were too phantasmal and extravagant
to enter into any one's fate. And a word carries far--very far--deals
destruction through time as the bullets go flying through space. I said
nothing; and he, out there with his back to the light, as if bound
and gagged by all the invisible foes of man, made no stir and made no
sound.'



CHAPTER 16


'The time was coming when I should see him loved, trusted, admired, with
a legend of strength and prowess forming round his name as though he
had been the stuff of a hero. It's true--I assure you; as true as
I'm sitting here talking about him in vain. He, on his side, had that
faculty of beholding at a hint the face of his desire and the shape
of his dream, without which the earth would know no lover and no
adventurer. He captured much honour and an Arcadian happiness (I won't
say anything about innocence) in the bush, and it was as good to him
as the honour and the Arcadian happiness of the streets to another man.
Felicity, felicity--how shall I say it?--is quaffed out of a golden cup
in every latitude: the flavour is with you--with you alone, and you can
make it as intoxicating as you please. He was of the sort that would
drink deep, as you may guess from what went before. I found him, if not
exactly intoxicated, then at least flushed with the elixir at his lips.
He had not obtained it at once. There had been, as you know, a period of
probation amongst infernal ship-chandlers, during which he had suffered
and I had worried about--about--my trust--you may call it. I don't
know that I am completely reassured now, after beholding him in all his
brilliance. That was my last view of him--in a strong light, dominating,
and yet in complete accord with his surroundings--with the life of the
forests and with the life of men. I own that I was impressed, but I must
admit to myself that after all this is not the lasting impression. He
was protected by his isolation, alone of his own superior kind, in close
touch with Nature, that keeps faith on such easy terms with her lovers.
But I cannot fix before my eye the image of his safety. I shall always
remember him as seen through the open door of my room, taking, perhaps,
too much to heart the mere consequences of his failure. I am pleased,
of course, that some good--and even some splendour--came out of my
endeavours; but at times it seems to me it would have been better for my
peace of mind if I had not stood between him and Chester's confoundedly
generous offer. I wonder what his exuberant imagination would have made
of Walpole islet--that most hopelessly forsaken crumb of dry land on the
face of the waters. It is not likely I would ever have heard, for I must
tell you that Chester, after calling at some Australian port to patch
up his brig-rigged sea-anachronism, steamed out into the Pacific with a
crew of twenty-two hands all told, and the only news having a possible
bearing upon the mystery of his fate was the news of a hurricane which
is supposed to have swept in its course over the Walpole shoals, a month
or so afterwards. Not a vestige of the Argonauts ever turned up; not a
sound came out of the waste. Finis! The Pacific is the most discreet of
live, hot-tempered oceans: the chilly Antarctic can keep a secret too,
but more in the manner of a grave.

'And there is a sense of blessed finality in such discretion, which is
what we all more or less sincerely are ready to admit--for what else is
it that makes the idea of death supportable? End! Finis! the potent word
that exorcises from the house of life the haunting shadow of fate. This
is what--notwithstanding the testimony of my eyes and his own earnest
assurances--I miss when I look back upon Jim's success. While there's
life there is hope, truly; but there is fear too. I don't mean to say
that I regret my action, nor will I pretend that I can't sleep o' nights
in consequence; still, the idea obtrudes itself that he made so much of
his disgrace while it is the guilt alone that matters. He was not--if I
may say so--clear to me. He was not clear. And there is a suspicion he
was not clear to himself either. There were his fine sensibilities,
his fine feelings, his fine longings--a sort of sublimated, idealised
selfishness. He was--if you allow me to say so--very fine; very
fine--and very unfortunate. A little coarser nature would not have borne
the strain; it would have had to come to terms with itself--with a sigh,
with a grunt, or even with a guffaw; a still coarser one would have
remained invulnerably ignorant and completely uninteresting.

'But he was too interesting or too unfortunate to be thrown to the dogs,
or even to Chester. I felt this while I sat with my face over the paper
and he fought and gasped, struggling for his breath in that terribly
stealthy way, in my room; I felt it when he rushed out on the verandah
as if to fling himself over--and didn't; I felt it more and more all the
time he remained outside, faintly lighted on the background of night, as
if standing on the shore of a sombre and hopeless sea.

'An abrupt heavy rumble made me lift my head. The noise seemed to roll
away, and suddenly a searching and violent glare fell on the blind face
of the night. The sustained and dazzling flickers seemed to last for an
unconscionable time. The growl of the thunder increased steadily while I
looked at him, distinct and black, planted solidly upon the shores of a
sea of light. At the moment of greatest brilliance the darkness leaped
back with a culminating crash, and he vanished before my dazzled eyes as
utterly as though he had been blown to atoms. A blustering sigh passed;
furious hands seemed to tear at the shrubs, shake the tops of the
trees below, slam doors, break window-panes, all along the front of
the building. He stepped in, closing the door behind him, and found me
bending over the table: my sudden anxiety as to what he would say was
very great, and akin to a fright. "May I have a cigarette?" he asked. I
gave a push to the box without raising my head. "I want--want--tobacco,"
he muttered. I became extremely buoyant. "Just a moment." I grunted
pleasantly. He took a few steps here and there. "That's over," I heard
him say. A single distant clap of thunder came from the sea like a
gun of distress. "The monsoon breaks up early this year," he remarked
conversationally, somewhere behind me. This encouraged me to turn round,
which I did as soon as I had finished addressing the last envelope. He
was smoking greedily in the middle of the room, and though he heard the
stir I made, he remained with his back to me for a time.

'"Come--I carried it off pretty well," he said, wheeling suddenly.
"Something's paid off--not much. I wonder what's to come." His face did
not show any emotion, only it appeared a little darkened and swollen, as
though he had been holding his breath. He smiled reluctantly as it
were, and went on while I gazed up at him mutely. . . . "Thank you,
though--your room--jolly convenient--for a chap--badly hipped." . . .
The rain pattered and swished in the garden; a water-pipe (it must
have had a hole in it) performed just outside the window a parody of
blubbering woe with funny sobs and gurgling lamentations, interrupted
by jerky spasms of silence. . . . "A bit of shelter," he mumbled and
ceased.

'A flash of faded lightning darted in through the black framework of the
windows and ebbed out without any noise. I was thinking how I had best
approach him (I did not want to be flung off again) when he gave a
little laugh. "No better than a vagabond now" . . . the end of
the cigarette smouldered between his fingers . . . "without a
single--single," he pronounced slowly; "and yet . . ." He paused; the
rain fell with redoubled violence. "Some day one's bound to come upon
some sort of chance to get it all back again. Must!" he whispered
distinctly, glaring at my boots.

'I did not even know what it was he wished so much to regain, what it
was he had so terribly missed. It might have been so much that it was
impossible to say. A piece of ass's skin, according to Chester. . . .
He looked up at me inquisitively. "Perhaps. If life's long enough," I
muttered through my teeth with unreasonable animosity. "Don't reckon too
much on it."

'"Jove! I feel as if nothing could ever touch me," he said in a tone
of sombre conviction. "If this business couldn't knock me over, then
there's no fear of there being not enough time to--climb out, and . . ."
He looked upwards.

'It struck me that it is from such as he that the great army of waifs
and strays is recruited, the army that marches down, down into all the
gutters of the earth. As soon as he left my room, that "bit of shelter,"
he would take his place in the ranks, and begin the journey towards the
bottomless pit. I at least had no illusions; but it was I, too, who a
moment ago had been so sure of the power of words, and now was afraid to
speak, in the same way one dares not move for fear of losing a slippery
hold. It is when we try to grapple with another man's intimate need that
we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings
that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun. It
is as if loneliness were a hard and absolute condition of existence; the
envelope of flesh and blood on which our eyes are fixed melts before the
outstretched hand, and there remains only the capricious, unconsolable,
and elusive spirit that no eye can follow, no hand can grasp. It was
the fear of losing him that kept me silent, for it was borne upon me
suddenly and with unaccountable force that should I let him slip away
into the darkness I would never forgive myself.

'"Well. Thanks--once more. You've been--er--uncommonly--really there's
no word to . . . Uncommonly! I don't know why, I am sure. I am afraid
I don't feel as grateful as I would if the whole thing hadn't been so
brutally sprung on me. Because at bottom . . . you, yourself . . ." He
stuttered.

'"Possibly," I struck in. He frowned.

'"All the same, one is responsible." He watched me like a hawk.

'"And that's true, too," I said.

'"Well. I've gone with it to the end, and I don't intend to let any man
cast it in my teeth without--without--resenting it." He clenched his
fist.

'"There's yourself," I said with a smile--mirthless enough, God
knows--but he looked at me menacingly. "That's my business," he said.
An air of indomitable resolution came and went upon his face like a vain
and passing shadow. Next moment he looked a dear good boy in trouble,
as before. He flung away the cigarette. "Good-bye," he said, with the
sudden haste of a man who had lingered too long in view of a pressing
bit of work waiting for him; and then for a second or so he made not the
slightest movement. The downpour fell with the heavy uninterrupted rush
of a sweeping flood, with a sound of unchecked overwhelming fury that
called to one's mind the images of collapsing bridges, of uprooted
trees, of undermined mountains. No man could breast the colossal and
headlong stream that seemed to break and swirl against the dim stillness
in which we were precariously sheltered as if on an island. The
perforated pipe gurgled, choked, spat, and splashed in odious ridicule
of a swimmer fighting for his life. "It is raining," I remonstrated,
"and I . . ." "Rain or shine," he began brusquely, checked himself, and
walked to the window. "Perfect deluge," he muttered after a while: he
leaned his forehead on the glass. "It's dark, too."

'"Yes, it is very dark," I said.

'He pivoted on his heels, crossed the room, and had actually opened the
door leading into the corridor before I leaped up from my chair. "Wait,"
I cried, "I want you to . . ." "I can't dine with you again to-night,"
he flung at me, with one leg out of the room already. "I haven't the
slightest intention to ask you," I shouted. At this he drew back his
foot, but remained mistrustfully in the very doorway. I lost no time
in entreating him earnestly not to be absurd; to come in and shut the
door.'



CHAPTER 17


'He came in at last; but I believe it was mostly the rain that did it;
it was falling just then with a devastating violence which quieted
down gradually while we talked. His manner was very sober and set; his
bearing was that of a naturally taciturn man possessed by an idea. My
talk was of the material aspect of his position; it had the sole aim of
saving him from the degradation, ruin, and despair that out there close
so swiftly upon a friendless, homeless man; I pleaded with him to
accept my help; I argued reasonably: and every time I looked up at that
absorbed smooth face, so grave and youthful, I had a disturbing sense of
being no help but rather an obstacle to some mysterious, inexplicable,
impalpable striving of his wounded spirit.

'"I suppose you intend to eat and drink and to sleep under shelter in
the usual way," I remember saying with irritation. "You say you won't
touch the money that is due to you." . . . He came as near as his sort
can to making a gesture of horror. (There were three weeks and five
days' pay owing him as mate of the Patna.) "Well, that's too little to
matter anyhow; but what will you do to-morrow? Where will you turn? You
must live . . ." "That isn't the thing," was the comment that escaped
him under his breath. I ignored it, and went on combating what I assumed
to be the scruples of an exaggerated delicacy. "On every conceivable
ground," I concluded, "you must let me help you." "You can't," he said
very simply and gently, and holding fast to some deep idea which I
could detect shimmering like a pool of water in the dark, but which
I despaired of ever approaching near enough to fathom. I surveyed his
well-proportioned bulk. "At any rate," I said, "I am able to help what
I can see of you. I don't pretend to do more." He shook his head
sceptically without looking at me. I got very warm. "But I can," I
insisted. "I can do even more. I _am_ doing more. I am trusting
you . . ." "The money . . ." he began. "Upon my word you deserve being
told to go to the devil," I cried, forcing the note of indignation. He
was startled, smiled, and I pressed my attack home. "It isn't a question
of money at all. You are too superficial," I said (and at the same time
I was thinking to myself: Well, here goes! And perhaps he is, after
all). "Look at the letter I want you to take. I am writing to a man of
whom I've never asked a favour, and I am writing about you in terms that
one only ventures to use when speaking of an intimate friend. I make
myself unreservedly responsible for you. That's what I am doing. And
really if you will only reflect a little what that means . . ."

'He lifted his head. The rain had passed away; only the water-pipe went
on shedding tears with an absurd drip, drip outside the window. It was
very quiet in the room, whose shadows huddled together in corners, away
from the still flame of the candle flaring upright in the shape of a
dagger; his face after a while seemed suffused by a reflection of a soft
light as if the dawn had broken already.

'"Jove!" he gasped out. "It is noble of you!"

'Had he suddenly put out his tongue at me in derision, I could not have
felt more humiliated. I thought to myself--Serve me right for a sneaking
humbug. . . . His eyes shone straight into my face, but I perceived
it was not a mocking brightness. All at once he sprang into jerky
agitation, like one of those flat wooden figures that are worked by a
string. His arms went up, then came down with a slap. He became another
man altogether. "And I had never seen," he shouted; then suddenly bit
his lip and frowned. "What a bally ass I've been," he said very slow
in an awed tone. . . . "You are a brick!" he cried next in a muffled
voice. He snatched my hand as though he had just then seen it for the
first time, and dropped it at once. "Why! this is what I--you--I . . ."
he stammered, and then with a return of his old stolid, I may say
mulish, manner he began heavily, "I would be a brute now if I . . ." and
then his voice seemed to break. "That's all right," I said. I was almost
alarmed by this display of feeling, through which pierced a strange
elation. I had pulled the string accidentally, as it were; I did not
fully understand the working of the toy. "I must go now," he said.
"Jove! You _have_ helped me. Can't sit still. The very thing . . ." He
looked at me with puzzled admiration. "The very thing . . ."

'Of course it was the thing. It was ten to one that I had saved him from
starvation--of that peculiar sort that is almost invariably associated
with drink. This was all. I had not a single illusion on that score, but
looking at him, I allowed myself to wonder at the nature of the one he
had, within the last three minutes, so evidently taken into his bosom.
I had forced into his hand the means to carry on decently the serious
business of life, to get food, drink, and shelter of the customary kind
while his wounded spirit, like a bird with a broken wing, might hop and
flutter into some hole to die quietly of inanition there. This is what
I had thrust upon him: a definitely small thing; and--behold!--by the
manner of its reception it loomed in the dim light of the candle like
a big, indistinct, perhaps a dangerous shadow. "You don't mind me not
saying anything appropriate," he burst out. "There isn't anything one
could say. Last night already you had done me no end of good. Listening
to me--you know. I give you my word I've thought more than once the top
of my head would fly off. . ." He darted--positively darted--here and
there, rammed his hands into his pockets, jerked them out again, flung
his cap on his head. I had no idea it was in him to be so airily
brisk. I thought of a dry leaf imprisoned in an eddy of wind, while a
mysterious apprehension, a load of indefinite doubt, weighed me down in
my chair. He stood stock-still, as if struck motionless by a discovery.
"You have given me confidence," he declared, soberly. "Oh! for God's
sake, my dear fellow--don't!" I entreated, as though he had hurt me.
"All right. I'll shut up now and henceforth. Can't prevent me thinking
though. . . . Never mind! . . . I'll show yet . . ." He went to the
door in a hurry, paused with his head down, and came back, stepping
deliberately. "I always thought that if a fellow could begin with a
clean slate . . . And now you . . . in a measure . . . yes . . . clean
slate." I waved my hand, and he marched out without looking back; the
sound of his footfalls died out gradually behind the closed door--the
unhesitating tread of a man walking in broad daylight.

'But as to me, left alone with the solitary candle, I remained strangely
unenlightened. I was no longer young enough to behold at every turn
the magnificence that besets our insignificant footsteps in good and in
evil. I smiled to think that, after all, it was yet he, of us two, who
had the light. And I felt sad. A clean slate, did he say? As if the
initial word of each our destiny were not graven in imperishable
characters upon the face of a rock.'



CHAPTER 18


'Six months afterwards my friend (he was a cynical, more than
middle-aged bachelor, with a reputation for eccentricity, and owned
a rice-mill) wrote to me, and judging, from the warmth of my
recommendation, that I would like to hear, enlarged a little upon Jim's
perfections. These were apparently of a quiet and effective sort.
"Not having been able so far to find more in my heart than a resigned
toleration for any individual of my kind, I have lived till now alone
in a house that even in this steaming climate could be considered as too
big for one man. I have had him to live with me for some time past. It
seems I haven't made a mistake." It seemed to me on reading this letter
that my friend had found in his heart more than tolerance for Jim--that
there were the beginnings of active liking. Of course he stated his
grounds in a characteristic way. For one thing, Jim kept his freshness
in the climate. Had he been a girl--my friend wrote--one could have
said he was blooming--blooming modestly--like a violet, not like some of
these blatant tropical flowers. He had been in the house for six weeks,
and had not as yet attempted to slap him on the back, or address him
as "old boy," or try to make him feel a superannuated fossil. He had
nothing of the exasperating young man's chatter. He was good-tempered,
had not much to say for himself, was not clever by any means, thank
goodness--wrote my friend. It appeared, however, that Jim was clever
enough to be quietly appreciative of his wit, while, on the other hand,
he amused him by his naiveness. "The dew is yet on him, and since I
had the bright idea of giving him a room in the house and having him
at meals I feel less withered myself. The other day he took it into his
head to cross the room with no other purpose but to open a door for
me; and I felt more in touch with mankind than I had been for years.
Ridiculous, isn't it? Of course I guess there is something--some awful
little scrape--which you know all about--but if I am sure that it is
terribly heinous, I fancy one could manage to forgive it. For my part,
I declare I am unable to imagine him guilty of anything much worse than
robbing an orchard. Is it much worse? Perhaps you ought to have told me;
but it is such a long time since we both turned saints that you may have
forgotten we, too, had sinned in our time? It may be that some day I
shall have to ask you, and then I shall expect to be told. I don't care
to question him myself till I have some idea what it is. Moreover, it's
too soon as yet. Let him open the door a few times more for me. . . ."
Thus my friend. I was trebly pleased--at Jim's shaping so well, at the
tone of the letter, at my own cleverness. Evidently I had known what
I was doing. I had read characters aright, and so on. And what if
something unexpected and wonderful were to come of it? That evening,
reposing in a deck-chair under the shade of my own poop awning (it
was in Hong-Kong harbour), I laid on Jim's behalf the first stone of a
castle in Spain.

'I made a trip to the northward, and when I returned I found another
letter from my friend waiting for me. It was the first envelope I tore
open. "There are no spoons missing, as far as I know," ran the first
line; "I haven't been interested enough to inquire. He is gone, leaving
on the breakfast-table a formal little note of apology, which is either
silly or heartless. Probably both--and it's all one to me. Allow me to
say, lest you should have some more mysterious young men in reserve,
that I have shut up shop, definitely and for ever. This is the last
eccentricity I shall be guilty of. Do not imagine for a moment that I
care a hang; but he is very much regretted at tennis-parties, and for
my own sake I've told a plausible lie at the club. . . ." I flung the
letter aside and started looking through the batch on my table, till
I came upon Jim's handwriting. Would you believe it? One chance in a
hundred! But it is always that hundredth chance! That little second
engineer of the Patna had turned up in a more or less destitute state,
and got a temporary job of looking after the machinery of the mill. "I
couldn't stand the familiarity of the little beast," Jim wrote from a
seaport seven hundred miles south of the place where he should have been
in clover. "I am now for the time with Egstrom & Blake, ship-chandlers,
as their--well--runner, to call the thing by its right name. For
reference I gave them your name, which they know of course, and if you
could write a word in my favour it would be a permanent employment." I
was utterly crushed under the ruins of my castle, but of course I wrote
as desired. Before the end of the year my new charter took me that way,
and I had an opportunity of seeing him.

'He was still with Egstrom & Blake, and we met in what they called
"our parlour" opening out of the store. He had that moment come in from
boarding a ship, and confronted me head down, ready for a tussle. "What
have you got to say for yourself?" I began as soon as we had shaken
hands. "What I wrote you--nothing more," he said stubbornly. "Did the
fellow blab--or what?" I asked. He looked up at me with a troubled
smile. "Oh, no! He didn't. He made it a kind of confidential business
between us. He was most damnably mysterious whenever I came over to the
mill; he would wink at me in a respectful manner--as much as to say 'We
know what we know.' Infernally fawning and familiar--and that sort of
thing . . ." He threw himself into a chair and stared down his legs.
"One day we happened to be alone and the fellow had the cheek to say,
'Well, Mr. James'--I was called Mr. James there as if I had been the
son--'here we are together once more. This is better than the old
ship--ain't it?' . . . Wasn't it appalling, eh? I looked at him, and
he put on a knowing air. 'Don't you be uneasy, sir,' he says. 'I know
a gentleman when I see one, and I know how a gentleman feels. I hope,
though, you will be keeping me on this job. I had a hard time of it too,
along of that rotten old Patna racket.' Jove! It was awful. I don't know
what I should have said or done if I had not just then heard Mr. Denver
calling me in the passage. It was tiffin-time, and we walked together
across the yard and through the garden to the bungalow. He began to
chaff me in his kindly way . . . I believe he liked me . . ."

'Jim was silent for a while.

'"I know he liked me. That's what made it so hard. Such a splendid man!
. . . That morning he slipped his hand under my arm. . . . He, too, was
familiar with me." He burst into a short laugh, and dropped his chin on
his breast. "Pah! When I remembered how that mean little beast had been
talking to me," he began suddenly in a vibrating voice, "I couldn't bear
to think of myself . . . I suppose you know . . ." I nodded. . . . "More
like a father," he cried; his voice sank. "I would have had to tell him.
I couldn't let it go on--could I?" "Well?" I murmured, after waiting a
while. "I preferred to go," he said slowly; "this thing must be buried."

'We could hear in the shop Blake upbraiding Egstrom in an abusive,
strained voice. They had been associated for many years, and every day
from the moment the doors were opened to the last minute before closing,
Blake, a little man with sleek, jetty hair and unhappy, beady eyes,
could be heard rowing his partner incessantly with a sort of scathing
and plaintive fury. The sound of that everlasting scolding was part of
the place like the other fixtures; even strangers would very soon come
to disregard it completely unless it be perhaps to mutter "Nuisance," or
to get up suddenly and shut the door of the "parlour." Egstrom himself,
a raw-boned, heavy Scandinavian, with a busy manner and immense blonde
whiskers, went on directing his people, checking parcels, making out
bills or writing letters at a stand-up desk in the shop, and comported
himself in that clatter exactly as though he had been stone-deaf. Now
and again he would emit a bothered perfunctory "Sssh," which neither
produced nor was expected to produce the slightest effect. "They are
very decent to me here," said Jim. "Blake's a little cad, but Egstrom's
all right." He stood up quickly, and walking with measured steps to a
tripod telescope standing in the window and pointed at the roadstead,
he applied his eye to it. "There's that ship which has been becalmed
outside all the morning has got a breeze now and is coming in," he
remarked patiently; "I must go and board." We shook hands in silence,
and he turned to go. "Jim!" I cried. He looked round with his hand on
the lock. "You--you have thrown away something like a fortune." He came
back to me all the way from the door. "Such a splendid old chap," he
said. "How could I? How could I?" His lips twitched. "Here it does not
matter." "Oh! you--you--" I began, and had to cast about for a suitable
word, but before I became aware that there was no name that would just
do, he was gone. I heard outside Egstrom's deep gentle voice saying
cheerily, "That's the Sarah W. Granger, Jimmy. You must manage to be
first aboard"; and directly Blake struck in, screaming after the manner
of an outraged cockatoo, "Tell the captain we've got some of his mail
here. That'll fetch him. D'ye hear, Mister What's-your-name?" And there
was Jim answering Egstrom with something boyish in his tone. "All right.
I'll make a race of it." He seemed to take refuge in the boat-sailing
part of that sorry business.

'I did not see him again that trip, but on my next (I had a six months'
charter) I went up to the store. Ten yards away from the door Blake's
scolding met my ears, and when I came in he gave me a glance of utter
wretchedness; Egstrom, all smiles, advanced, extending a large bony
hand. "Glad to see you, captain. . . . Sssh. . . . Been thinking you
were about due back here. What did you say, sir? . . . Sssh. . . . Oh!
him! He has left us. Come into the parlour." . . . After the slam of the
door Blake's strained voice became faint, as the voice of one scolding
desperately in a wilderness. . . . "Put us to a great inconvenience,
too. Used us badly--I must say . . ." "Where's he gone to? Do you
know?" I asked. "No. It's no use asking either," said Egstrom, standing
bewhiskered and obliging before me with his arms hanging down his sides
clumsily, and a thin silver watch-chain looped very low on a rucked-up
blue serge waistcoat. "A man like that don't go anywhere in particular."
I was too concerned at the news to ask for the explanation of that
pronouncement, and he went on. "He left--let's see--the very day a
steamer with returning pilgrims from the Red Sea put in here with
two blades of her propeller gone. Three weeks ago now." "Wasn't there
something said about the Patna case?" I asked, fearing the worst. He
gave a start, and looked at me as if I had been a sorcerer. "Why, yes!
How do you know? Some of them were talking about it here. There was a
captain or two, the manager of Vanlo's engineering shop at the harbour,
two or three others, and myself. Jim was in here too, having a sandwich
and a glass of beer; when we are busy--you see, captain--there's no time
for a proper tiffin. He was standing by this table eating sandwiches,
and the rest of us were round the telescope watching that steamer come
in; and by-and-by Vanlo's manager began to talk about the chief of the
Patna; he had done some repairs for him once, and from that he went on
to tell us what an old ruin she was, and the money that had been made
out of her. He came to mention her last voyage, and then we all struck
in. Some said one thing and some another--not much--what you or any
other man might say; and there was some laughing. Captain O'Brien of the
Sarah W. Granger, a large, noisy old man with a stick--he was sitting
listening to us in this arm-chair here--he let drive suddenly with his
stick at the floor, and roars out, 'Skunks!' . . . Made us all jump.
Vanlo's manager winks at us and asks, 'What's the matter, Captain
O'Brien?' 'Matter! matter!' the old man began to shout; 'what are you
Injuns laughing at? It's no laughing matter. It's a disgrace to human
natur'--that's what it is. I would despise being seen in the same room
with one of those men. Yes, sir!' He seemed to catch my eye like, and
I had to speak out of civility. 'Skunks!' says I, 'of course, Captain
O'Brien, and I wouldn't care to have them here myself, so you're quite
safe in this room, Captain O'Brien. Have a little something cool to
drink.' 'Dam' your drink, Egstrom,' says he, with a twinkle in his eye;
'when I want a drink I will shout for it. I am going to quit. It stinks
here now.' At this all the others burst out laughing, and out they go
after the old man. And then, sir, that blasted Jim he puts down the
sandwich he had in his hand and walks round the table to me; there was
his glass of beer poured out quite full. 'I am off,' he says--just like
this. 'It isn't half-past one yet,' says I; 'you might snatch a smoke
first.' I thought he meant it was time for him to go down to his work.
When I understood what he was up to, my arms fell--so! Can't get a man
like that every day, you know, sir; a regular devil for sailing a boat;
ready to go out miles to sea to meet ships in any sort of weather. More
than once a captain would come in here full of it, and the first thing
he would say would be, 'That's a reckless sort of a lunatic you've got
for water-clerk, Egstrom. I was feeling my way in at daylight under
short canvas when there comes flying out of the mist right under my
forefoot a boat half under water, sprays going over the mast-head, two
frightened niggers on the bottom boards, a yelling fiend at the tiller.
Hey! hey! Ship ahoy! ahoy! Captain! Hey! hey! Egstrom & Blake's man
first to speak to you! Hey! hey! Egstrom & Blake! Hallo! hey! whoop!
Kick the niggers--out reefs--a squall on at the time--shoots ahead
whooping and yelling to me to make sail and he would give me a lead
in--more like a demon than a man. Never saw a boat handled like that in
all my life. Couldn't have been drunk--was he? Such a quiet, soft-spoken
chap too--blush like a girl when he came on board. . . .' I tell you,
Captain Marlow, nobody had a chance against us with a strange ship when
Jim was out. The other ship-chandlers just kept their old customers, and
. . ."

'Egstrom appeared overcome with emotion.

'"Why, sir--it seemed as though he wouldn't mind going a hundred miles
out to sea in an old shoe to nab a ship for the firm. If the business
had been his own and all to make yet, he couldn't have done more in
that way. And now . . . all at once . . . like this! Thinks I to myself:
'Oho! a rise in the screw--that's the trouble--is it?' 'All right,' says
I, 'no need of all that fuss with me, Jimmy. Just mention your figure.
Anything in reason.' He looks at me as if he wanted to swallow something
that stuck in his throat. 'I can't stop with you.' 'What's that blooming
joke?' I asks. He shakes his head, and I could see in his eye he was as
good as gone already, sir. So I turned to him and slanged him till all
was blue. 'What is it you're running away from?' I asks. 'Who has been
getting at you? What scared you? You haven't as much sense as a rat;
they don't clear out from a good ship. Where do you expect to get a
better berth?--you this and you that.' I made him look sick, I can tell
you. 'This business ain't going to sink,' says I. He gave a big jump.
'Good-bye,' he says, nodding at me like a lord; 'you ain't half a
bad chap, Egstrom. I give you my word that if you knew my reasons you
wouldn't care to keep me.' 'That's the biggest lie you ever told in your
life,' says I; 'I know my own mind.' He made me so mad that I had to
laugh. 'Can't you really stop long enough to drink this glass of beer
here, you funny beggar, you?' I don't know what came over him; he didn't
seem able to find the door; something comical, I can tell you, captain.
I drank the beer myself. 'Well, if you're in such a hurry, here's luck
to you in your own drink,' says I; 'only, you mark my words, if you keep
up this game you'll very soon find that the earth ain't big enough to
hold you--that's all.' He gave me one black look, and out he rushed with
a face fit to scare little children."

'Egstrom snorted bitterly, and combed one auburn whisker with knotty
fingers. "Haven't been able to get a man that was any good since. It's
nothing but worry, worry, worry in business. And where might you have
come across him, captain, if it's fair to ask?"

'"He was the mate of the Patna that voyage," I said, feeling that I
owed some explanation. For a time Egstrom remained very still, with his
fingers plunged in the hair at the side of his face, and then exploded.
"And who the devil cares about that?" "I daresay no one," I began . . .
"And what the devil is he--anyhow--for to go on like this?" He stuffed
suddenly his left whisker into his mouth and stood amazed. "Jee!" he
exclaimed, "I told him the earth wouldn't be big enough to hold his
caper."'



CHAPTER 19


'I have told you these two episodes at length to show his manner of
dealing with himself under the new conditions of his life. There were
many others of the sort, more than I could count on the fingers of my
two hands. They were all equally tinged by a high-minded absurdity of
intention which made their futility profound and touching. To fling away
your daily bread so as to get your hands free for a grapple with a ghost
may be an act of prosaic heroism. Men had done it before (though we who
have lived know full well that it is not the haunted soul but the hungry
body that makes an outcast), and men who had eaten and meant to eat
every day had applauded the creditable folly. He was indeed unfortunate,
for all his recklessness could not carry him out from under the shadow.
There was always a doubt of his courage. The truth seems to be that
it is impossible to lay the ghost of a fact. You can face it or shirk
it--and I have come across a man or two who could wink at their familiar
shades. Obviously Jim was not of the winking sort; but what I could
never make up my mind about was whether his line of conduct amounted to
shirking his ghost or to facing him out.

'I strained my mental eyesight only to discover that, as with the
complexion of all our actions, the shade of difference was so delicate
that it was impossible to say. It might have been flight and it might
have been a mode of combat. To the common mind he became known as a
rolling stone, because this was the funniest part: he did after a time
become perfectly known, and even notorious, within the circle of his
wanderings (which had a diameter of, say, three thousand miles), in the
same way as an eccentric character is known to a whole countryside. For
instance, in Bankok, where he found employment with Yucker Brothers,
charterers and teak merchants, it was almost pathetic to see him go
about in sunshine hugging his secret, which was known to the very
up-country logs on the river. Schomberg, the keeper of the hotel where
he boarded, a hirsute Alsatian of manly bearing and an irrepressible
retailer of all the scandalous gossip of the place, would, with both
elbows on the table, impart an adorned version of the story to any guest
who cared to imbibe knowledge along with the more costly liquors. "And,
mind you, the nicest fellow you could meet," would be his generous
conclusion; "quite superior." It says a lot for the casual crowd that
frequented Schomberg's establishment that Jim managed to hang out
in Bankok for a whole six months. I remarked that people, perfect
strangers, took to him as one takes to a nice child. His manner was
reserved, but it was as though his personal appearance, his hair, his
eyes, his smile, made friends for him wherever he went. And, of course,
he was no fool. I heard Siegmund Yucker (native of Switzerland), a
gentle creature ravaged by a cruel dyspepsia, and so frightfully lame
that his head swung through a quarter of a circle at every step he took,
declare appreciatively that for one so young he was "of great gabasidy,"
as though it had been a mere question of cubic contents. "Why not send
him up country?" I suggested anxiously. (Yucker Brothers had concessions
and teak forests in the interior.) "If he has capacity, as you say,
he will soon get hold of the work. And physically he is very fit. His
health is always excellent." "Ach! It's a great ting in dis goundry
to be vree vrom tispep-shia," sighed poor Yucker enviously, casting a
stealthy glance at the pit of his ruined stomach. I left him drumming
pensively on his desk and muttering, "Es ist ein' Idee. Es ist ein'
Idee." Unfortunately, that very evening an unpleasant affair took place
in the hotel.

'I don't know that I blame Jim very much, but it was a truly regrettable
incident. It belonged to the lamentable species of bar-room scuffles,
and the other party to it was a cross-eyed Dane of sorts whose
visiting-card recited, under his misbegotten name: first lieutenant in
the Royal Siamese Navy. The fellow, of course, was utterly hopeless at
billiards, but did not like to be beaten, I suppose. He had had enough
to drink to turn nasty after the sixth game, and make some scornful
remark at Jim's expense. Most of the people there didn't hear what
was said, and those who had heard seemed to have had all precise
recollection scared out of them by the appalling nature of the
consequences that immediately ensued. It was very lucky for the Dane
that he could swim, because the room opened on a verandah and the Menam
flowed below very wide and black. A boat-load of Chinamen, bound, as
likely as not, on some thieving expedition, fished out the officer of
the King of Siam, and Jim turned up at about midnight on board my ship
without a hat. "Everybody in the room seemed to know," he said, gasping
yet from the contest, as it were. He was rather sorry, on general
principles, for what had happened, though in this case there had been,
he said, "no option." But what dismayed him was to find the nature of
his burden as well known to everybody as though he had gone about all
that time carrying it on his shoulders. Naturally after this he couldn't
remain in the place. He was universally condemned for the brutal
violence, so unbecoming a man in his delicate position; some maintained
he had been disgracefully drunk at the time; others criticised his want
of tact. Even Schomberg was very much annoyed. "He is a very nice young
man," he said argumentatively to me, "but the lieutenant is a first-rate
fellow too. He dines every night at my table d'hote, you know. And
there's a billiard-cue broken. I can't allow that. First thing this
morning I went over with my apologies to the lieutenant, and I think
I've made it all right for myself; but only think, captain, if everybody
started such games! Why, the man might have been drowned! And here I
can't run out into the next street and buy a new cue. I've got to write
to Europe for them. No, no! A temper like that won't do!" . . . He was
extremely sore on the subject.

'This was the worst incident of all in his--his retreat. Nobody could
deplore it more than myself; for if, as somebody said hearing him
mentioned, "Oh yes! I know. He has knocked about a good deal out here,"
yet he had somehow avoided being battered and chipped in the process.
This last affair, however, made me seriously uneasy, because if his
exquisite sensibilities were to go the length of involving him in
pot-house shindies, he would lose his name of an inoffensive, if
aggravating, fool, and acquire that of a common loafer. For all my
confidence in him I could not help reflecting that in such cases
from the name to the thing itself is but a step. I suppose you will
understand that by that time I could not think of washing my hands
of him. I took him away from Bankok in my ship, and we had a longish
passage. It was pitiful to see how he shrank within himself. A seaman,
even if a mere passenger, takes an interest in a ship, and looks at
the sea-life around him with the critical enjoyment of a painter,
for instance, looking at another man's work. In every sense of the
expression he is "on deck"; but my Jim, for the most part, skulked down
below as though he had been a stowaway. He infected me so that I avoided
speaking on professional matters, such as would suggest themselves
naturally to two sailors during a passage. For whole days we did
not exchange a word; I felt extremely unwilling to give orders to my
officers in his presence. Often, when alone with him on deck or in the
cabin, we didn't know what to do with our eyes.

'I placed him with De Jongh, as you know, glad enough to dispose of him
in any way, yet persuaded that his position was now growing intolerable.
He had lost some of that elasticity which had enabled him to rebound
back into his uncompromising position after every overthrow. One
day, coming ashore, I saw him standing on the quay; the water of the
roadstead and the sea in the offing made one smooth ascending plane, and
the outermost ships at anchor seemed to ride motionless in the sky.
He was waiting for his boat, which was being loaded at our feet
with packages of small stores for some vessel ready to leave. After
exchanging greetings, we remained silent--side by side. "Jove!" he said
suddenly, "this is killing work."

'He smiled at me; I must say he generally could manage a smile. I made
no reply. I knew very well he was not alluding to his duties; he had an
easy time of it with De Jongh. Nevertheless, as soon as he had spoken
I became completely convinced that the work was killing. I did not even
look at him. "Would you like," said I, "to leave this part of the world
altogether; try California or the West Coast? I'll see what I can
do . . ." He interrupted me a little scornfully. "What difference would
it make?" . . . I felt at once convinced that he was right. It would make
no difference; it was not relief he wanted; I seemed to perceive dimly
that what he wanted, what he was, as it were, waiting for, was something
not easy to define--something in the nature of an opportunity. I had
given him many opportunities, but they had been merely opportunities to
earn his bread. Yet what more could any man do? The position struck me
as hopeless, and poor Brierly's saying recurred to me, "Let him creep
twenty feet underground and stay there." Better that, I thought, than
this waiting above ground for the impossible. Yet one could not be sure
even of that. There and then, before his boat was three oars' lengths
away from the quay, I had made up my mind to go and consult Stein in the
evening.

'This Stein was a wealthy and respected merchant. His "house" (because
it was a house, Stein & Co., and there was some sort of partner who,
as Stein said, "looked after the Moluccas") had a large inter-island
business, with a lot of trading posts established in the most
out-of-the-way places for collecting the produce. His wealth and his
respectability were not exactly the reasons why I was anxious to seek
his advice. I desired to confide my difficulty to him because he was
one of the most trustworthy men I had ever known. The gentle light of a
simple, unwearied, as it were, and intelligent good-nature illumined his
long hairless face. It had deep downward folds, and was pale as of a
man who had always led a sedentary life--which was indeed very far from
being the case. His hair was thin, and brushed back from a massive and
lofty forehead. One fancied that at twenty he must have looked very much
like what he was now at threescore. It was a student's face; only the
eyebrows nearly all white, thick and bushy, together with the resolute
searching glance that came from under them, were not in accord with his,
I may say, learned appearance. He was tall and loose-jointed; his slight
stoop, together with an innocent smile, made him appear benevolently
ready to lend you his ear; his long arms with pale big hands had rare
deliberate gestures of a pointing out, demonstrating kind. I speak of
him at length, because under this exterior, and in conjunction with
an upright and indulgent nature, this man possessed an intrepidity of
spirit and a physical courage that could have been called reckless had
it not been like a natural function of the body--say good digestion, for
instance--completely unconscious of itself. It is sometimes said of a
man that he carries his life in his hand. Such a saying would have been
inadequate if applied to him; during the early part of his existence in
the East he had been playing ball with it. All this was in the past, but
I knew the story of his life and the origin of his fortune. He was also
a naturalist of some distinction, or perhaps I should say a learned
collector. Entomology was his special study. His collection of
Buprestidae and Longicorns--beetles all--horrible miniature monsters,
looking malevolent in death and immobility, and his cabinet of
butterflies, beautiful and hovering under the glass of cases on
lifeless wings, had spread his fame far over the earth. The name of this
merchant, adventurer, sometime adviser of a Malay sultan (to whom he
never alluded otherwise than as "my poor Mohammed Bonso"), had, on
account of a few bushels of dead insects, become known to learned
persons in Europe, who could have had no conception, and certainly would
not have cared to know anything, of his life or character. I, who knew,
considered him an eminently suitable person to receive my confidences
about Jim's difficulties as well as my own.'



CHAPTER 20


'Late in the evening I entered his study, after traversing an imposing
but empty dining-room very dimly lit. The house was silent. I was
preceded by an elderly grim Javanese servant in a sort of livery of
white jacket and yellow sarong, who, after throwing the door open,
exclaimed low, "O master!" and stepping aside, vanished in a mysterious
way as though he had been a ghost only momentarily embodied for that
particular service. Stein turned round with the chair, and in the same
movement his spectacles seemed to get pushed up on his forehead. He
welcomed me in his quiet and humorous voice. Only one corner of the vast
room, the corner in which stood his writing-desk, was strongly lighted
by a shaded reading-lamp, and the rest of the spacious apartment melted
into shapeless gloom like a cavern. Narrow shelves filled with dark
boxes of uniform shape and colour ran round the walls, not from floor
to ceiling, but in a sombre belt about four feet broad. Catacombs of
beetles. Wooden tablets were hung above at irregular intervals. The
light reached one of them, and the word Coleoptera written in gold
letters glittered mysteriously upon a vast dimness. The glass cases
containing the collection of butterflies were ranged in three long rows
upon slender-legged little tables. One of these cases had been removed
from its place and stood on the desk, which was bestrewn with oblong
slips of paper blackened with minute handwriting.

'"So you see me--so," he said. His hand hovered over the case where
a butterfly in solitary grandeur spread out dark bronze wings, seven
inches or more across, with exquisite white veinings and a gorgeous
border of yellow spots. "Only one specimen like this they have in _your_
London, and then--no more. To my small native town this my collection I
shall bequeath. Something of me. The best."

'He bent forward in the chair and gazed intently, his chin over the
front of the case. I stood at his back. "Marvellous," he whispered, and
seemed to forget my presence. His history was curious. He had been born
in Bavaria, and when a youth of twenty-two had taken an active part in
the revolutionary movement of 1848. Heavily compromised, he managed
to make his escape, and at first found a refuge with a poor republican
watchmaker in Trieste. From there he made his way to Tripoli with a
stock of cheap watches to hawk about,--not a very great opening truly,
but it turned out lucky enough, because it was there he came upon a
Dutch traveller--a rather famous man, I believe, but I don't remember
his name. It was that naturalist who, engaging him as a sort of
assistant, took him to the East. They travelled in the Archipelago
together and separately, collecting insects and birds, for four years or
more. Then the naturalist went home, and Stein, having no home to go to,
remained with an old trader he had come across in his journeys in the
interior of Celebes--if Celebes may be said to have an interior. This
old Scotsman, the only white man allowed to reside in the country at the
time, was a privileged friend of the chief ruler of Wajo States, who
was a woman. I often heard Stein relate how that chap, who was slightly
paralysed on one side, had introduced him to the native court a short
time before another stroke carried him off. He was a heavy man with
a patriarchal white beard, and of imposing stature. He came into
the council-hall where all the rajahs, pangerans, and headmen were
assembled, with the queen, a fat wrinkled woman (very free in her
speech, Stein said), reclining on a high couch under a canopy. He
dragged his leg, thumping with his stick, and grasped Stein's arm,
leading him right up to the couch. "Look, queen, and you rajahs, this is
my son," he proclaimed in a stentorian voice. "I have traded with your
fathers, and when I die he shall trade with you and your sons."

'By means of this simple formality Stein inherited the Scotsman's
privileged position and all his stock-in-trade, together with a
fortified house on the banks of the only navigable river in the country.
Shortly afterwards the old queen, who was so free in her speech, died,
and the country became disturbed by various pretenders to the throne.
Stein joined the party of a younger son, the one of whom thirty years
later he never spoke otherwise but as "my poor Mohammed Bonso." They
both became the heroes of innumerable exploits; they had wonderful
adventures, and once stood a siege in the Scotsman's house for a month,
with only a score of followers against a whole army. I believe the
natives talk of that war to this day. Meantime, it seems, Stein never
failed to annex on his own account every butterfly or beetle he could
lay hands on. After some eight years of war, negotiations, false truces,
sudden outbreaks, reconciliation, treachery, and so on, and just as
peace seemed at last permanently established, his "poor Mohammed
Bonso" was assassinated at the gate of his own royal residence while
dismounting in the highest spirits on his return from a successful
deer-hunt. This event rendered Stein's position extremely insecure,
but he would have stayed perhaps had it not been that a short time
afterwards he lost Mohammed's sister ("my dear wife the princess," he
used to say solemnly), by whom he had had a daughter--mother and child
both dying within three days of each other from some infectious fever.
He left the country, which this cruel loss had made unbearable to
him. Thus ended the first and adventurous part of his existence. What
followed was so different that, but for the reality of sorrow which
remained with him, this strange part must have resembled a dream. He
had a little money; he started life afresh, and in the course of years
acquired a considerable fortune. At first he had travelled a good deal
amongst the islands, but age had stolen upon him, and of late he seldom
left his spacious house three miles out of town, with an extensive
garden, and surrounded by stables, offices, and bamboo cottages for
his servants and dependants, of whom he had many. He drove in his buggy
every morning to town, where he had an office with white and Chinese
clerks. He owned a small fleet of schooners and native craft, and dealt
in island produce on a large scale. For the rest he lived solitary,
but not misanthropic, with his books and his collection, classing and
arranging specimens, corresponding with entomologists in Europe, writing
up a descriptive catalogue of his treasures. Such was the history of
the man whom I had come to consult upon Jim's case without any definite
hope. Simply to hear what he would have to say would have been a relief.
I was very anxious, but I respected the intense, almost passionate,
absorption with which he looked at a butterfly, as though on the bronze
sheen of these frail wings, in the white tracings, in the gorgeous
markings, he could see other things, an image of something as perishable
and defying destruction as these delicate and lifeless tissues
displaying a splendour unmarred by death.

'"Marvellous!" he repeated, looking up at me. "Look! The beauty--but
that is nothing--look at the accuracy, the harmony. And so fragile! And
so strong! And so exact! This is Nature--the balance of colossal forces.
Every star is so--and every blade of grass stands so--and the mighty
Kosmos il perfect equilibrium produces--this. This wonder; this
masterpiece of Nature--the great artist."

'"Never heard an entomologist go on like this," I observed cheerfully.
"Masterpiece! And what of man?"

'"Man is amazing, but he is not a masterpiece," he said, keeping his
eyes fixed on the glass case. "Perhaps the artist was a little mad. Eh?
What do you think? Sometimes it seems to me that man is come where he is
not wanted, where there is no place for him; for if not, why should
he want all the place? Why should he run about here and there making
a great noise about himself, talking about the stars, disturbing the
blades of grass? . . ."

'"Catching butterflies," I chimed in.

'He smiled, threw himself back in his chair, and stretched his legs.
"Sit down," he said. "I captured this rare specimen myself one very fine
morning. And I had a very big emotion. You don't know what it is for a
collector to capture such a rare specimen. You can't know."

'I smiled at my ease in a rocking-chair. His eyes seemed to look far
beyond the wall at which they stared; and he narrated how, one night,
a messenger arrived from his "poor Mohammed," requiring his presence
at the "residenz"--as he called it--which was distant some nine or ten
miles by a bridle-path over a cultivated plain, with patches of forest
here and there. Early in the morning he started from his fortified
house, after embracing his little Emma, and leaving the "princess," his
wife, in command. He described how she came with him as far as the
gate, walking with one hand on the neck of his horse; she had on a white
jacket, gold pins in her hair, and a brown leather belt over her left
shoulder with a revolver in it. "She talked as women will talk," he
said, "telling me to be careful, and to try to get back before dark, and
what a great wikedness it was for me to go alone. We were at war, and
the country was not safe; my men were putting up bullet-proof shutters
to the house and loading their rifles, and she begged me to have no fear
for her. She could defend the house against anybody till I returned. And
I laughed with pleasure a little. I liked to see her so brave and young
and strong. I too was young then. At the gate she caught hold of my
hand and gave it one squeeze and fell back. I made my horse stand still
outside till I heard the bars of the gate put up behind me. There was a
great enemy of mine, a great noble--and a great rascal too--roaming with
a band in the neighbourhood. I cantered for four or five miles; there
had been rain in the night, but the musts had gone up, up--and the
face of the earth was clean; it lay smiling to me, so fresh and
innocent--like a little child. Suddenly somebody fires a volley--twenty
shots at least it seemed to me. I hear bullets sing in my ear, and
my hat jumps to the back of my head. It was a little intrigue, you
understand. They got my poor Mohammed to send for me and then laid
that ambush. I see it all in a minute, and I think--This wants a little
management. My pony snort, jump, and stand, and I fall slowly forward
with my head on his mane. He begins to walk, and with one eye I could
see over his neck a faint cloud of smoke hanging in front of a clump
of bamboos to my left. I think--Aha! my friends, why you not wait long
enough before you shoot? This is not yet gelungen. Oh no! I get hold of
my revolver with my right hand--quiet--quiet. After all, there were only
seven of these rascals. They get up from the grass and start running
with their sarongs tucked up, waving spears above their heads, and
yelling to each other to look out and catch the horse, because I was
dead. I let them come as close as the door here, and then bang, bang,
bang--take aim each time too. One more shot I fire at a man's back, but
I miss. Too far already. And then I sit alone on my horse with the clean
earth smiling at me, and there are the bodies of three men lying on the
ground. One was curled up like a dog, another on his back had an arm
over his eyes as if to keep off the sun, and the third man he draws up
his leg very slowly and makes it with one kick straight again. I watch
him very carefully from my horse, but there is no more--bleibt ganz
ruhig--keep still, so. And as I looked at his face for some sign of life
I observed something like a faint shadow pass over his forehead. It was
the shadow of this butterfly. Look at the form of the wing. This species
fly high with a strong flight. I raised my eyes and I saw him fluttering
away. I think--Can it be possible? And then I lost him. I dismounted
and went on very slow, leading my horse and holding my revolver with one
hand and my eyes darting up and down and right and left, everywhere! At
last I saw him sitting on a small heap of dirt ten feet away. At once
my heart began to beat quick. I let go my horse, keep my revolver in one
hand, and with the other snatch my soft felt hat off my head. One step.
Steady. Another step. Flop! I got him! When I got up I shook like a leaf
with excitement, and when I opened these beautiful wings and made sure
what a rare and so extraordinary perfect specimen I had, my head went
round and my legs became so weak with emotion that I had to sit on the
ground. I had greatly desired to possess myself of a specimen of that
species when collecting for the professor. I took long journeys and
underwent great privations; I had dreamed of him in my sleep, and here
suddenly I had him in my fingers--for myself! In the words of the poet"
(he pronounced it "boet")--

     "'So halt' ich's endlich denn in meinen Handen,
     Und nenn' es in gewissem Sinne mein.'"

He gave to the last word the emphasis of a suddenly lowered voice, and
withdrew his eyes slowly from my face. He began to charge a long-stemmed
pipe busily and in silence, then, pausing with his thumb on the orifice
of the bowl, looked again at me significantly.

'"Yes, my good friend. On that day I had nothing to desire; I had
greatly annoyed my principal enemy; I was young, strong; I had
friendship; I had the love" (he said "lof") "of woman, a child I had,
to make my heart very full--and even what I had once dreamed in my sleep
had come into my hand too!"

'He struck a match, which flared violently. His thoughtful placid face
twitched once.

'"Friend, wife, child," he said slowly, gazing at the small
flame--"phoo!" The match was blown out. He sighed and turned again to
the glass case. The frail and beautiful wings quivered faintly, as if
his breath had for an instant called back to life that gorgeous object
of his dreams.

'"The work," he began suddenly, pointing to the scattered slips, and in
his usual gentle and cheery tone, "is making great progress. I have been
this rare specimen describing. . . . Na! And what is your good news?"

'"To tell you the truth, Stein," I said with an effort that surprised
me, "I came here to describe a specimen. . . ."

'"Butterfly?" he asked, with an unbelieving and humorous eagerness.

'"Nothing so perfect," I answered, feeling suddenly dispirited with all
sorts of doubts. "A man!"

'"Ach so!" he murmured, and his smiling countenance, turned to me,
became grave. Then after looking at me for a while he said slowly,
"Well--I am a man too."

'Here you have him as he was; he knew how to be so generously
encouraging as to make a scrupulous man hesitate on the brink of
confidence; but if I did hesitate it was not for long.

'He heard me out, sitting with crossed legs. Sometimes his head would
disappear completely in a great eruption of smoke, and a sympathetic
growl would come out from the cloud. When I finished he uncrossed his
legs, laid down his pipe, leaned forward towards me earnestly with his
elbows on the arms of his chair, the tips of his fingers together.

'"I understand very well. He is romantic."

'He had diagnosed the case for me, and at first I was quite startled to
find how simple it was; and indeed our conference resembled so much a
medical consultation--Stein, of learned aspect, sitting in an arm-chair
before his desk; I, anxious, in another, facing him, but a little to one
side--that it seemed natural to ask--

'"What's good for it?"

'He lifted up a long forefinger.

'"There is only one remedy! One thing alone can us from being ourselves
cure!" The finger came down on the desk with a smart rap. The case
which he had made to look so simple before became if possible still
simpler--and altogether hopeless. There was a pause. "Yes," said I,
"strictly speaking, the question is not how to get cured, but how to
live."

'He approved with his head, a little sadly as it seemed. "Ja! ja! In
general, adapting the words of your great poet: That is the
question. . . ." He went on nodding sympathetically. . . . "How to be!
Ach! How to be."

'He stood up with the tips of his fingers resting on the desk.

'"We want in so many different ways to be," he began again. "This
magnificent butterfly finds a little heap of dirt and sits still on it;
but man he will never on his heap of mud keep still. He want to be so,
and again he want to be so. . . ." He moved his hand up, then down. . . .
"He wants to be a saint, and he wants to be a devil--and every time he
shuts his eyes he sees himself as a very fine fellow--so fine as he can
never be. . . . In a dream. . . ."

'He lowered the glass lid, the automatic lock clicked sharply, and
taking up the case in both hands he bore it religiously away to its
place, passing out of the bright circle of the lamp into the ring of
fainter light--into shapeless dusk at last. It had an odd effect--as
if these few steps had carried him out of this concrete and perplexed
world. His tall form, as though robbed of its substance, hovered
noiselessly over invisible things with stooping and indefinite
movements; his voice, heard in that remoteness where he could be
glimpsed mysteriously busy with immaterial cares, was no longer
incisive, seemed to roll voluminous and grave--mellowed by distance.

'"And because you not always can keep your eyes shut there comes the
real trouble--the heart pain--the world pain. I tell you, my friend, it
is not good for you to find you cannot make your dream come true, for
the reason that you not strong enough are, or not clever enough. . . .
Ja! . . . And all the time you are such a fine fellow too! Wie? Was?
Gott im Himmel! How can that be? Ha! ha! ha!"

'The shadow prowling amongst the graves of butterflies laughed
boisterously.

'"Yes! Very funny this terrible thing is. A man that is born falls into
a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into
the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns--nicht wahr?
. . . No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit
yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water
make the deep, deep sea keep you up. So if you ask me--how to be?"

'His voice leaped up extraordinarily strong, as though away there in
the dusk he had been inspired by some whisper of knowledge. "I will tell
you! For that too there is only one way."

'With a hasty swish-swish of his slippers he loomed up in the ring of
faint light, and suddenly appeared in the bright circle of the lamp. His
extended hand aimed at my breast like a pistol; his deepset eyes seemed
to pierce through me, but his twitching lips uttered no word, and the
austere exaltation of a certitude seen in the dusk vanished from his
face. The hand that had been pointing at my breast fell, and by-and-by,
coming a step nearer, he laid it gently on my shoulder. There were
things, he said mournfully, that perhaps could never be told, only he
had lived so much alone that sometimes he forgot--he forgot. The light
had destroyed the assurance which had inspired him in the distant
shadows. He sat down and, with both elbows on the desk, rubbed his
forehead. "And yet it is true--it is true. In the destructive element
immerse." . . . He spoke in a subdued tone, without looking at me, one
hand on each side of his face. "That was the way. To follow the dream,
and again to follow the dream--and so--ewig--usque ad finem. . . ." The
whisper of his conviction seemed to open before me a vast and uncertain
expanse, as of a crepuscular horizon on a plain at dawn--or was it,
perchance, at the coming of the night? One had not the courage to
decide; but it was a charming and deceptive light, throwing the
impalpable poesy of its dimness over pitfalls--over graves. His life had
begun in sacrifice, in enthusiasm for generous ideas; he had travelled
very far, on various ways, on strange paths, and whatever he followed
it had been without faltering, and therefore without shame and without
regret. In so far he was right. That was the way, no doubt. Yet for all
that, the great plain on which men wander amongst graves and pitfalls
remained very desolate under the impalpable poesy of its crepuscular
light, overshadowed in the centre, circled with a bright edge as if
surrounded by an abyss full of flames. When at last I broke the silence
it was to express the opinion that no one could be more romantic than
himself.

'He shook his head slowly, and afterwards looked at me with a patient
and inquiring glance. It was a shame, he said. There we were sitting
and talking like two boys, instead of putting our heads together to find
something practical--a practical remedy--for the evil--for the great
evil--he repeated, with a humorous and indulgent smile. For all that,
our talk did not grow more practical. We avoided pronouncing Jim's name
as though we had tried to keep flesh and blood out of our discussion,
or he were nothing but an erring spirit, a suffering and nameless shade.
"Na!" said Stein, rising. "To-night you sleep here, and in the morning
we shall do something practical--practical. . . ." He lit a two-branched
candlestick and led the way. We passed through empty dark rooms,
escorted by gleams from the lights Stein carried. They glided along the
waxed floors, sweeping here and there over the polished surface of
a table, leaped upon a fragmentary curve of a piece of furniture, or
flashed perpendicularly in and out of distant mirrors, while the forms
of two men and the flicker of two flames could be seen for a moment
stealing silently across the depths of a crystalline void. He walked
slowly a pace in advance with stooping courtesy; there was a profound,
as it were a listening, quietude on his face; the long flaxen locks
mixed with white threads were scattered thinly upon his slightly bowed
neck.

'"He is romantic--romantic," he repeated. "And that is very bad--very
bad. . . . Very good, too," he added. "But _is he_?" I queried.

'"Gewiss," he said, and stood still holding up the candelabrum, but
without looking at me. "Evident! What is it that by inward pain makes
him know himself? What is it that for you and me makes him--exist?"

'At that moment it was difficult to believe in Jim's existence--starting
from a country parsonage, blurred by crowds of men as by clouds of
dust, silenced by the clashing claims of life and death in a material
world--but his imperishable reality came to me with a convincing, with
an irresistible force! I saw it vividly, as though in our progress
through the lofty silent rooms amongst fleeting gleams of light and
the sudden revelations of human figures stealing with flickering flames
within unfathomable and pellucid depths, we had approached nearer to
absolute Truth, which, like Beauty itself, floats elusive, obscure, half
submerged, in the silent still waters of mystery. "Perhaps he is," I
admitted with a slight laugh, whose unexpectedly loud reverberation
made me lower my voice directly; "but I am sure you are." With his head
dropping on his breast and the light held high he began to walk again.
"Well--I exist, too," he said.

'He preceded me. My eyes followed his movements, but what I did see was
not the head of the firm, the welcome guest at afternoon receptions,
the correspondent of learned societies, the entertainer of stray
naturalists; I saw only the reality of his destiny, which he had known
how to follow with unfaltering footsteps, that life begun in humble
surroundings, rich in generous enthusiasms, in friendship, love, war--in
all the exalted elements of romance. At the door of my room he faced me.
"Yes," I said, as though carrying on a discussion, "and amongst other
things you dreamed foolishly of a certain butterfly; but when one
fine morning your dream came in your way you did not let the splendid
opportunity escape. Did you? Whereas he . . ." Stein lifted his hand.
"And do you know how many opportunities I let escape; how many dreams
I had lost that had come in my way?" He shook his head regretfully. "It
seems to me that some would have been very fine--if I had made them come
true. Do you know how many? Perhaps I myself don't know." "Whether his
were fine or not," I said, "he knows of one which he certainly did not
catch." "Everybody knows of one or two like that," said Stein; "and that
is the trouble--the great trouble. . . ."

'He shook hands on the threshold, peered into my room under his
raised arm. "Sleep well. And to-morrow we must do something
practical--practical. . . ."

'Though his own room was beyond mine I saw him return the way he came.
He was going back to his butterflies.'



CHAPTER 21


'I don't suppose any of you have ever heard of Patusan?' Marlow resumed,
after a silence occupied in the careful lighting of a cigar. 'It does
not matter; there's many a heavenly body in the lot crowding upon us of
a night that mankind had never heard of, it being outside the sphere
of its activities and of no earthly importance to anybody but to the
astronomers who are paid to talk learnedly about its composition,
weight, path--the irregularities of its conduct, the aberrations of its
light--a sort of scientific scandal-mongering. Thus with Patusan. It
was referred to knowingly in the inner government circles in Batavia,
especially as to its irregularities and aberrations, and it was known
by name to some few, very few, in the mercantile world. Nobody, however,
had been there, and I suspect no one desired to go there in person,
just as an astronomer, I should fancy, would strongly object to being
transported into a distant heavenly body, where, parted from his earthly
emoluments, he would be bewildered by the view of an unfamiliar heavens.
However, neither heavenly bodies nor astronomers have anything to do
with Patusan. It was Jim who went there. I only meant you to understand
that had Stein arranged to send him into a star of the fifth magnitude
the change could not have been greater. He left his earthly failings
behind him and what sort of reputation he had, and there was a totally
new set of conditions for his imaginative faculty to work upon. Entirely
new, entirely remarkable. And he got hold of them in a remarkable way.

'Stein was the man who knew more about Patusan than anybody else. More
than was known in the government circles I suspect. I have no doubt he
had been there, either in his butterfly-hunting days or later on, when
he tried in his incorrigible way to season with a pinch of romance the
fattening dishes of his commercial kitchen. There were very few places
in the Archipelago he had not seen in the original dusk of their being,
before light (and even electric light) had been carried into them for
the sake of better morality and--and--well--the greater profit, too.
It was at breakfast of the morning following our talk about Jim that he
mentioned the place, after I had quoted poor Brierly's remark: "Let him
creep twenty feet underground and stay there." He looked up at me with
interested attention, as though I had been a rare insect. "This could be
done, too," he remarked, sipping his coffee. "Bury him in some sort,"
I explained. "One doesn't like to do it of course, but it would be the
best thing, seeing what he is." "Yes; he is young," Stein mused. "The
youngest human being now in existence," I affirmed. "Schon. There's
Patusan," he went on in the same tone. . . . "And the woman is dead
now," he added incomprehensibly.

'Of course I don't know that story; I can only guess that once before
Patusan had been used as a grave for some sin, transgression, or
misfortune. It is impossible to suspect Stein. The only woman that
had ever existed for him was the Malay girl he called "My wife the
princess," or, more rarely, in moments of expansion, "the mother of my
Emma." Who was the woman he had mentioned in connection with Patusan I
can't say; but from his allusions I understand she had been an educated
and very good-looking Dutch-Malay girl, with a tragic or perhaps only a
pitiful history, whose most painful part no doubt was her marriage with
a Malacca Portuguese who had been clerk in some commercial house in
the Dutch colonies. I gathered from Stein that this man was an
unsatisfactory person in more ways than one, all being more or less
indefinite and offensive. It was solely for his wife's sake that Stein
had appointed him manager of Stein & Co.'s trading post in Patusan;
but commercially the arrangement was not a success, at any rate for
the firm, and now the woman had died, Stein was disposed to try another
agent there. The Portuguese, whose name was Cornelius, considered
himself a very deserving but ill-used person, entitled by his abilities
to a better position. This man Jim would have to relieve. "But I don't
think he will go away from the place," remarked Stein. "That has nothing
to do with me. It was only for the sake of the woman that I . . . But as
I think there is a daughter left, I shall let him, if he likes to stay,
keep the old house."

'Patusan is a remote district of a native-ruled state, and the chief
settlement bears the same name. At a point on the river about forty
miles from the sea, where the first houses come into view, there can
be seen rising above the level of the forests the summits of two steep
hills very close together, and separated by what looks like a deep
fissure, the cleavage of some mighty stroke. As a matter of fact, the
valley between is nothing but a narrow ravine; the appearance from the
settlement is of one irregularly conical hill split in two, and with the
two halves leaning slightly apart. On the third day after the full, the
moon, as seen from the open space in front of Jim's house (he had a very
fine house in the native style when I visited him), rose exactly behind
these hills, its diffused light at first throwing the two masses into
intensely black relief, and then the nearly perfect disc, glowing
ruddily, appeared, gliding upwards between the sides of the chasm, till
it floated away above the summits, as if escaping from a yawning grave
in gentle triumph. "Wonderful effect," said Jim by my side. "Worth
seeing. Is it not?"

'And this question was put with a note of personal pride that made me
smile, as though he had had a hand in regulating that unique spectacle.
He had regulated so many things in Patusan--things that would have
appeared as much beyond his control as the motions of the moon and the
stars.

'It was inconceivable. That was the distinctive quality of the part into
which Stein and I had tumbled him unwittingly, with no other notion than
to get him out of the way; out of his own way, be it understood. That
was our main purpose, though, I own, I might have had another motive
which had influenced me a little. I was about to go home for a time;
and it may be I desired, more than I was aware of myself, to dispose of
him--to dispose of him, you understand--before I left. I was going home,
and he had come to me from there, with his miserable trouble and his
shadowy claim, like a man panting under a burden in a mist. I cannot
say I had ever seen him distinctly--not even to this day, after I had
my last view of him; but it seemed to me that the less I understood
the more I was bound to him in the name of that doubt which is the
inseparable part of our knowledge. I did not know so much more about
myself. And then, I repeat, I was going home--to that home distant
enough for all its hearthstones to be like one hearthstone, by which the
humblest of us has the right to sit. We wander in our thousands over the
face of the earth, the illustrious and the obscure, earning beyond the
seas our fame, our money, or only a crust of bread; but it seems to me
that for each of us going home must be like going to render an account.
We return to face our superiors, our kindred, our friends--those whom we
obey, and those whom we love; but even they who have neither, the most
free, lonely, irresponsible and bereft of ties,--even those for whom
home holds no dear face, no familiar voice,--even they have to meet the
spirit that dwells within the land, under its sky, in its air, in its
valleys, and on its rises, in its fields, in its waters and its trees--a
mute friend, judge, and inspirer. Say what you like, to get its joy,
to breathe its peace, to face its truth, one must return with a clear
conscience. All this may seem to you sheer sentimentalism; and indeed
very few of us have the will or the capacity to look consciously under
the surface of familiar emotions. There are the girls we love, the men
we look up to, the tenderness, the friendships, the opportunities, the
pleasures! But the fact remains that you must touch your reward with
clean hands, lest it turn to dead leaves, to thorns, in your grasp. I
think it is the lonely, without a fireside or an affection they may call
their own, those who return not to a dwelling but to the land itself, to
meet its disembodied, eternal, and unchangeable spirit--it is those who
understand best its severity, its saving power, the grace of its secular
right to our fidelity, to our obedience. Yes! few of us understand, but
we all feel it though, and I say _all_ without exception, because those
who do not feel do not count. Each blade of grass has its spot on earth
whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land
from which he draws his faith together with his life. I don't know
how much Jim understood; but I know he felt, he felt confusedly but
powerfully, the demand of some such truth or some such illusion--I don't
care how you call it, there is so little difference, and the difference
means so little. The thing is that in virtue of his feeling he mattered.
He would never go home now. Not he. Never. Had he been capable of
picturesque manifestations he would have shuddered at the thought
and made you shudder too. But he was not of that sort, though he was
expressive enough in his way. Before the idea of going home he would
grow desperately stiff and immovable, with lowered chin and pouted lips,
and with those candid blue eyes of his glowering darkly under a frown,
as if before something unbearable, as if before something revolting.
There was imagination in that hard skull of his, over which the thick
clustering hair fitted like a cap. As to me, I have no imagination (I
would be more certain about him today, if I had), and I do not mean to
imply that I figured to myself the spirit of the land uprising above the
white cliffs of Dover, to ask me what I--returning with no bones broken,
so to speak--had done with my very young brother. I could not make
such a mistake. I knew very well he was of those about whom there is
no inquiry; I had seen better men go out, disappear, vanish utterly,
without provoking a sound of curiosity or sorrow. The spirit of
the land, as becomes the ruler of great enterprises, is careless of
innumerable lives. Woe to the stragglers! We exist only in so far as we
hang together. He had straggled in a way; he had not hung on; but he was
aware of it with an intensity that made him touching, just as a man's
more intense life makes his death more touching than the death of a
tree. I happened to be handy, and I happened to be touched. That's all
there is to it. I was concerned as to the way he would go out. It would
have hurt me if, for instance, he had taken to drink. The earth is so
small that I was afraid of, some day, being waylaid by a blear-eyed,
swollen-faced, besmirched loafer, with no soles to his canvas shoes,
and with a flutter of rags about the elbows, who, on the strength of old
acquaintance, would ask for a loan of five dollars. You know the awful
jaunty bearing of these scarecrows coming to you from a decent past,
the rasping careless voice, the half-averted impudent glances--those
meetings more trying to a man who believes in the solidarity of our
lives than the sight of an impenitent death-bed to a priest. That, to
tell you the truth, was the only danger I could see for him and for
me; but I also mistrusted my want of imagination. It might even come
to something worse, in some way it was beyond my powers of fancy to
foresee. He wouldn't let me forget how imaginative he was, and your
imaginative people swing farther in any direction, as if given a longer
scope of cable in the uneasy anchorage of life. They do. They take to
drink too. It may be I was belittling him by such a fear. How could I
tell? Even Stein could say no more than that he was romantic. I only
knew he was one of us. And what business had he to be romantic? I
am telling you so much about my own instinctive feelings and bemused
reflections because there remains so little to be told of him. He
existed for me, and after all it is only through me that he exists for
you. I've led him out by the hand; I have paraded him before you. Were
my commonplace fears unjust? I won't say--not even now. You may be able
to tell better, since the proverb has it that the onlookers see most of
the game. At any rate, they were superfluous. He did not go out, not at
all; on the contrary, he came on wonderfully, came on straight as a die
and in excellent form, which showed that he could stay as well as spurt.
I ought to be delighted, for it is a victory in which I had taken my
part; but I am not so pleased as I would have expected to be. I ask
myself whether his rush had really carried him out of that mist in
which he loomed interesting if not very big, with floating outlines--a
straggler yearning inconsolably for his humble place in the ranks. And
besides, the last word is not said,--probably shall never be said. Are
not our lives too short for that full utterance which through all our
stammerings is of course our only and abiding intention? I have given
up expecting those last words, whose ring, if they could only be
pronounced, would shake both heaven and earth. There is never time to
say our last word--the last word of our love, of our desire, faith,
remorse, submissions, revolt. The heaven and the earth must not be
shaken, I suppose--at least, not by us who know so many truths about
either. My last words about Jim shall be few. I affirm he had achieved
greatness; but the thing would be dwarfed in the telling, or rather in
the hearing. Frankly, it is not my words that I mistrust but your minds.
I could be eloquent were I not afraid you fellows had starved your
imaginations to feed your bodies. I do not mean to be offensive; it is
respectable to have no illusions--and safe--and profitable--and dull.
Yet you, too, in your time must have known the intensity of life, that
light of glamour created in the shock of trifles, as amazing as the glow
of sparks struck from a cold stone--and as short-lived, alas!'



CHAPTER 22


'The conquest of love, honour, men's confidence--the pride of it, the
power of it, are fit materials for a heroic tale; only our minds are
struck by the externals of such a success, and to Jim's successes there
were no externals. Thirty miles of forest shut it off from the sight of
an indifferent world, and the noise of the white surf along the coast
overpowered the voice of fame. The stream of civilisation, as if divided
on a headland a hundred miles north of Patusan, branches east and
south-east, leaving its plains and valleys, its old trees and its old
mankind, neglected and isolated, such as an insignificant and crumbling
islet between the two branches of a mighty, devouring stream. You find
the name of the country pretty often in collections of old voyages. The
seventeenth-century traders went there for pepper, because the passion
for pepper seemed to burn like a flame of love in the breast of Dutch
and English adventurers about the time of James the First. Where
wouldn't they go for pepper! For a bag of pepper they would cut each
other's throats without hesitation, and would forswear their souls,
of which they were so careful otherwise: the bizarre obstinacy of that
desire made them defy death in a thousand shapes--the unknown seas, the
loathsome and strange diseases; wounds, captivity, hunger, pestilence,
and despair. It made them great! By heavens! it made them heroic; and
it made them pathetic too in their craving for trade with the inflexible
death levying its toll on young and old. It seems impossible to believe
that mere greed could hold men to such a steadfastness of purpose, to
such a blind persistence in endeavour and sacrifice. And indeed those
who adventured their persons and lives risked all they had for a slender
reward. They left their bones to lie bleaching on distant shores, so
that wealth might flow to the living at home. To us, their less tried
successors, they appear magnified, not as agents of trade but as
instruments of a recorded destiny, pushing out into the unknown in
obedience to an inward voice, to an impulse beating in the blood, to a
dream of the future. They were wonderful; and it must be owned they
were ready for the wonderful. They recorded it complacently in their
sufferings, in the aspect of the seas, in the customs of strange
nations, in the glory of splendid rulers.

'In Patusan they had found lots of pepper, and had been impressed by the
magnificence and the wisdom of the Sultan; but somehow, after a century
of chequered intercourse, the country seems to drop gradually out of the
trade. Perhaps the pepper had given out. Be it as it may, nobody cares
for it now; the glory has departed, the Sultan is an imbecile youth
with two thumbs on his left hand and an uncertain and beggarly revenue
extorted from a miserable population and stolen from him by his many
uncles.

'This of course I have from Stein. He gave me their names and a short
sketch of the life and character of each. He was as full of information
about native states as an official report, but infinitely more amusing.
He _had_ to know. He traded in so many, and in some districts--as in
Patusan, for instance--his firm was the only one to have an agency by
special permit from the Dutch authorities. The Government trusted his
discretion, and it was understood that he took all the risks. The men
he employed understood that too, but he made it worth their while
apparently. He was perfectly frank with me over the breakfast-table in
the morning. As far as he was aware (the last news was thirteen months
old, he stated precisely), utter insecurity for life and property was
the normal condition. There were in Patusan antagonistic forces, and one
of them was Rajah Allang, the worst of the Sultan's uncles, the governor
of the river, who did the extorting and the stealing, and ground down
to the point of extinction the country-born Malays, who, utterly
defenceless, had not even the resource of emigrating--"For indeed," as
Stein remarked, "where could they go, and how could they get away?"
No doubt they did not even desire to get away. The world (which is
circumscribed by lofty impassable mountains) has been given into the
hand of the high-born, and _this_ Rajah they knew: he was of their own
royal house. I had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman later on. He
was a dirty, little, used-up old man with evil eyes and a weak mouth,
who swallowed an opium pill every two hours, and in defiance of common
decency wore his hair uncovered and falling in wild stringy locks about
his wizened grimy face. When giving audience he would clamber upon a
sort of narrow stage erected in a hall like a ruinous barn with a rotten
bamboo floor, through the cracks of which you could see, twelve or
fifteen feet below, the heaps of refuse and garbage of all kinds lying
under the house. That is where and how he received us when, accompanied
by Jim, I paid him a visit of ceremony. There were about forty people in
the room, and perhaps three times as many in the great courtyard below.
There was constant movement, coming and going, pushing and murmuring,
at our backs. A few youths in gay silks glared from the distance; the
majority, slaves and humble dependants, were half naked, in ragged
sarongs, dirty with ashes and mud-stains. I had never seen Jim look so
grave, so self-possessed, in an impenetrable, impressive way. In the
midst of these dark-faced men, his stalwart figure in white apparel,
the gleaming clusters of his fair hair, seemed to catch all the sunshine
that trickled through the cracks in the closed shutters of that dim
hall, with its walls of mats and a roof of thatch. He appeared like a
creature not only of another kind but of another essence. Had they not
seen him come up in a canoe they might have thought he had descended
upon them from the clouds. He did, however, come in a crazy dug-out,
sitting (very still and with his knees together, for fear of overturning
the thing)--sitting on a tin box--which I had lent him--nursing on his
lap a revolver of the Navy pattern--presented by me on parting--which,
through an interposition of Providence, or through some wrong-headed
notion, that was just like him, or else from sheer instinctive sagacity,
he had decided to carry unloaded. That's how he ascended the Patusan
river. Nothing could have been more prosaic and more unsafe, more
extravagantly casual, more lonely. Strange, this fatality that would
cast the complexion of a flight upon all his acts, of impulsive
unreflecting desertion of a jump into the unknown.

'It is precisely the casualness of it that strikes me most. Neither
Stein nor I had a clear conception of what might be on the other side
when we, metaphorically speaking, took him up and hove him over the
wall with scant ceremony. At the moment I merely wished to achieve his
disappearance; Stein characteristically enough had a sentimental motive.
He had a notion of paying off (in kind, I suppose) the old debt he had
never forgotten. Indeed he had been all his life especially friendly to
anybody from the British Isles. His late benefactor, it is true, was a
Scot--even to the length of being called Alexander McNeil--and Jim came
from a long way south of the Tweed; but at the distance of six or
seven thousand miles Great Britain, though never diminished, looks
foreshortened enough even to its own children to rob such details of
their importance. Stein was excusable, and his hinted intentions were
so generous that I begged him most earnestly to keep them secret for
a time. I felt that no consideration of personal advantage should be
allowed to influence Jim; that not even the risk of such influence
should be run. We had to deal with another sort of reality. He wanted
a refuge, and a refuge at the cost of danger should be offered
him--nothing more.

'Upon every other point I was perfectly frank with him, and I even (as
I believed at the time) exaggerated the danger of the undertaking. As
a matter of fact I did not do it justice; his first day in Patusan was
nearly his last--would have been his last if he had not been so reckless
or so hard on himself and had condescended to load that revolver. I
remember, as I unfolded our precious scheme for his retreat, how his
stubborn but weary resignation was gradually replaced by surprise,
interest, wonder, and by boyish eagerness. This was a chance he had been
dreaming of. He couldn't think how he merited that I . . . He would be
shot if he could see to what he owed . . . And it was Stein, Stein the
merchant, who . . . but of course it was me he had to . . . I cut him
short. He was not articulate, and his gratitude caused me inexplicable
pain. I told him that if he owed this chance to any one especially, it
was to an old Scot of whom he had never heard, who had died many years
ago, of whom little was remembered besides a roaring voice and a rough
sort of honesty. There was really no one to receive his thanks. Stein
was passing on to a young man the help he had received in his own young
days, and I had done no more than to mention his name. Upon this he
coloured, and, twisting a bit of paper in his fingers, he remarked
bashfully that I had always trusted him.

'I admitted that such was the case, and added after a pause that I
wished he had been able to follow my example. "You think I don't?" he
asked uneasily, and remarked in a mutter that one had to get some sort
of show first; then brightening up, and in a loud voice he protested he
would give me no occasion to regret my confidence, which--which . . .

'"Do not misapprehend," I interrupted. "It is not in your power to make
me regret anything." There would be no regrets; but if there were, it
would be altogether my own affair: on the other hand, I wished him to
understand clearly that this arrangement, this--this--experiment, was
his own doing; he was responsible for it and no one else. "Why? Why," he
stammered, "this is the very thing that I . . ." I begged him not to
be dense, and he looked more puzzled than ever. He was in a fair way
to make life intolerable to himself . . . "Do you think so?" he asked,
disturbed; but in a moment added confidently, "I was going on though.
Was I not?" It was impossible to be angry with him: I could not help a
smile, and told him that in the old days people who went on like
this were on the way of becoming hermits in a wilderness. "Hermits be
hanged!" he commented with engaging impulsiveness. Of course he didn't
mind a wilderness. . . . "I was glad of it," I said. That was where
he would be going to. He would find it lively enough, I ventured to
promise. "Yes, yes," he said, keenly. He had shown a desire, I continued
inflexibly, to go out and shut the door after him. . . . "Did I?" he
interrupted in a strange access of gloom that seemed to envelop him
from head to foot like the shadow of a passing cloud. He was wonderfully
expressive after all. Wonderfully! "Did I?" he repeated bitterly. "You
can't say I made much noise about it. And I can keep it up, too--only,
confound it! you show me a door." . . . "Very well. Pass on," I struck
in. I could make him a solemn promise that it would be shut behind him
with a vengeance. His fate, whatever it was, would be ignored,
because the country, for all its rotten state, was not judged ripe
for interference. Once he got in, it would be for the outside world as
though he had never existed. He would have nothing but the soles of his
two feet to stand upon, and he would have first to find his ground at
that. "Never existed--that's it, by Jove," he murmured to himself. His
eyes, fastened upon my lips, sparkled. If he had thoroughly understood
the conditions, I concluded, he had better jump into the first gharry he
could see and drive on to Stein's house for his final instructions. He
flung out of the room before I had fairly finished speaking.'



CHAPTER 23


'He did not return till next morning. He had been kept to dinner and for
the night. There never had been such a wonderful man as Mr. Stein. He
had in his pocket a letter for Cornelius ("the Johnnie who's going to
get the sack," he explained, with a momentary drop in his elation), and
he exhibited with glee a silver ring, such as natives use, worn down
very thin and showing faint traces of chasing.

'This was his introduction to an old chap called Doramin--one of the
principal men out there--a big pot--who had been Mr. Stein's friend in
that country where he had all these adventures. Mr. Stein called him
"war-comrade." War-comrade was good. Wasn't it? And didn't Mr. Stein
speak English wonderfully well? Said he had learned it in Celebes--of
all places! That was awfully funny. Was it not? He did speak with an
accent--a twang--did I notice? That chap Doramin had given him the ring.
They had exchanged presents when they parted for the last time. Sort of
promising eternal friendship. He called it fine--did I not? They had
to make a dash for dear life out of the country when that
Mohammed--Mohammed--What's-his-name had been killed. I knew the story,
of course. Seemed a beastly shame, didn't it? . . .

'He ran on like this, forgetting his plate, with a knife and fork in
hand (he had found me at tiffin), slightly flushed, and with his eyes
darkened many shades, which was with him a sign of excitement. The ring
was a sort of credential--("It's like something you read of in books,"
he threw in appreciatively)--and Doramin would do his best for him. Mr.
Stein had been the means of saving that chap's life on some occasion;
purely by accident, Mr. Stein had said, but he--Jim--had his own opinion
about that. Mr. Stein was just the man to look out for such accidents.
No matter. Accident or purpose, this would serve his turn immensely.
Hoped to goodness the jolly old beggar had not gone off the hooks
meantime. Mr. Stein could not tell. There had been no news for more
than a year; they were kicking up no end of an all-fired row amongst
themselves, and the river was closed. Jolly awkward, this; but, no fear;
he would manage to find a crack to get in.

'He impressed, almost frightened, me with his elated rattle. He was
voluble like a youngster on the eve of a long holiday with a prospect of
delightful scrapes, and such an attitude of mind in a grown man and in
this connection had in it something phenomenal, a little mad, dangerous,
unsafe. I was on the point of entreating him to take things seriously
when he dropped his knife and fork (he had begun eating, or rather
swallowing food, as it were, unconsciously), and began a search all
round his plate. The ring! The ring! Where the devil . . . Ah! Here it
was . . . He closed his big hand on it, and tried all his pockets one
after another. Jove! wouldn't do to lose the thing. He meditated gravely
over his fist. Had it? Would hang the bally affair round his neck! And
he proceeded to do this immediately, producing a string (which looked
like a bit of a cotton shoe-lace) for the purpose. There! That would do
the trick! It would be the deuce if . . . He seemed to catch sight of my
face for the first time, and it steadied him a little. I probably didn't
realise, he said with a naive gravity, how much importance he attached
to that token. It meant a friend; and it is a good thing to have a
friend. He knew something about that. He nodded at me expressively, but
before my disclaiming gesture he leaned his head on his hand and for
a while sat silent, playing thoughtfully with the bread-crumbs on the
cloth . . . "Slam the door--that was jolly well put," he cried, and
jumping up, began to pace the room, reminding me by the set of the
shoulders, the turn of his head, the headlong and uneven stride, of
that night when he had paced thus, confessing, explaining--what you
will--but, in the last instance, living--living before me, under his
own little cloud, with all his unconscious subtlety which could draw
consolation from the very source of sorrow. It was the same mood, the
same and different, like a fickle companion that to-day guiding you
on the true path, with the same eyes, the same step, the same impulse,
to-morrow will lead you hopelessly astray. His tread was assured, his
straying, darkened eyes seemed to search the room for something. One of
his footfalls somehow sounded louder than the other--the fault of his
boots probably--and gave a curious impression of an invisible halt in
his gait. One of his hands was rammed deep into his trousers' pocket,
the other waved suddenly above his head. "Slam the door!" he shouted.
"I've been waiting for that. I'll show yet . . . I'll . . . I'm ready
for any confounded thing . . . I've been dreaming of it . . . Jove! Get
out of this. Jove! This is luck at last . . . You wait. I'll . . ."

'He tossed his head fearlessly, and I confess that for the first and
last time in our acquaintance I perceived myself unexpectedly to be
thoroughly sick of him. Why these vapourings? He was stumping about
the room flourishing his arm absurdly, and now and then feeling on
his breast for the ring under his clothes. Where was the sense of such
exaltation in a man appointed to be a trading-clerk, and in a place
where there was no trade--at that? Why hurl defiance at the universe?
This was not a proper frame of mind to approach any undertaking; an
improper frame of mind not only for him, I said, but for any man. He
stood still over me. Did I think so? he asked, by no means subdued, and
with a smile in which I seemed to detect suddenly something insolent.
But then I am twenty years his senior. Youth is insolent; it is its
right--its necessity; it has got to assert itself, and all assertion in
this world of doubts is a defiance, is an insolence. He went off into a
far corner, and coming back, he, figuratively speaking, turned to rend
me. I spoke like that because I--even I, who had been no end kind
to him--even I remembered--remembered--against him--what--what had
happened. And what about others--the--the--world? Where's the wonder he
wanted to get out, meant to get out, meant to stay out--by heavens! And
I talked about proper frames of mind!

'"It is not I or the world who remember," I shouted. "It is you--you,
who remember."

'He did not flinch, and went on with heat, "Forget everything,
everybody, everybody." . . . His voice fell. . . "But you," he added.

'"Yes--me too--if it would help," I said, also in a low tone. After this
we remained silent and languid for a time as if exhausted. Then he began
again, composedly, and told me that Mr. Stein had instructed him to wait
for a month or so, to see whether it was possible for him to remain,
before he began building a new house for himself, so as to avoid
"vain expense." He did make use of funny expressions--Stein did. "Vain
expense" was good. . . . Remain? Why! of course. He would hang on. Let
him only get in--that's all; he would answer for it he would remain.
Never get out. It was easy enough to remain.

'"Don't be foolhardy," I said, rendered uneasy by his threatening tone.
"If you only live long enough you will want to come back."

'"Come back to what?" he asked absently, with his eyes fixed upon the
face of a clock on the wall.

'I was silent for a while. "Is it to be never, then?" I said. "Never,"
he repeated dreamily without looking at me, and then flew into sudden
activity. "Jove! Two o'clock, and I sail at four!"

'It was true. A brigantine of Stein's was leaving for the westward that
afternoon, and he had been instructed to take his passage in her, only
no orders to delay the sailing had been given. I suppose Stein forgot.
He made a rush to get his things while I went aboard my ship, where
he promised to call on his way to the outer roadstead. He turned up
accordingly in a great hurry and with a small leather valise in his
hand. This wouldn't do, and I offered him an old tin trunk of mine
supposed to be water-tight, or at least damp-tight. He effected the
transfer by the simple process of shooting out the contents of his
valise as you would empty a sack of wheat. I saw three books in the
tumble; two small, in dark covers, and a thick green-and-gold volume--a
half-crown complete Shakespeare. "You read this?" I asked. "Yes. Best
thing to cheer up a fellow," he said hastily. I was struck by this
appreciation, but there was no time for Shakespearian talk. A
heavy revolver and two small boxes of cartridges were lying on the
cuddy-table. "Pray take this," I said. "It may help you to remain."
No sooner were these words out of my mouth than I perceived what grim
meaning they could bear. "May help you to get in," I corrected myself
remorsefully. He however was not troubled by obscure meanings; he
thanked me effusively and bolted out, calling Good-bye over his
shoulder. I heard his voice through the ship's side urging his boatmen
to give way, and looking out of the stern-port I saw the boat rounding
under the counter. He sat in her leaning forward, exciting his men with
voice and gestures; and as he had kept the revolver in his hand and
seemed to be presenting it at their heads, I shall never forget the
scared faces of the four Javanese, and the frantic swing of their stroke
which snatched that vision from under my eyes. Then turning away, the
first thing I saw were the two boxes of cartridges on the cuddy-table.
He had forgotten to take them.

'I ordered my gig manned at once; but Jim's rowers, under the impression
that their lives hung on a thread while they had that madman in the
boat, made such excellent time that before I had traversed half the
distance between the two vessels I caught sight of him clambering over
the rail, and of his box being passed up. All the brigantine's canvas
was loose, her mainsail was set, and the windlass was just beginning to
clink as I stepped upon her deck: her master, a dapper little half-caste
of forty or so, in a blue flannel suit, with lively eyes, his round
face the colour of lemon-peel, and with a thin little black moustache
drooping on each side of his thick, dark lips, came forward smirking. He
turned out, notwithstanding his self-satisfied and cheery exterior, to
be of a careworn temperament. In answer to a remark of mine (while Jim
had gone below for a moment) he said, "Oh yes. Patusan." He was going to
carry the gentleman to the mouth of the river, but would "never ascend."
His flowing English seemed to be derived from a dictionary compiled by
a lunatic. Had Mr. Stein desired him to "ascend," he would have
"reverentially"--(I think he wanted to say respectfully--but devil only
knows)--"reverentially made objects for the safety of properties."
If disregarded, he would have presented "resignation to quit." Twelve
months ago he had made his last voyage there, and though Mr. Cornelius
"propitiated many offertories" to Mr. Rajah Allang and the "principal
populations," on conditions which made the trade "a snare and ashes
in the mouth," yet his ship had been fired upon from the woods by
"irresponsive parties" all the way down the river; which causing his
crew "from exposure to limb to remain silent in hidings," the brigantine
was nearly stranded on a sandbank at the bar, where she "would have
been perishable beyond the act of man." The angry disgust at the
recollection, the pride of his fluency, to which he turned an attentive
ear, struggled for the possession of his broad simple face. He scowled
and beamed at me, and watched with satisfaction the undeniable effect
of his phraseology. Dark frowns ran swiftly over the placid sea, and
the brigantine, with her fore-topsail to the mast and her main-boom
amidships, seemed bewildered amongst the cat's-paws. He told me further,
gnashing his teeth, that the Rajah was a "laughable hyaena" (can't
imagine how he got hold of hyaenas); while somebody else was many
times falser than the "weapons of a crocodile." Keeping one eye on the
movements of his crew forward, he let loose his volubility--comparing
the place to a "cage of beasts made ravenous by long impenitence." I
fancy he meant impunity. He had no intention, he cried, to "exhibit
himself to be made attached purposefully to robbery." The long-drawn
wails, giving the time for the pull of the men catting the anchor,
came to an end, and he lowered his voice. "Plenty too much enough of
Patusan," he concluded, with energy.

'I heard afterwards he had been so indiscreet as to get himself tied up
by the neck with a rattan halter to a post planted in the middle of a
mud-hole before the Rajah's house. He spent the best part of a day and a
whole night in that unwholesome situation, but there is every reason
to believe the thing had been meant as a sort of joke. He brooded for
a while over that horrid memory, I suppose, and then addressed in a
quarrelsome tone the man coming aft to the helm. When he turned to me
again it was to speak judicially, without passion. He would take the
gentleman to the mouth of the river at Batu Kring (Patusan town "being
situated internally," he remarked, "thirty miles"). But in his eyes,
he continued--a tone of bored, weary conviction replacing his previous
voluble delivery--the gentleman was already "in the similitude of a
corpse." "What? What do you say?" I asked. He assumed a startlingly
ferocious demeanour, and imitated to perfection the act of stabbing from
behind. "Already like the body of one deported," he explained, with the
insufferably conceited air of his kind after what they imagine a display
of cleverness. Behind him I perceived Jim smiling silently at me, and
with a raised hand checking the exclamation on my lips.

'Then, while the half-caste, bursting with importance, shouted his
orders, while the yards swung creaking and the heavy boom came surging
over, Jim and I, alone as it were, to leeward of the mainsail, clasped
each other's hands and exchanged the last hurried words. My heart was
freed from that dull resentment which had existed side by side with
interest in his fate. The absurd chatter of the half-caste had given
more reality to the miserable dangers of his path than Stein's careful
statements. On that occasion the sort of formality that had been always
present in our intercourse vanished from our speech; I believe I
called him "dear boy," and he tacked on the words "old man" to some
half-uttered expression of gratitude, as though his risk set off against
my years had made us more equal in age and in feeling. There was a
moment of real and profound intimacy, unexpected and short-lived like a
glimpse of some everlasting, of some saving truth. He exerted himself to
soothe me as though he had been the more mature of the two. "All right,
all right," he said, rapidly, and with feeling. "I promise to take care
of myself. Yes; I won't take any risks. Not a single blessed risk. Of
course not. I mean to hang out. Don't you worry. Jove! I feel as if
nothing could touch me. Why! this is luck from the word Go. I wouldn't
spoil such a magnificent chance!" . . . A magnificent chance! Well, it
_was_ magnificent, but chances are what men make them, and how was I
to know? As he had said, even I--even I remembered--his--his misfortune
against him. It was true. And the best thing for him was to go.

'My gig had dropped in the wake of the brigantine, and I saw him aft
detached upon the light of the westering sun, raising his cap high above
his head. I heard an indistinct shout, "You--shall--hear--of--me." Of
me, or from me, I don't know which. I think it must have been of me. My
eyes were too dazzled by the glitter of the sea below his feet to see
him clearly; I am fated never to see him clearly; but I can assure you
no man could have appeared less "in the similitude of a corpse," as that
half-caste croaker had put it. I could see the little wretch's face,
the shape and colour of a ripe pumpkin, poked out somewhere under Jim's
elbow. He, too, raised his arm as if for a downward thrust. Absit omen!'



CHAPTER 24


'The coast of Patusan (I saw it nearly two years afterwards) is straight
and sombre, and faces a misty ocean. Red trails are seen like cataracts
of rust streaming under the dark-green foliage of bushes and creepers
clothing the low cliffs. Swampy plains open out at the mouth of rivers,
with a view of jagged blue peaks beyond the vast forests. In the offing
a chain of islands, dark, crumbling shapes, stand out in the everlasting
sunlit haze like the remnants of a wall breached by the sea.

'There is a village of fisher-folk at the mouth of the Batu Kring branch
of the estuary. The river, which had been closed so long, was open then,
and Stein's little schooner, in which I had my passage, worked her
way up in three tides without being exposed to a fusillade from
"irresponsive parties." Such a state of affairs belonged already to
ancient history, if I could believe the elderly headman of the fishing
village, who came on board to act as a sort of pilot. He talked to me
(the second white man he had ever seen) with confidence, and most of his
talk was about the first white man he had ever seen. He called him Tuan
Jim, and the tone of his references was made remarkable by a strange
mixture of familiarity and awe. They, in the village, were under that
lord's special protection, which showed that Jim bore no grudge. If
he had warned me that I would hear of him it was perfectly true. I was
hearing of him. There was already a story that the tide had turned
two hours before its time to help him on his journey up the river. The
talkative old man himself had steered the canoe and had marvelled at the
phenomenon. Moreover, all the glory was in his family. His son and his
son-in-law had paddled; but they were only youths without experience,
who did not notice the speed of the canoe till he pointed out to them
the amazing fact.

'Jim's coming to that fishing village was a blessing; but to them, as to
many of us, the blessing came heralded by terrors. So many generations
had been released since the last white man had visited the river that
the very tradition had been lost. The appearance of the being that
descended upon them and demanded inflexibly to be taken up to Patusan
was discomposing; his insistence was alarming; his generosity more than
suspicious. It was an unheard-of request. There was no precedent. What
would the Rajah say to this? What would he do to them? The best part
of the night was spent in consultation; but the immediate risk from the
anger of that strange man seemed so great that at last a cranky dug-out
was got ready. The women shrieked with grief as it put off. A fearless
old hag cursed the stranger.

'He sat in it, as I've told you, on his tin box, nursing the unloaded
revolver on his lap. He sat with precaution--than which there is nothing
more fatiguing--and thus entered the land he was destined to fill with
the fame of his virtues, from the blue peaks inland to the white ribbon
of surf on the coast. At the first bend he lost sight of the sea with
its labouring waves for ever rising, sinking, and vanishing to rise
again--the very image of struggling mankind--and faced the immovable
forests rooted deep in the soil, soaring towards the sunshine,
everlasting in the shadowy might of their tradition, like life itself.
And his opportunity sat veiled by his side like an Eastern bride waiting
to be uncovered by the hand of the master. He too was the heir of a
shadowy and mighty tradition! He told me, however, that he had never in
his life felt so depressed and tired as in that canoe. All the movement
he dared to allow himself was to reach, as it were by stealth, after the
shell of half a cocoa-nut floating between his shoes, and bale some of
the water out with a carefully restrained action. He discovered how hard
the lid of a block-tin case was to sit upon. He had heroic health; but
several times during that journey he experienced fits of giddiness, and
between whiles he speculated hazily as to the size of the blister the
sun was raising on his back. For amusement he tried by looking ahead to
decide whether the muddy object he saw lying on the water's edge was a
log of wood or an alligator. Only very soon he had to give that up. No
fun in it. Always alligator. One of them flopped into the river and all
but capsized the canoe. But this excitement was over directly. Then in
a long empty reach he was very grateful to a troop of monkeys who came
right down on the bank and made an insulting hullabaloo on his passage.
Such was the way in which he was approaching greatness as genuine as any
man ever achieved. Principally, he longed for sunset; and meantime
his three paddlers were preparing to put into execution their plan of
delivering him up to the Rajah.

'"I suppose I must have been stupid with fatigue, or perhaps I did doze
off for a time," he said. The first thing he knew was his canoe coming
to the bank. He became instantaneously aware of the forest having been
left behind, of the first houses being visible higher up, of a stockade
on his left, and of his boatmen leaping out together upon a low point of
land and taking to their heels. Instinctively he leaped out after them.
At first he thought himself deserted for some inconceivable reason, but
he heard excited shouts, a gate swung open, and a lot of people poured
out, making towards him. At the same time a boat full of armed men
appeared on the river and came alongside his empty canoe, thus shutting
off his retreat.

'"I was too startled to be quite cool--don't you know? and if that
revolver had been loaded I would have shot somebody--perhaps two, three
bodies, and that would have been the end of me. But it wasn't. . . ."
"Why not?" I asked. "Well, I couldn't fight the whole population, and
I wasn't coming to them as if I were afraid of my life," he said, with
just a faint hint of his stubborn sulkiness in the glance he gave me.
I refrained from pointing out to him that they could not have known the
chambers were actually empty. He had to satisfy himself in his own way.
. . . "Anyhow it wasn't," he repeated good-humouredly, "and so I just
stood still and asked them what was the matter. That seemed to strike
them dumb. I saw some of these thieves going off with my box. That
long-legged old scoundrel Kassim (I'll show him to you to-morrow)
ran out fussing to me about the Rajah wanting to see me. I said, 'All
right.' I too wanted to see the Rajah, and I simply walked in through
the gate and--and--here I am." He laughed, and then with unexpected
emphasis, "And do you know what's the best in it?" he asked. "I'll tell
you. It's the knowledge that had I been wiped out it is this place that
would have been the loser."

'He spoke thus to me before his house on that evening I've
mentioned--after we had watched the moon float away above the chasm
between the hills like an ascending spirit out of a grave; its sheen
descended, cold and pale, like the ghost of dead sunlight. There
is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the
dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its
inconceivable mystery. It is to our sunshine, which--say what you
like--is all we have to live by, what the echo is to the sound:
misleading and confusing whether the note be mocking or sad. It robs all
forms of matter--which, after all, is our domain--of their substance,
and gives a sinister reality to shadows alone. And the shadows were
very real around us, but Jim by my side looked very stalwart, as though
nothing--not even the occult power of moonlight--could rob him of his
reality in my eyes. Perhaps, indeed, nothing could touch him since he
had survived the assault of the dark powers. All was silent, all was
still; even on the river the moonbeams slept as on a pool. It was the
moment of high water, a moment of immobility that accentuated the utter
isolation of this lost corner of the earth. The houses crowding along
the wide shining sweep without ripple or glitter, stepping into the
water in a line of jostling, vague, grey, silvery forms mingled with
black masses of shadow, were like a spectral herd of shapeless creatures
pressing forward to drink in a spectral and lifeless stream. Here and
there a red gleam twinkled within the bamboo walls, warm, like a living
spark, significant of human affections, of shelter, of repose.

'He confessed to me that he often watched these tiny warm gleams go
out one by one, that he loved to see people go to sleep under his eyes,
confident in the security of to-morrow. "Peaceful here, eh?" he asked.
He was not eloquent, but there was a deep meaning in the words that
followed. "Look at these houses; there's not one where I am not trusted.
Jove! I told you I would hang on. Ask any man, woman, or child . . ." He
paused. "Well, I am all right anyhow."

'I observed quickly that he had found that out in the end. I had been
sure of it, I added. He shook his head. "Were you?" He pressed my arm
lightly above the elbow. "Well, then--you were right."

'There was elation and pride, there was awe almost, in that low
exclamation. "Jove!" he cried, "only think what it is to me." Again he
pressed my arm. "And you asked me whether I thought of leaving. Good
God! I! want to leave! Especially now after what you told me of Mr.
Stein's . . . Leave! Why! That's what I was afraid of. It would have
been--it would have been harder than dying. No--on my word. Don't
laugh. I must feel--every day, every time I open my eyes--that I am
trusted--that nobody has a right--don't you know? Leave! For where? What
for? To get what?"

'I had told him (indeed it was the main object of my visit) that it was
Stein's intention to present him at once with the house and the stock
of trading goods, on certain easy conditions which would make the
transaction perfectly regular and valid. He began to snort and plunge at
first. "Confound your delicacy!" I shouted. "It isn't Stein at all. It's
giving you what you had made for yourself. And in any case keep your
remarks for McNeil--when you meet him in the other world. I hope it
won't happen soon. . . ." He had to give in to my arguments, because all
his conquests, the trust, the fame, the friendships, the love--all these
things that made him master had made him a captive, too. He looked with
an owner's eye at the peace of the evening, at the river, at the houses,
at the everlasting life of the forests, at the life of the old mankind,
at the secrets of the land, at the pride of his own heart; but it was
they that possessed him and made him their own to the innermost thought,
to the slightest stir of blood, to his last breath.

'It was something to be proud of. I, too, was proud--for him, if not so
certain of the fabulous value of the bargain. It was wonderful. It was
not so much of his fearlessness that I thought. It is strange how little
account I took of it: as if it had been something too conventional to be
at the root of the matter. No. I was more struck by the other gifts he
had displayed. He had proved his grasp of the unfamiliar situation,
his intellectual alertness in that field of thought. There was his
readiness, too! Amazing. And all this had come to him in a manner like
keen scent to a well-bred hound. He was not eloquent, but there was a
dignity in this constitutional reticence, there was a high seriousness
in his stammerings. He had still his old trick of stubborn blushing. Now
and then, though, a word, a sentence, would escape him that showed how
deeply, how solemnly, he felt about that work which had given him the
certitude of rehabilitation. That is why he seemed to love the land
and the people with a sort of fierce egoism, with a contemptuous
tenderness.'



CHAPTER 25


'"This is where I was prisoner for three days," he murmured to me (it
was on the occasion of our visit to the Rajah), while we were making our
way slowly through a kind of awestruck riot of dependants across Tunku
Allang's courtyard. "Filthy place, isn't it? And I couldn't get anything
to eat either, unless I made a row about it, and then it was only
a small plate of rice and a fried fish not much bigger than a
stickleback--confound them! Jove! I've been hungry prowling inside this
stinking enclosure with some of these vagabonds shoving their mugs right
under my nose. I had given up that famous revolver of yours at the first
demand. Glad to get rid of the bally thing. Look like a fool walking
about with an empty shooting-iron in my hand." At that moment we came
into the presence, and he became unflinchingly grave and complimentary
with his late captor. Oh! magnificent! I want to laugh when I think of
it. But I was impressed, too. The old disreputable Tunku Allang could
not help showing his fear (he was no hero, for all the tales of his hot
youth he was fond of telling); and at the same time there was a wistful
confidence in his manner towards his late prisoner. Note! Even where he
would be most hated he was still trusted. Jim--as far as I could follow
the conversation--was improving the occasion by the delivery of a
lecture. Some poor villagers had been waylaid and robbed while on their
way to Doramin's house with a few pieces of gum or beeswax which they
wished to exchange for rice. "It was Doramin who was a thief," burst
out the Rajah. A shaking fury seemed to enter that old frail body.
He writhed weirdly on his mat, gesticulating with his hands and feet,
tossing the tangled strings of his mop--an impotent incarnation of rage.
There were staring eyes and dropping jaws all around us. Jim began to
speak. Resolutely, coolly, and for some time he enlarged upon the text
that no man should be prevented from getting his food and his children's
food honestly. The other sat like a tailor at his board, one palm on
each knee, his head low, and fixing Jim through the grey hair that
fell over his very eyes. When Jim had done there was a great stillness.
Nobody seemed to breathe even; no one made a sound till the old Rajah
sighed faintly, and looking up, with a toss of his head, said quickly,
"You hear, my people! No more of these little games." This decree
was received in profound silence. A rather heavy man, evidently in a
position of confidence, with intelligent eyes, a bony, broad, very dark
face, and a cheerily of officious manner (I learned later on he was the
executioner), presented to us two cups of coffee on a brass tray, which
he took from the hands of an inferior attendant. "You needn't drink,"
muttered Jim very rapidly. I didn't perceive the meaning at first, and
only looked at him. He took a good sip and sat composedly, holding the
saucer in his left hand. In a moment I felt excessively annoyed. "Why
the devil," I whispered, smiling at him amiably, "do you expose me to
such a stupid risk?" I drank, of course, there was nothing for it, while
he gave no sign, and almost immediately afterwards we took our leave.
While we were going down the courtyard to our boat, escorted by the
intelligent and cheery executioner, Jim said he was very sorry. It was
the barest chance, of course. Personally he thought nothing of poison.
The remotest chance. He was--he assured me--considered to be infinitely
more useful than dangerous, and so . . . "But the Rajah is afraid of
you abominably. Anybody can see that," I argued with, I own, a certain
peevishness, and all the time watching anxiously for the first twist of
some sort of ghastly colic. I was awfully disgusted. "If I am to do any
good here and preserve my position," he said, taking his seat by my
side in the boat, "I must stand the risk: I take it once every month, at
least. Many people trust me to do that--for them. Afraid of me! That's
just it. Most likely he is afraid of me because I am not afraid of his
coffee." Then showing me a place on the north front of the stockade
where the pointed tops of several stakes were broken, "This is where
I leaped over on my third day in Patusan. They haven't put new stakes
there yet. Good leap, eh?" A moment later we passed the mouth of a muddy
creek. "This is my second leap. I had a bit of a run and took this one
flying, but fell short. Thought I would leave my skin there. Lost my
shoes struggling. And all the time I was thinking to myself how beastly
it would be to get a jab with a bally long spear while sticking in the
mud like this. I remember how sick I felt wriggling in that slime. I
mean really sick--as if I had bitten something rotten."

'That's how it was--and the opportunity ran by his side, leaped over the
gap, floundered in the mud . . . still veiled. The unexpectedness of his
coming was the only thing, you understand, that saved him from being at
once dispatched with krisses and flung into the river. They had him, but
it was like getting hold of an apparition, a wraith, a portent. What did
it mean? What to do with it? Was it too late to conciliate him? Hadn't
he better be killed without more delay? But what would happen then?
Wretched old Allang went nearly mad with apprehension and through the
difficulty of making up his mind. Several times the council was broken
up, and the advisers made a break helter-skelter for the door and out
on to the verandah. One--it is said--even jumped down to the
ground--fifteen feet, I should judge--and broke his leg. The royal
governor of Patusan had bizarre mannerisms, and one of them was to
introduce boastful rhapsodies into every arduous discussion, when,
getting gradually excited, he would end by flying off his perch with a
kriss in his hand. But, barring such interruptions, the deliberations
upon Jim's fate went on night and day.

'Meanwhile he wandered about the courtyard, shunned by some, glared at
by others, but watched by all, and practically at the mercy of the first
casual ragamuffin with a chopper, in there. He took possession of a
small tumble-down shed to sleep in; the effluvia of filth and rotten
matter incommoded him greatly: it seems he had not lost his appetite
though, because--he told me--he had been hungry all the blessed time.
Now and again "some fussy ass" deputed from the council-room would
come out running to him, and in honeyed tones would administer amazing
interrogatories: "Were the Dutch coming to take the country? Would the
white man like to go back down the river? What was the object of coming
to such a miserable country? The Rajah wanted to know whether the white
man could repair a watch?" They did actually bring out to him a nickel
clock of New England make, and out of sheer unbearable boredom he busied
himself in trying to get the alarum to work. It was apparently when
thus occupied in his shed that the true perception of his extreme peril
dawned upon him. He dropped the thing--he says--"like a hot potato,"
and walked out hastily, without the slightest idea of what he would,
or indeed could, do. He only knew that the position was intolerable. He
strolled aimlessly beyond a sort of ramshackle little granary on posts,
and his eyes fell on the broken stakes of the palisade; and then--he
says--at once, without any mental process as it were, without any stir
of emotion, he set about his escape as if executing a plan matured for a
month. He walked off carelessly to give himself a good run, and when he
faced about there was some dignitary, with two spearmen in attendance,
close at his elbow ready with a question. He started off "from under his
very nose," went over "like a bird," and landed on the other side with
a fall that jarred all his bones and seemed to split his head. He picked
himself up instantly. He never thought of anything at the time; all he
could remember--he said--was a great yell; the first houses of Patusan
were before him four hundred yards away; he saw the creek, and as it
were mechanically put on more pace. The earth seemed fairly to fly
backwards under his feet. He took off from the last dry spot, felt
himself flying through the air, felt himself, without any shock, planted
upright in an extremely soft and sticky mudbank. It was only when he
tried to move his legs and found he couldn't that, in his own words,
"he came to himself." He began to think of the "bally long spears." As
a matter of fact, considering that the people inside the stockade had to
run to the gate, then get down to the landing-place, get into boats,
and pull round a point of land, he had more advance than he imagined.
Besides, it being low water, the creek was without water--you couldn't
call it dry--and practically he was safe for a time from everything but
a very long shot perhaps. The higher firm ground was about six feet in
front of him. "I thought I would have to die there all the same,"
he said. He reached and grabbed desperately with his hands, and only
succeeded in gathering a horrible cold shiny heap of slime against his
breast--up to his very chin. It seemed to him he was burying himself
alive, and then he struck out madly, scattering the mud with his fists.
It fell on his head, on his face, over his eyes, into his mouth. He told
me that he remembered suddenly the courtyard, as you remember a place
where you had been very happy years ago. He longed--so he said--to be
back there again, mending the clock. Mending the clock--that was the
idea. He made efforts, tremendous sobbing, gasping efforts, efforts that
seemed to burst his eyeballs in their sockets and make him blind, and
culminating into one mighty supreme effort in the darkness to crack the
earth asunder, to throw it off his limbs--and he felt himself creeping
feebly up the bank. He lay full length on the firm ground and saw the
light, the sky. Then as a sort of happy thought the notion came to him
that he would go to sleep. He will have it that he _did_ actually go to
sleep; that he slept--perhaps for a minute, perhaps for twenty seconds,
or only for one second, but he recollects distinctly the violent
convulsive start of awakening. He remained lying still for a while, and
then he arose muddy from head to foot and stood there, thinking he
was alone of his kind for hundreds of miles, alone, with no help, no
sympathy, no pity to expect from any one, like a hunted animal. The
first houses were not more than twenty yards from him; and it was the
desperate screaming of a frightened woman trying to carry off a child
that started him again. He pelted straight on in his socks, beplastered
with filth out of all semblance to a human being. He traversed more
than half the length of the settlement. The nimbler women fled right and
left, the slower men just dropped whatever they had in their hands, and
remained petrified with dropping jaws. He was a flying terror. He says
he noticed the little children trying to run for life, falling on their
little stomachs and kicking. He swerved between two houses up a slope,
clambered in desperation over a barricade of felled trees (there wasn't
a week without some fight in Patusan at that time), burst through a
fence into a maize-patch, where a scared boy flung a stick at him,
blundered upon a path, and ran all at once into the arms of several
startled men. He just had breath enough to gasp out, "Doramin! Doramin!"
He remembers being half-carried, half-rushed to the top of the slope,
and in a vast enclosure with palms and fruit trees being run up to a
large man sitting massively in a chair in the midst of the greatest
possible commotion and excitement. He fumbled in mud and clothes to
produce the ring, and, finding himself suddenly on his back, wondered
who had knocked him down. They had simply let him go--don't you
know?--but he couldn't stand. At the foot of the slope random shots were
fired, and above the roofs of the settlement there rose a dull roar of
amazement. But he was safe. Doramin's people were barricading the gate
and pouring water down his throat; Doramin's old wife, full of business
and commiseration, was issuing shrill orders to her girls. "The old
woman," he said softly, "made a to-do over me as if I had been her own
son. They put me into an immense bed--her state bed--and she ran in
and out wiping her eyes to give me pats on the back. I must have been a
pitiful object. I just lay there like a log for I don't know how long."

'He seemed to have a great liking for Doramin's old wife. She on her
side had taken a motherly fancy to him. She had a round, nut-brown,
soft face, all fine wrinkles, large, bright red lips (she chewed
betel assiduously), and screwed up, winking, benevolent eyes. She was
constantly in movement, scolding busily and ordering unceasingly a troop
of young women with clear brown faces and big grave eyes, her daughters,
her servants, her slave-girls. You know how it is in these households:
it's generally impossible to tell the difference. She was very spare,
and even her ample outer garment, fastened in front with jewelled
clasps, had somehow a skimpy effect. Her dark bare feet were thrust into
yellow straw slippers of Chinese make. I have seen her myself flitting
about with her extremely thick, long, grey hair falling about her
shoulders. She uttered homely shrewd sayings, was of noble birth, and
was eccentric and arbitrary. In the afternoon she would sit in a very
roomy arm-chair, opposite her husband, gazing steadily through a wide
opening in the wall which gave an extensive view of the settlement and
the river.

'She invariably tucked up her feet under her, but old Doramin sat
squarely, sat imposingly as a mountain sits on a plain. He was only
of the nakhoda or merchant class, but the respect shown to him and
the dignity of his bearing were very striking. He was the chief of
the second power in Patusan. The immigrants from Celebes (about sixty
families that, with dependants and so on, could muster some two hundred
men "wearing the kriss") had elected him years ago for their head. The
men of that race are intelligent, enterprising, revengeful, but with a
more frank courage than the other Malays, and restless under oppression.
They formed the party opposed to the Rajah. Of course the quarrels were
for trade. This was the primary cause of faction fights, of the sudden
outbreaks that would fill this or that part of the settlement with
smoke, flame, the noise of shots and shrieks. Villages were burnt, men
were dragged into the Rajah's stockade to be killed or tortured for the
crime of trading with anybody else but himself. Only a day or two before
Jim's arrival several heads of households in the very fishing village
that was afterwards taken under his especial protection had been driven
over the cliffs by a party of the Rajah's spearmen, on suspicion of
having been collecting edible birds' nests for a Celebes trader. Rajah
Allang pretended to be the only trader in his country, and the penalty
for the breach of the monopoly was death; but his idea of trading was
indistinguishable from the commonest forms of robbery. His cruelty and
rapacity had no other bounds than his cowardice, and he was afraid of
the organised power of the Celebes men, only--till Jim came--he was not
afraid enough to keep quiet. He struck at them through his subjects, and
thought himself pathetically in the right. The situation was complicated
by a wandering stranger, an Arab half-breed, who, I believe, on
purely religious grounds, had incited the tribes in the interior (the
bush-folk, as Jim himself called them) to rise, and had established
himself in a fortified camp on the summit of one of the twin hills. He
hung over the town of Patusan like a hawk over a poultry-yard, but he
devastated the open country. Whole villages, deserted, rotted on their
blackened posts over the banks of clear streams, dropping piecemeal into
the water the grass of their walls, the leaves of their roofs, with a
curious effect of natural decay as if they had been a form of vegetation
stricken by a blight at its very root. The two parties in Patusan were
not sure which one this partisan most desired to plunder. The Rajah
intrigued with him feebly. Some of the Bugis settlers, weary with
endless insecurity, were half inclined to call him in. The younger
spirits amongst them, chaffing, advised to "get Sherif Ali with his wild
men and drive the Rajah Allang out of the country." Doramin restrained
them with difficulty. He was growing old, and, though his influence had
not diminished, the situation was getting beyond him. This was the state
of affairs when Jim, bolting from the Rajah's stockade, appeared before
the chief of the Bugis, produced the ring, and was received, in a manner
of speaking, into the heart of the community.'



CHAPTER 26


'Doramin was one of the most remarkable men of his race I had ever seen.
His bulk for a Malay was immense, but he did not look merely fat; he
looked imposing, monumental. This motionless body, clad in rich stuffs,
coloured silks, gold embroideries; this huge head, enfolded in a
red-and-gold headkerchief; the flat, big, round face, wrinkled,
furrowed, with two semicircular heavy folds starting on each side of
wide, fierce nostrils, and enclosing a thick-lipped mouth; the throat
like a bull; the vast corrugated brow overhanging the staring proud
eyes--made a whole that, once seen, can never be forgotten. His
impassive repose (he seldom stirred a limb when once he sat down) was
like a display of dignity. He was never known to raise his voice. It
was a hoarse and powerful murmur, slightly veiled as if heard from a
distance. When he walked, two short, sturdy young fellows, naked to the
waist, in white sarongs and with black skull-caps on the backs of their
heads, sustained his elbows; they would ease him down and stand behind
his chair till he wanted to rise, when he would turn his head slowly,
as if with difficulty, to the right and to the left, and then they would
catch him under his armpits and help him up. For all that, there was
nothing of a cripple about him: on the contrary, all his ponderous
movements were like manifestations of a mighty deliberate force. It
was generally believed he consulted his wife as to public affairs; but
nobody, as far as I know, had ever heard them exchange a single word.
When they sat in state by the wide opening it was in silence. They could
see below them in the declining light the vast expanse of the forest
country, a dark sleeping sea of sombre green undulating as far as the
violet and purple range of mountains; the shining sinuosity of the river
like an immense letter S of beaten silver; the brown ribbon of houses
following the sweep of both banks, overtopped by the twin hills uprising
above the nearer tree-tops. They were wonderfully contrasted: she,
light, delicate, spare, quick, a little witch-like, with a touch of
motherly fussiness in her repose; he, facing her, immense and heavy,
like a figure of a man roughly fashioned of stone, with something
magnanimous and ruthless in his immobility. The son of these old people
was a most distinguished youth.

'They had him late in life. Perhaps he was not really so young as he
looked. Four- or five-and-twenty is not so young when a man is already
father of a family at eighteen. When he entered the large room, lined
and carpeted with fine mats, and with a high ceiling of white sheeting,
where the couple sat in state surrounded by a most deferential retinue,
he would make his way straight to Doramin, to kiss his hand--which the
other abandoned to him, majestically--and then would step across to
stand by his mother's chair. I suppose I may say they idolised him, but
I never caught them giving him an overt glance. Those, it is true, were
public functions. The room was generally thronged. The solemn formality
of greetings and leave-takings, the profound respect expressed in
gestures, on the faces, in the low whispers, is simply indescribable.
"It's well worth seeing," Jim had assured me while we were crossing the
river, on our way back. "They are like people in a book, aren't they?"
he said triumphantly. "And Dain Waris--their son--is the best
friend (barring you) I ever had. What Mr. Stein would call a good
'war-comrade.' I was in luck. Jove! I was in luck when I tumbled amongst
them at my last gasp." He meditated with bowed head, then rousing
himself he added--'"Of course I didn't go to sleep over it, but . . ."
He paused again. "It seemed to come to me," he murmured. "All at once I
saw what I had to do . . ."

'There was no doubt that it had come to him; and it had come through
war, too, as is natural, since this power that came to him was the power
to make peace. It is in this sense alone that might so often is right.
You must not think he had seen his way at once. When he arrived the
Bugis community was in a most critical position. "They were all afraid,"
he said to me--"each man afraid for himself; while I could see as plain
as possible that they must do something at once, if they did not want
to go under one after another, what between the Rajah and that vagabond
Sherif." But to see that was nothing. When he got his idea he had
to drive it into reluctant minds, through the bulwarks of fear, of
selfishness. He drove it in at last. And that was nothing. He had to
devise the means. He devised them--an audacious plan; and his task
was only half done. He had to inspire with his own confidence a lot
of people who had hidden and absurd reasons to hang back; he had to
conciliate imbecile jealousies, and argue away all sorts of senseless
mistrusts. Without the weight of Doramin's authority, and his son's
fiery enthusiasm, he would have failed. Dain Waris, the distinguished
youth, was the first to believe in him; theirs was one of those strange,
profound, rare friendships between brown and white, in which the very
difference of race seems to draw two human beings closer by some mystic
element of sympathy. Of Dain Waris, his own people said with pride that
he knew how to fight like a white man. This was true; he had that
sort of courage--the courage in the open, I may say--but he had also a
European mind. You meet them sometimes like that, and are surprised to
discover unexpectedly a familiar turn of thought, an unobscured vision,
a tenacity of purpose, a touch of altruism. Of small stature, but
admirably well proportioned, Dain Waris had a proud carriage, a
polished, easy bearing, a temperament like a clear flame. His dusky
face, with big black eyes, was in action expressive, and in repose
thoughtful. He was of a silent disposition; a firm glance, an ironic
smile, a courteous deliberation of manner seemed to hint at great
reserves of intelligence and power. Such beings open to the Western eye,
so often concerned with mere surfaces, the hidden possibilities of races
and lands over which hangs the mystery of unrecorded ages. He not only
trusted Jim, he understood him, I firmly believe. I speak of him because
he had captivated me. His--if I may say so--his caustic placidity,
and, at the same time, his intelligent sympathy with Jim's aspirations,
appealed to me. I seemed to behold the very origin of friendship. If
Jim took the lead, the other had captivated his leader. In fact, Jim
the leader was a captive in every sense. The land, the people, the
friendship, the love, were like the jealous guardians of his body.
Every day added a link to the fetters of that strange freedom. I felt
convinced of it, as from day to day I learned more of the story.

'The story! Haven't I heard the story? I've heard it on the march, in
camp (he made me scour the country after invisible game); I've listened
to a good part of it on one of the twin summits, after climbing the last
hundred feet or so on my hands and knees. Our escort (we had volunteer
followers from village to village) had camped meantime on a bit of level
ground half-way up the slope, and in the still breathless evening the
smell of wood-smoke reached our nostrils from below with the penetrating
delicacy of some choice scent. Voices also ascended, wonderful in their
distinct and immaterial clearness. Jim sat on the trunk of a felled
tree, and pulling out his pipe began to smoke. A new growth of grass and
bushes was springing up; there were traces of an earthwork under a mass
of thorny twigs. "It all started from here," he said, after a long and
meditative silence. On the other hill, two hundred yards across a sombre
precipice, I saw a line of high blackened stakes, showing here and there
ruinously--the remnants of Sherif Ali's impregnable camp.

'But it had been taken, though. That had been his idea. He had
mounted Doramin's old ordnance on the top of that hill; two rusty iron
7-pounders, a lot of small brass cannon--currency cannon. But if the
brass guns represent wealth, they can also, when crammed recklessly to
the muzzle, send a solid shot to some little distance. The thing was
to get them up there. He showed me where he had fastened the cables,
explained how he had improvised a rude capstan out of a hollowed log
turning upon a pointed stake, indicated with the bowl of his pipe the
outline of the earthwork. The last hundred feet of the ascent had been
the most difficult. He had made himself responsible for success on his
own head. He had induced the war party to work hard all night. Big
fires lighted at intervals blazed all down the slope, "but up here," he
explained, "the hoisting gang had to fly around in the dark." From the
top he saw men moving on the hillside like ants at work. He himself on
that night had kept on rushing down and climbing up like a squirrel,
directing, encouraging, watching all along the line. Old Doramin had
himself carried up the hill in his arm-chair. They put him down on the
level place upon the slope, and he sat there in the light of one of the
big fires--"amazing old chap--real old chieftain," said Jim, "with his
little fierce eyes--a pair of immense flintlock pistols on his knees.
Magnificent things, ebony, silver-mounted, with beautiful locks and
a calibre like an old blunderbuss. A present from Stein, it seems--in
exchange for that ring, you know. Used to belong to good old McNeil. God
only knows how _he_ came by them. There he sat, moving neither hand nor
foot, a flame of dry brushwood behind him, and lots of people rushing
about, shouting and pulling round him--the most solemn, imposing old
chap you can imagine. He wouldn't have had much chance if Sherif Ali had
let his infernal crew loose at us and stampeded my lot. Eh? Anyhow, he
had come up there to die if anything went wrong. No mistake! Jove! It
thrilled me to see him there--like a rock. But the Sherif must have
thought us mad, and never troubled to come and see how we got on. Nobody
believed it could be done. Why! I think the very chaps who pulled and
shoved and sweated over it did not believe it could be done! Upon my
word I don't think they did. . . ."

'He stood erect, the smouldering brier-wood in his clutch, with a smile
on his lips and a sparkle in his boyish eyes. I sat on the stump of a
tree at his feet, and below us stretched the land, the great expanse of
the forests, sombre under the sunshine, rolling like a sea, with glints
of winding rivers, the grey spots of villages, and here and there a
clearing, like an islet of light amongst the dark waves of continuous
tree-tops. A brooding gloom lay over this vast and monotonous landscape;
the light fell on it as if into an abyss. The land devoured the
sunshine; only far off, along the coast, the empty ocean, smooth and
polished within the faint haze, seemed to rise up to the sky in a wall
of steel.

'And there I was with him, high in the sunshine on the top of that
historic hill of his. He dominated the forest, the secular gloom, the
old mankind. He was like a figure set up on a pedestal, to represent in
his persistent youth the power, and perhaps the virtues, of races that
never grow old, that have emerged from the gloom. I don't know why he
should always have appeared to me symbolic. Perhaps this is the real
cause of my interest in his fate. I don't know whether it was exactly
fair to him to remember the incident which had given a new direction to
his life, but at that very moment I remembered very distinctly. It was
like a shadow in the light.'



CHAPTER 27


'Already the legend had gifted him with supernatural powers. Yes, it
was said, there had been many ropes cunningly disposed, and a strange
contrivance that turned by the efforts of many men, and each gun went
up tearing slowly through the bushes, like a wild pig rooting its way in
the undergrowth, but . . . and the wisest shook their heads. There was
something occult in all this, no doubt; for what is the strength of
ropes and of men's arms? There is a rebellious soul in things which must
be overcome by powerful charms and incantations. Thus old Sura--a very
respectable householder of Patusan--with whom I had a quiet chat one
evening. However, Sura was a professional sorcerer also, who attended
all the rice sowings and reapings for miles around for the purpose of
subduing the stubborn souls of things. This occupation he seemed to
think a most arduous one, and perhaps the souls of things are more
stubborn than the souls of men. As to the simple folk of outlying
villages, they believed and said (as the most natural thing in the
world) that Jim had carried the guns up the hill on his back--two at a
time.

'This would make Jim stamp his foot in vexation and exclaim with an
exasperated little laugh, "What can you do with such silly beggars? They
will sit up half the night talking bally rot, and the greater the lie
the more they seem to like it." You could trace the subtle influence of
his surroundings in this irritation. It was part of his captivity. The
earnestness of his denials was amusing, and at last I said, "My dear
fellow, you don't suppose _I_ believe this." He looked at me quite
startled. "Well, no! I suppose not," he said, and burst into a Homeric
peal of laughter. "Well, anyhow the guns were there, and went off all
together at sunrise. Jove! You should have seen the splinters fly," he
cried. By his side Dain Waris, listening with a quiet smile, dropped his
eyelids and shuffled his feet a little. It appears that the success in
mounting the guns had given Jim's people such a feeling of confidence
that he ventured to leave the battery under charge of two elderly Bugis
who had seen some fighting in their day, and went to join Dain Waris and
the storming party who were concealed in the ravine. In the small hours
they began creeping up, and when two-thirds of the way up, lay in the
wet grass waiting for the appearance of the sun, which was the agreed
signal. He told me with what impatient anguishing emotion he watched the
swift coming of the dawn; how, heated with the work and the climbing,
he felt the cold dew chilling his very bones; how afraid he was he
would begin to shiver and shake like a leaf before the time came for
the advance. "It was the slowest half-hour in my life," he declared.
Gradually the silent stockade came out on the sky above him. Men
scattered all down the slope were crouching amongst the dark stones and
dripping bushes. Dain Waris was lying flattened by his side. "We
looked at each other," Jim said, resting a gentle hand on his friend's
shoulder. "He smiled at me as cheery as you please, and I dared not stir
my lips for fear I would break out into a shivering fit. 'Pon my word,
it's true! I had been streaming with perspiration when we took cover--so
you may imagine . . ." He declared, and I believe him, that he had no
fears as to the result. He was only anxious as to his ability to repress
these shivers. He didn't bother about the result. He was bound to get to
the top of that hill and stay there, whatever might happen. There could
be no going back for him. Those people had trusted him implicitly. Him
alone! His bare word. . . .

'I remember how, at this point, he paused with his eyes fixed upon me.
"As far as he knew, they never had an occasion to regret it yet,"
he said. "Never. He hoped to God they never would. Meantime--worse
luck!--they had got into the habit of taking his word for anything and
everything. I could have no idea! Why, only the other day an old fool he
had never seen in his life came from some village miles away to find
out if he should divorce his wife. Fact. Solemn word. That's the sort
of thing. . . He wouldn't have believed it. Would I? Squatted on the
verandah chewing betel-nut, sighing and spitting all over the place for
more than an hour, and as glum as an undertaker before he came out with
that dashed conundrum. That's the kind of thing that isn't so funny as
it looks. What was a fellow to say?--Good wife?--Yes. Good wife--old
though. Started a confounded long story about some brass pots. Been
living together for fifteen years--twenty years--could not tell. A long,
long time. Good wife. Beat her a little--not much--just a little, when
she was young. Had to--for the sake of his honour. Suddenly in her old
age she goes and lends three brass pots to her sister's son's wife, and
begins to abuse him every day in a loud voice. His enemies jeered at
him; his face was utterly blackened. Pots totally lost. Awfully cut up
about it. Impossible to fathom a story like that; told him to go home,
and promised to come along myself and settle it all. It's all very well
to grin, but it was the dashedest nuisance! A day's journey through the
forest, another day lost in coaxing a lot of silly villagers to get at
the rights of the affair. There was the making of a sanguinary shindy
in the thing. Every bally idiot took sides with one family or the other,
and one half of the village was ready to go for the other half with
anything that came handy. Honour bright! No joke! . . . Instead of
attending to their bally crops. Got him the infernal pots back of
course--and pacified all hands. No trouble to settle it. Of course not.
Could settle the deadliest quarrel in the country by crooking his little
finger. The trouble was to get at the truth of anything. Was not sure
to this day whether he had been fair to all parties. It worried him. And
the talk! Jove! There didn't seem to be any head or tail to it. Rather
storm a twenty-foot-high old stockade any day. Much! Child's play to
that other job. Wouldn't take so long either. Well, yes; a funny set
out, upon the whole--the fool looked old enough to be his grandfather.
But from another point of view it was no joke. His word decided
everything--ever since the smashing of Sherif Ali. An awful
responsibility," he repeated. "No, really--joking apart, had it been
three lives instead of three rotten brass pots it would have been the
same. . . ."

'Thus he illustrated the moral effect of his victory in war. It was in
truth immense. It had led him from strife to peace, and through death
into the innermost life of the people; but the gloom of the land spread
out under the sunshine preserved its appearance of inscrutable, of
secular repose. The sound of his fresh young voice--it's extraordinary
how very few signs of wear he showed--floated lightly, and passed away
over the unchanged face of the forests like the sound of the big guns
on that cold dewy morning when he had no other concern on earth but
the proper control of the chills in his body. With the first slant of
sun-rays along these immovable tree-tops the summit of one hill wreathed
itself, with heavy reports, in white clouds of smoke, and the other
burst into an amazing noise of yells, war-cries, shouts of anger, of
surprise, of dismay. Jim and Dain Waris were the first to lay their
hands on the stakes. The popular story has it that Jim with a touch
of one finger had thrown down the gate. He was, of course, anxious
to disclaim this achievement. The whole stockade--he would insist on
explaining to you--was a poor affair (Sherif Ali trusted mainly to the
inaccessible position); and, anyway, the thing had been already knocked
to pieces and only hung together by a miracle. He put his shoulder to it
like a little fool and went in head over heels. Jove! If it hadn't been
for Dain Waris, a pock-marked tattooed vagabond would have pinned him
with his spear to a baulk of timber like one of Stein's beetles. The
third man in, it seems, had been Tamb' Itam, Jim's own servant. This was
a Malay from the north, a stranger who had wandered into Patusan, and
had been forcibly detained by Rajah Allang as paddler of one of the
state boats. He had made a bolt of it at the first opportunity, and
finding a precarious refuge (but very little to eat) amongst the Bugis
settlers, had attached himself to Jim's person. His complexion was very
dark, his face flat, his eyes prominent and injected with bile. There
was something excessive, almost fanatical, in his devotion to his
"white lord." He was inseparable from Jim like a morose shadow. On state
occasions he would tread on his master's heels, one hand on the haft
of his kriss, keeping the common people at a distance by his truculent
brooding glances. Jim had made him the headman of his establishment, and
all Patusan respected and courted him as a person of much influence. At
the taking of the stockade he had distinguished himself greatly by the
methodical ferocity of his fighting. The storming party had come on so
quick--Jim said--that notwithstanding the panic of the garrison, there
was a "hot five minutes hand-to-hand inside that stockade, till some
bally ass set fire to the shelters of boughs and dry grass, and we all
had to clear out for dear life."

'The rout, it seems, had been complete. Doramin, waiting immovably in
his chair on the hillside, with the smoke of the guns spreading slowly
above his big head, received the news with a deep grunt. When informed
that his son was safe and leading the pursuit, he, without another
sound, made a mighty effort to rise; his attendants hurried to his help,
and, held up reverently, he shuffled with great dignity into a bit of
shade, where he laid himself down to sleep, covered entirely with a
piece of white sheeting. In Patusan the excitement was intense. Jim told
me that from the hill, turning his back on the stockade with its embers,
black ashes, and half-consumed corpses, he could see time after time the
open spaces between the houses on both sides of the stream fill suddenly
with a seething rush of people and get empty in a moment. His ears
caught feebly from below the tremendous din of gongs and drums; the wild
shouts of the crowd reached him in bursts of faint roaring. A lot of
streamers made a flutter as of little white, red, yellow birds amongst
the brown ridges of roofs. "You must have enjoyed it," I murmured,
feeling the stir of sympathetic emotion.

'"It was . . . it was immense! Immense!" he cried aloud, flinging his
arms open. The sudden movement startled me as though I had seen him bare
the secrets of his breast to the sunshine, to the brooding forests, to
the steely sea. Below us the town reposed in easy curves upon the banks
of a stream whose current seemed to sleep. "Immense!" he repeated for a
third time, speaking in a whisper, for himself alone.

'Immense! No doubt it was immense; the seal of success upon his words,
the conquered ground for the soles of his feet, the blind trust of
men, the belief in himself snatched from the fire, the solitude of his
achievement. All this, as I've warned you, gets dwarfed in the telling.
I can't with mere words convey to you the impression of his total and
utter isolation. I know, of course, he was in every sense alone of his
kind there, but the unsuspected qualities of his nature had brought him
in such close touch with his surroundings that this isolation seemed
only the effect of his power. His loneliness added to his stature. There
was nothing within sight to compare him with, as though he had been one
of those exceptional men who can be only measured by the greatness of
their fame; and his fame, remember, was the greatest thing around for
many a day's journey. You would have to paddle, pole, or track a long
weary way through the jungle before you passed beyond the reach of its
voice. Its voice was not the trumpeting of the disreputable goddess we
all know--not blatant--not brazen. It took its tone from the stillness
and gloom of the land without a past, where his word was the one truth
of every passing day. It shared something of the nature of that
silence through which it accompanied you into unexplored depths, heard
continuously by your side, penetrating, far-reaching--tinged with wonder
and mystery on the lips of whispering men.'



CHAPTER 28


'The defeated Sherif Ali fled the country without making another stand,
and when the miserable hunted villagers began to crawl out of the jungle
back to their rotting houses, it was Jim who, in consultation with Dain
Waris, appointed the headmen. Thus he became the virtual ruler of the
land. As to old Tunku Allang, his fears at first had known no bounds. It
is said that at the intelligence of the successful storming of the hill
he flung himself, face down, on the bamboo floor of his audience-hall,
and lay motionless for a whole night and a whole day, uttering stifled
sounds of such an appalling nature that no man dared approach his
prostrate form nearer than a spear's length. Already he could see
himself driven ignominiously out of Patusan, wandering abandoned,
stripped, without opium, without his women, without followers, a fair
game for the first comer to kill. After Sherif Ali his turn would come,
and who could resist an attack led by such a devil? And indeed he owed
his life and such authority as he still possessed at the time of my
visit to Jim's idea of what was fair alone. The Bugis had been extremely
anxious to pay off old scores, and the impassive old Doramin cherished
the hope of yet seeing his son ruler of Patusan. During one of our
interviews he deliberately allowed me to get a glimpse of this secret
ambition. Nothing could be finer in its way than the dignified wariness
of his approaches. He himself--he began by declaring--had used his
strength in his young days, but now he had grown old and tired. . . .
With his imposing bulk and haughty little eyes darting sagacious,
inquisitive glances, he reminded one irresistibly of a cunning old
elephant; the slow rise and fall of his vast breast went on powerful and
regular, like the heave of a calm sea. He too, as he protested, had an
unbounded confidence in Tuan Jim's wisdom. If he could only obtain a
promise! One word would be enough! . . . His breathing silences, the
low rumblings of his voice, recalled the last efforts of a spent
thunderstorm.

'I tried to put the subject aside. It was difficult, for there could be
no question that Jim had the power; in his new sphere there did not seem
to be anything that was not his to hold or to give. But that, I repeat,
was nothing in comparison with the notion, which occurred to me, while I
listened with a show of attention, that he seemed to have come very near
at last to mastering his fate. Doramin was anxious about the future of
the country, and I was struck by the turn he gave to the argument. The
land remains where God had put it; but white men--he said--they come to
us and in a little while they go. They go away. Those they leave behind
do not know when to look for their return. They go to their own land, to
their people, and so this white man too would. . . . I don't know what
induced me to commit myself at this point by a vigorous "No, no." The
whole extent of this indiscretion became apparent when Doramin, turning
full upon me his face, whose expression, fixed in rugged deep folds,
remained unalterable, like a huge brown mask, said that this was good
news indeed, reflectively; and then wanted to know why.

'His little, motherly witch of a wife sat on my other hand, with
her head covered and her feet tucked up, gazing through the great
shutter-hole. I could only see a straying lock of grey hair, a high
cheek-bone, the slight masticating motion of the sharp chin. Without
removing her eyes from the vast prospect of forests stretching as far as
the hills, she asked me in a pitying voice why was it that he so young
had wandered from his home, coming so far, through so many dangers?
Had he no household there, no kinsmen in his own country? Had he no old
mother, who would always remember his face? . . .

'I was completely unprepared for this. I could only mutter and shake my
head vaguely. Afterwards I am perfectly aware I cut a very poor figure
trying to extricate myself out of this difficulty. From that moment,
however, the old nakhoda became taciturn. He was not very pleased, I
fear, and evidently I had given him food for thought. Strangely enough,
on the evening of that very day (which was my last in Patusan) I was
once more confronted with the same question, with the unanswerable why
of Jim's fate. And this brings me to the story of his love.

'I suppose you think it is a story that you can imagine for yourselves.
We have heard so many such stories, and the majority of us don't believe
them to be stories of love at all. For the most part we look upon them
as stories of opportunities: episodes of passion at best, or perhaps
only of youth and temptation, doomed to forgetfulness in the end, even
if they pass through the reality of tenderness and regret. This view
mostly is right, and perhaps in this case too. . . . Yet I don't know.
To tell this story is by no means so easy as it should be--were the
ordinary standpoint adequate. Apparently it is a story very much like
the others: for me, however, there is visible in its background the
melancholy figure of a woman, the shadow of a cruel wisdom buried in a
lonely grave, looking on wistfully, helplessly, with sealed lips. The
grave itself, as I came upon it during an early morning stroll, was a
rather shapeless brown mound, with an inlaid neat border of white lumps
of coral at the base, and enclosed within a circular fence made of split
saplings, with the bark left on. A garland of leaves and flowers was
woven about the heads of the slender posts--and the flowers were fresh.

'Thus, whether the shadow is of my imagination or not, I can at all
events point out the significant fact of an unforgotten grave. When I
tell you besides that Jim with his own hands had worked at the rustic
fence, you will perceive directly the difference, the individual side of
the story. There is in his espousal of memory and affection belonging to
another human being something characteristic of his seriousness. He had
a conscience, and it was a romantic conscience. Through her whole life
the wife of the unspeakable Cornelius had no other companion, confidant,
and friend but her daughter. How the poor woman had come to marry the
awful little Malacca Portuguese--after the separation from the father
of her girl--and how that separation had been brought about, whether by
death, which can be sometimes merciful, or by the merciless pressure of
conventions, is a mystery to me. From the little which Stein (who knew
so many stories) had let drop in my hearing, I am convinced that she was
no ordinary woman. Her own father had been a white; a high official;
one of the brilliantly endowed men who are not dull enough to nurse a
success, and whose careers so often end under a cloud. I suppose she too
must have lacked the saving dullness--and her career ended in Patusan.
Our common fate . . . for where is the man--I mean a real sentient
man--who does not remember vaguely having been deserted in the fullness
of possession by some one or something more precious than life? . . .
our common fate fastens upon the women with a peculiar cruelty. It
does not punish like a master, but inflicts lingering torment, as if to
gratify a secret, unappeasable spite. One would think that, appointed
to rule on earth, it seeks to revenge itself upon the beings that come
nearest to rising above the trammels of earthly caution; for it is
only women who manage to put at times into their love an element just
palpable enough to give one a fright--an extra-terrestrial touch. I ask
myself with wonder--how the world can look to them--whether it has the
shape and substance _we_ know, the air _we_ breathe! Sometimes I fancy
it must be a region of unreasonable sublimities seething with the
excitement of their adventurous souls, lighted by the glory of all
possible risks and renunciations. However, I suspect there are very few
women in the world, though of course I am aware of the multitudes of
mankind and of the equality of sexes--in point of numbers, that is. But
I am sure that the mother was as much of a woman as the daughter seemed
to be. I cannot help picturing to myself these two, at first the young
woman and the child, then the old woman and the young girl, the awful
sameness and the swift passage of time, the barrier of forest, the
solitude and the turmoil round these two lonely lives, and every word
spoken between them penetrated with sad meaning. There must have
been confidences, not so much of fact, I suppose, as of innermost
feelings--regrets--fears--warnings, no doubt: warnings that the younger
did not fully understand till the elder was dead--and Jim came along.
Then I am sure she understood much--not everything--the fear mostly, it
seems. Jim called her by a word that means precious, in the sense of a
precious gem--jewel. Pretty, isn't it? But he was capable of anything.
He was equal to his fortune, as he--after all--must have been equal to
his misfortune. Jewel he called her; and he would say this as he might
have said "Jane," don't you know--with a marital, homelike, peaceful
effect. I heard the name for the first time ten minutes after I had
landed in his courtyard, when, after nearly shaking my arm off, he
darted up the steps and began to make a joyous, boyish disturbance at
the door under the heavy eaves. "Jewel! O Jewel! Quick! Here's a friend
come," . . . and suddenly peering at me in the dim verandah, he mumbled
earnestly, "You know--this--no confounded nonsense about it--can't tell
you how much I owe to her--and so--you understand--I--exactly as
if . . ." His hurried, anxious whispers were cut short by the flitting of
a white form within the house, a faint exclamation, and a child-like but
energetic little face with delicate features and a profound, attentive
glance peeped out of the inner gloom, like a bird out of the recess of a
nest. I was struck by the name, of course; but it was not till later
on that I connected it with an astonishing rumour that had met me on my
journey, at a little place on the coast about 230 miles south of Patusan
River. Stein's schooner, in which I had my passage, put in there, to
collect some produce, and, going ashore, I found to my great surprise
that the wretched locality could boast of a third-class deputy-assistant
resident, a big, fat, greasy, blinking fellow of mixed descent, with
turned-out, shiny lips. I found him lying extended on his back in a cane
chair, odiously unbuttoned, with a large green leaf of some sort on the
top of his steaming head, and another in his hand which he used lazily
as a fan . . . Going to Patusan? Oh yes. Stein's Trading Company. He
knew. Had a permission? No business of his. It was not so bad there now,
he remarked negligently, and, he went on drawling, "There's some sort of
white vagabond has got in there, I hear. . . . Eh? What you say?
Friend of yours? So! . . . Then it was true there was one of these
verdammte--What was he up to? Found his way in, the rascal. Eh? I had
not been sure. Patusan--they cut throats there--no business of ours." He
interrupted himself to groan. "Phoo! Almighty! The heat! The heat! Well,
then, there might be something in the story too, after all, and . . ."
He shut one of his beastly glassy eyes (the eyelid went on quivering)
while he leered at me atrociously with the other. "Look here," says
he mysteriously, "if--do you understand?--if he has really got hold of
something fairly good--none of your bits of green glass--understand?--I
am a Government official--you tell the rascal . . . Eh? What? Friend of
yours?" . . . He continued wallowing calmly in the chair . . . "You said
so; that's just it; and I am pleased to give you the hint. I suppose
you too would like to get something out of it? Don't interrupt. You
just tell him I've heard the tale, but to my Government I have made no
report. Not yet. See? Why make a report? Eh? Tell him to come to me if
they let him get alive out of the country. He had better look out
for himself. Eh? I promise to ask no questions. On the quiet--you
understand? You too--you shall get something from me. Small commission
for the trouble. Don't interrupt. I am a Government official, and make
no report. That's business. Understand? I know some good people that
will buy anything worth having, and can give him more money than
the scoundrel ever saw in his life. I know his sort." He fixed me
steadfastly with both his eyes open, while I stood over him utterly
amazed, and asking myself whether he was mad or drunk. He perspired,
puffed, moaning feebly, and scratching himself with such horrible
composure that I could not bear the sight long enough to find out. Next
day, talking casually with the people of the little native court of the
place, I discovered that a story was travelling slowly down the
coast about a mysterious white man in Patusan who had got hold of
an extraordinary gem--namely, an emerald of an enormous size, and
altogether priceless. The emerald seems to appeal more to the Eastern
imagination than any other precious stone. The white man had obtained
it, I was told, partly by the exercise of his wonderful strength and
partly by cunning, from the ruler of a distant country, whence he had
fled instantly, arriving in Patusan in utmost distress, but frightening
the people by his extreme ferocity, which nothing seemed able to subdue.
Most of my informants were of the opinion that the stone was probably
unlucky,--like the famous stone of the Sultan of Succadana, which in
the old times had brought wars and untold calamities upon that country.
Perhaps it was the same stone--one couldn't say. Indeed the story of a
fabulously large emerald is as old as the arrival of the first white men
in the Archipelago; and the belief in it is so persistent that less than
forty years ago there had been an official Dutch inquiry into the truth
of it. Such a jewel--it was explained to me by the old fellow from whom
I heard most of this amazing Jim-myth--a sort of scribe to the wretched
little Rajah of the place;--such a jewel, he said, cocking his poor
purblind eyes up at me (he was sitting on the cabin floor out of
respect), is best preserved by being concealed about the person of a
woman. Yet it is not every woman that would do. She must be young--he
sighed deeply--and insensible to the seductions of love. He shook his
head sceptically. But such a woman seemed to be actually in existence.
He had been told of a tall girl, whom the white man treated with great
respect and care, and who never went forth from the house unattended.
People said the white man could be seen with her almost any day; they
walked side by side, openly, he holding her arm under his--pressed to
his side--thus--in a most extraordinary way. This might be a lie, he
conceded, for it was indeed a strange thing for any one to do: on the
other hand, there could be no doubt she wore the white man's jewel
concealed upon her bosom.'



CHAPTER 29


'This was the theory of Jim's marital evening walks. I made a third on
more than one occasion, unpleasantly aware every time of Cornelius,
who nursed the aggrieved sense of his legal paternity, slinking in
the neighbourhood with that peculiar twist of his mouth as if he were
perpetually on the point of gnashing his teeth. But do you notice how,
three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat
lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilisation wither and die,
to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination, that have the futility,
often the charm, and sometimes the deep hidden truthfulness, of works of
art? Romance had singled Jim for its own--and that was the true part of
the story, which otherwise was all wrong. He did not hide his jewel. In
fact, he was extremely proud of it.

'It comes to me now that I had, on the whole, seen very little of her.
What I remember best is the even, olive pallor of her complexion, and
the intense blue-black gleams of her hair, flowing abundantly from under
a small crimson cap she wore far back on her shapely head. Her movements
were free, assured, and she blushed a dusky red. While Jim and I were
talking, she would come and go with rapid glances at us, leaving on her
passage an impression of grace and charm and a distinct suggestion of
watchfulness. Her manner presented a curious combination of shyness and
audacity. Every pretty smile was succeeded swiftly by a look of silent,
repressed anxiety, as if put to flight by the recollection of some
abiding danger. At times she would sit down with us and, with her soft
cheek dimpled by the knuckles of her little hand, she would listen
to our talk; her big clear eyes would remain fastened on our lips, as
though each pronounced word had a visible shape. Her mother had taught
her to read and write; she had learned a good bit of English from
Jim, and she spoke it most amusingly, with his own clipping, boyish
intonation. Her tenderness hovered over him like a flutter of wings. She
lived so completely in his contemplation that she had acquired something
of his outward aspect, something that recalled him in her movements, in
the way she stretched her arm, turned her head, directed her glances.
Her vigilant affection had an intensity that made it almost perceptible
to the senses; it seemed actually to exist in the ambient matter
of space, to envelop him like a peculiar fragrance, to dwell in the
sunshine like a tremulous, subdued, and impassioned note. I suppose you
think that I too am romantic, but it is a mistake. I am relating to you
the sober impressions of a bit of youth, of a strange uneasy romance
that had come in my way. I observed with interest the work of
his--well--good fortune. He was jealously loved, but why she should
be jealous, and of what, I could not tell. The land, the people, the
forests were her accomplices, guarding him with vigilant accord, with
an air of seclusion, of mystery, of invincible possession. There was
no appeal, as it were; he was imprisoned within the very freedom of his
power, and she, though ready to make a footstool of her head for his
feet, guarded her conquest inflexibly--as though he were hard to keep.
The very Tamb' Itam, marching on our journeys upon the heels of his
white lord, with his head thrown back, truculent and be-weaponed like a
janissary, with kriss, chopper, and lance (besides carrying Jim's gun);
even Tamb' Itam allowed himself to put on the airs of uncompromising
guardianship, like a surly devoted jailer ready to lay down his life for
his captive. On the evenings when we sat up late, his silent, indistinct
form would pass and repass under the verandah, with noiseless footsteps,
or lifting my head I would unexpectedly make him out standing rigidly
erect in the shadow. As a general rule he would vanish after a time,
without a sound; but when we rose he would spring up close to us as if
from the ground, ready for any orders Jim might wish to give. The girl
too, I believe, never went to sleep till we had separated for the night.
More than once I saw her and Jim through the window of my room come out
together quietly and lean on the rough balustrade--two white forms very
close, his arm about her waist, her head on his shoulder. Their soft
murmurs reached me, penetrating, tender, with a calm sad note in the
stillness of the night, like a self-communion of one being carried on
in two tones. Later on, tossing on my bed under the mosquito-net, I
was sure to hear slight creakings, faint breathing, a throat cleared
cautiously--and I would know that Tamb' Itam was still on the prowl.
Though he had (by the favour of the white lord) a house in the compound,
had "taken wife," and had lately been blessed with a child, I believe
that, during my stay at all events, he slept on the verandah every
night. It was very difficult to make this faithful and grim retainer
talk. Even Jim himself was answered in jerky short sentences, under
protest as it were. Talking, he seemed to imply, was no business of his.
The longest speech I heard him volunteer was one morning when, suddenly
extending his hand towards the courtyard, he pointed at Cornelius and
said, "Here comes the Nazarene." I don't think he was addressing me,
though I stood at his side; his object seemed rather to awaken the
indignant attention of the universe. Some muttered allusions, which
followed, to dogs and the smell of roast-meat, struck me as singularly
felicitous. The courtyard, a large square space, was one torrid blaze of
sunshine, and, bathed in intense light, Cornelius was creeping across
in full view with an inexpressible effect of stealthiness, of dark and
secret slinking. He reminded one of everything that is unsavoury. His
slow laborious walk resembled the creeping of a repulsive beetle, the
legs alone moving with horrid industry while the body glided evenly. I
suppose he made straight enough for the place where he wanted to get to,
but his progress with one shoulder carried forward seemed oblique. He
was often seen circling slowly amongst the sheds, as if following
a scent; passing before the verandah with upward stealthy glances;
disappearing without haste round the corner of some hut. That he seemed
free of the place demonstrated Jim's absurd carelessness or else his
infinite disdain, for Cornelius had played a very dubious part (to say
the least of it) in a certain episode which might have ended fatally for
Jim. As a matter of fact, it had redounded to his glory. But everything
redounded to his glory; and it was the irony of his good fortune that
he, who had been too careful of it once, seemed to bear a charmed life.

'You must know he had left Doramin's place very soon after his
arrival--much too soon, in fact, for his safety, and of course a long
time before the war. In this he was actuated by a sense of duty; he had
to look after Stein's business, he said. Hadn't he? To that end, with an
utter disregard of his personal safety, he crossed the river and took up
his quarters with Cornelius. How the latter had managed to exist through
the troubled times I can't say. As Stein's agent, after all, he must
have had Doramin's protection in a measure; and in one way or another
he had managed to wriggle through all the deadly complications, while I
have no doubt that his conduct, whatever line he was forced to take, was
marked by that abjectness which was like the stamp of the man. That was
his characteristic; he was fundamentally and outwardly abject, as other
men are markedly of a generous, distinguished, or venerable appearance.
It was the element of his nature which permeated all his acts and
passions and emotions; he raged abjectly, smiled abjectly, was abjectly
sad; his civilities and his indignations were alike abject. I am sure
his love would have been the most abject of sentiments--but can one
imagine a loathsome insect in love? And his loathsomeness, too, was
abject, so that a simply disgusting person would have appeared noble
by his side. He has his place neither in the background nor in the
foreground of the story; he is simply seen skulking on its outskirts,
enigmatical and unclean, tainting the fragrance of its youth and of its
naiveness.

'His position in any case could not have been other than extremely
miserable, yet it may very well be that he found some advantages in it.
Jim told me he had been received at first with an abject display of
the most amicable sentiments. "The fellow apparently couldn't contain
himself for joy," said Jim with disgust. "He flew at me every morning to
shake both my hands--confound him!--but I could never tell whether there
would be any breakfast. If I got three meals in two days I considered
myself jolly lucky, and he made me sign a chit for ten dollars every
week. Said he was sure Mr. Stein did not mean him to keep me for
nothing. Well--he kept me on nothing as near as possible. Put it down to
the unsettled state of the country, and made as if to tear his hair out,
begging my pardon twenty times a day, so that I had at last to entreat
him not to worry. It made me sick. Half the roof of his house had
fallen in, and the whole place had a mangy look, with wisps of dry grass
sticking out and the corners of broken mats flapping on every wall. He
did his best to make out that Mr. Stein owed him money on the last three
years' trading, but his books were all torn, and some were missing. He
tried to hint it was his late wife's fault. Disgusting scoundrel! At
last I had to forbid him to mention his late wife at all. It made Jewel
cry. I couldn't discover what became of all the trade-goods; there was
nothing in the store but rats, having a high old time amongst a litter
of brown paper and old sacking. I was assured on every hand that he had
a lot of money buried somewhere, but of course could get nothing out of
him. It was the most miserable existence I led there in that wretched
house. I tried to do my duty by Stein, but I had also other matters to
think of. When I escaped to Doramin old Tunku Allang got frightened and
returned all my things. It was done in a roundabout way, and with no end
of mystery, through a Chinaman who keeps a small shop here; but as soon
as I left the Bugis quarter and went to live with Cornelius it began
to be said openly that the Rajah had made up his mind to have me killed
before long. Pleasant, wasn't it? And I couldn't see what there was to
prevent him if he really _had_ made up his mind. The worst of it was,
I couldn't help feeling I wasn't doing any good either for Stein or for
myself. Oh! it was beastly--the whole six weeks of it."'



CHAPTER 30


'He told me further that he didn't know what made him hang on--but of
course we may guess. He sympathised deeply with the defenceless girl, at
the mercy of that "mean, cowardly scoundrel." It appears Cornelius led
her an awful life, stopping only short of actual ill-usage, for which
he had not the pluck, I suppose. He insisted upon her calling him
father--"and with respect, too--with respect," he would scream, shaking
a little yellow fist in her face. "I am a respectable man, and what are
you? Tell me--what are you? You think I am going to bring up somebody
else's child and not be treated with respect? You ought to be glad I let
you. Come--say Yes, father. . . . No? . . . You wait a bit." Thereupon
he would begin to abuse the dead woman, till the girl would run off with
her hands to her head. He pursued her, dashing in and out and round the
house and amongst the sheds, would drive her into some corner, where she
would fall on her knees stopping her ears, and then he would stand at a
distance and declaim filthy denunciations at her back for half an hour
at a stretch. "Your mother was a devil, a deceitful devil--and you too
are a devil," he would shriek in a final outburst, pick up a bit of dry
earth or a handful of mud (there was plenty of mud around the house),
and fling it into her hair. Sometimes, though, she would hold out full
of scorn, confronting him in silence, her face sombre and contracted,
and only now and then uttering a word or two that would make the other
jump and writhe with the sting. Jim told me these scenes were terrible.
It was indeed a strange thing to come upon in a wilderness. The
endlessness of such a subtly cruel situation was appalling--if you think
of it. The respectable Cornelius (Inchi 'Nelyus the Malays called him,
with a grimace that meant many things) was a much-disappointed man. I
don't know what he had expected would be done for him in consideration
of his marriage; but evidently the liberty to steal, and embezzle, and
appropriate to himself for many years and in any way that suited him
best, the goods of Stein's Trading Company (Stein kept the supply up
unfalteringly as long as he could get his skippers to take it there) did
not seem to him a fair equivalent for the sacrifice of his honourable
name. Jim would have enjoyed exceedingly thrashing Cornelius within an
inch of his life; on the other hand, the scenes were of so painful
a character, so abominable, that his impulse would be to get out of
earshot, in order to spare the girl's feelings. They left her agitated,
speechless, clutching her bosom now and then with a stony,
desperate face, and then Jim would lounge up and say unhappily,
"Now--come--really--what's the use--you must try to eat a bit," or give
some such mark of sympathy. Cornelius would keep on slinking through
the doorways, across the verandah and back again, as mute as a fish, and
with malevolent, mistrustful, underhand glances. "I can stop his game,"
Jim said to her once. "Just say the word." And do you know what she
answered? She said--Jim told me impressively--that if she had not been
sure he was intensely wretched himself, she would have found the courage
to kill him with her own hands. "Just fancy that! The poor devil of a
girl, almost a child, being driven to talk like that," he exclaimed in
horror. It seemed impossible to save her not only from that mean
rascal but even from herself! It wasn't that he pitied her so much, he
affirmed; it was more than pity; it was as if he had something on his
conscience, while that life went on. To leave the house would have
appeared a base desertion. He had understood at last that there was
nothing to expect from a longer stay, neither accounts nor money, nor
truth of any sort, but he stayed on, exasperating Cornelius to the
verge, I won't say of insanity, but almost of courage. Meantime he felt
all sorts of dangers gathering obscurely about him. Doramin had sent
over twice a trusty servant to tell him seriously that he could do
nothing for his safety unless he would recross the river again and live
amongst the Bugis as at first. People of every condition used to call,
often in the dead of night, in order to disclose to him plots for
his assassination. He was to be poisoned. He was to be stabbed in the
bath-house. Arrangements were being made to have him shot from a boat
on the river. Each of these informants professed himself to be his very
good friend. It was enough--he told me--to spoil a fellow's rest for
ever. Something of the kind was extremely possible--nay, probable--but
the lying warnings gave him only the sense of deadly scheming going on
all around him, on all sides, in the dark. Nothing more calculated to
shake the best of nerve. Finally, one night, Cornelius himself, with a
great apparatus of alarm and secrecy, unfolded in solemn wheedling tones
a little plan wherein for one hundred dollars--or even for eighty; let's
say eighty--he, Cornelius, would procure a trustworthy man to smuggle
Jim out of the river, all safe. There was nothing else for it now--if
Jim cared a pin for his life. What's eighty dollars? A trifle. An
insignificant sum. While he, Cornelius, who had to remain behind, was
absolutely courting death by this proof of devotion to Mr. Stein's young
friend. The sight of his abject grimacing was--Jim told me--very hard
to bear: he clutched at his hair, beat his breast, rocked himself to
and fro with his hands pressed to his stomach, and actually pretended to
shed tears. "Your blood be on your own head," he squeaked at last, and
rushed out. It is a curious question how far Cornelius was sincere in
that performance. Jim confessed to me that he did not sleep a wink after
the fellow had gone. He lay on his back on a thin mat spread over the
bamboo flooring, trying idly to make out the bare rafters, and listening
to the rustlings in the torn thatch. A star suddenly twinkled through a
hole in the roof. His brain was in a whirl; but, nevertheless, it was on
that very night that he matured his plan for overcoming Sherif Ali. It
had been the thought of all the moments he could spare from the hopeless
investigation into Stein's affairs, but the notion--he says--came to him
then all at once. He could see, as it were, the guns mounted on the top
of the hill. He got very hot and excited lying there; sleep was out of
the question more than ever. He jumped up, and went out barefooted
on the verandah. Walking silently, he came upon the girl, motionless
against the wall, as if on the watch. In his then state of mind it did
not surprise him to see her up, nor yet to hear her ask in an anxious
whisper where Cornelius could be. He simply said he did not know. She
moaned a little, and peered into the campong. Everything was very quiet.
He was possessed by his new idea, and so full of it that he could not
help telling the girl all about it at once. She listened, clapped her
hands lightly, whispered softly her admiration, but was evidently on the
alert all the time. It seems he had been used to make a confidant of
her all along--and that she on her part could and did give him a lot of
useful hints as to Patusan affairs there is no doubt. He assured me more
than once that he had never found himself the worse for her advice. At
any rate, he was proceeding to explain his plan fully to her there and
then, when she pressed his arm once, and vanished from his side. Then
Cornelius appeared from somewhere, and, perceiving Jim, ducked sideways,
as though he had been shot at, and afterwards stood very still in the
dusk. At last he came forward prudently, like a suspicious cat. "There
were some fishermen there--with fish," he said in a shaky voice. "To
sell fish--you understand." . . . It must have been then two o'clock in
the morning--a likely time for anybody to hawk fish about!

'Jim, however, let the statement pass, and did not give it a single
thought. Other matters occupied his mind, and besides he had neither
seen nor heard anything. He contented himself by saying, "Oh!" absently,
got a drink of water out of a pitcher standing there, and leaving
Cornelius a prey to some inexplicable emotion--that made him embrace
with both arms the worm-eaten rail of the verandah as if his legs had
failed--went in again and lay down on his mat to think. By-and-by he
heard stealthy footsteps. They stopped. A voice whispered tremulously
through the wall, "Are you asleep?" "No! What is it?" he answered
briskly, and there was an abrupt movement outside, and then all was
still, as if the whisperer had been startled. Extremely annoyed at this,
Jim came out impetuously, and Cornelius with a faint shriek fled
along the verandah as far as the steps, where he hung on to the broken
banister. Very puzzled, Jim called out to him from the distance to know
what the devil he meant. "Have you given your consideration to what
I spoke to you about?" asked Cornelius, pronouncing the words with
difficulty, like a man in the cold fit of a fever. "No!" shouted Jim in
a passion. "I have not, and I don't intend to. I am going to live here,
in Patusan." "You shall d-d-die h-h-here," answered Cornelius,
still shaking violently, and in a sort of expiring voice. The whole
performance was so absurd and provoking that Jim didn't know whether he
ought to be amused or angry. "Not till I have seen you tucked away,
you bet," he called out, exasperated yet ready to laugh. Half seriously
(being excited with his own thoughts, you know) he went on shouting,
"Nothing can touch me! You can do your damnedest." Somehow the shadowy
Cornelius far off there seemed to be the hateful embodiment of all the
annoyances and difficulties he had found in his path. He let himself
go--his nerves had been over-wrought for days--and called him many
pretty names,--swindler, liar, sorry rascal: in fact, carried on in an
extraordinary way. He admits he passed all bounds, that he was quite
beside himself--defied all Patusan to scare him away--declared he would
make them all dance to his own tune yet, and so on, in a menacing,
boasting strain. Perfectly bombastic and ridiculous, he said. His ears
burned at the bare recollection. Must have been off his chump in some
way. . . . The girl, who was sitting with us, nodded her little head at
me quickly, frowned faintly, and said, "I heard him," with child-like
solemnity. He laughed and blushed. What stopped him at last, he said,
was the silence, the complete deathlike silence, of the indistinct
figure far over there, that seemed to hang collapsed, doubled over the
rail in a weird immobility. He came to his senses, and ceasing suddenly,
wondered greatly at himself. He watched for a while. Not a stir, not a
sound. "Exactly as if the chap had died while I had been making all that
noise," he said. He was so ashamed of himself that he went indoors in a
hurry without another word, and flung himself down again. The row seemed
to have done him good though, because he went to sleep for the rest of
the night like a baby. Hadn't slept like that for weeks. "But _I_ didn't
sleep," struck in the girl, one elbow on the table and nursing her
cheek. "I watched." Her big eyes flashed, rolling a little, and then she
fixed them on my face intently.'



CHAPTER 31


'You may imagine with what interest I listened. All these details were
perceived to have some significance twenty-four hours later. In the
morning Cornelius made no allusion to the events of the night. "I
suppose you will come back to my poor house," he muttered, surlily,
slinking up just as Jim was entering the canoe to go over to Doramin's
campong. Jim only nodded, without looking at him. "You find it good fun,
no doubt," muttered the other in a sour tone. Jim spent the day with the
old nakhoda, preaching the necessity of vigorous action to the principal
men of the Bugis community, who had been summoned for a big talk. He
remembered with pleasure how very eloquent and persuasive he had been.
"I managed to put some backbone into them that time, and no mistake," he
said. Sherif Ali's last raid had swept the outskirts of the settlement,
and some women belonging to the town had been carried off to the
stockade. Sherif Ali's emissaries had been seen in the market-place the
day before, strutting about haughtily in white cloaks, and boasting of
the Rajah's friendship for their master. One of them stood forward
in the shade of a tree, and, leaning on the long barrel of a rifle,
exhorted the people to prayer and repentance, advising them to kill all
the strangers in their midst, some of whom, he said, were infidels and
others even worse--children of Satan in the guise of Moslems. It was
reported that several of the Rajah's people amongst the listeners had
loudly expressed their approbation. The terror amongst the common people
was intense. Jim, immensely pleased with his day's work, crossed the
river again before sunset.

'As he had got the Bugis irretrievably committed to action and had made
himself responsible for success on his own head, he was so elated that
in the lightness of his heart he absolutely tried to be civil with
Cornelius. But Cornelius became wildly jovial in response, and it was
almost more than he could stand, he says, to hear his little squeaks of
false laughter, to see him wriggle and blink, and suddenly catch hold of
his chin and crouch low over the table with a distracted stare. The
girl did not show herself, and Jim retired early. When he rose to say
good-night, Cornelius jumped up, knocking his chair over, and ducked out
of sight as if to pick up something he had dropped. His good-night came
huskily from under the table. Jim was amazed to see him emerge with a
dropping jaw, and staring, stupidly frightened eyes. He clutched the
edge of the table. "What's the matter? Are you unwell?" asked Jim. "Yes,
yes, yes. A great colic in my stomach," says the other; and it is
Jim's opinion that it was perfectly true. If so, it was, in view of his
contemplated action, an abject sign of a still imperfect callousness for
which he must be given all due credit.

'Be it as it may, Jim's slumbers were disturbed by a dream of heavens
like brass resounding with a great voice, which called upon him to
Awake! Awake! so loud that, notwithstanding his desperate determination
to sleep on, he did wake up in reality. The glare of a red spluttering
conflagration going on in mid-air fell on his eyes. Coils of black thick
smoke curved round the head of some apparition, some unearthly being,
all in white, with a severe, drawn, anxious face. After a second or so
he recognised the girl. She was holding a dammar torch at arm's-length
aloft, and in a persistent, urgent monotone she was repeating, "Get up!
Get up! Get up!"

'Suddenly he leaped to his feet; at once she put into his hand a
revolver, his own revolver, which had been hanging on a nail, but loaded
this time. He gripped it in silence, bewildered, blinking in the light.
He wondered what he could do for her.

'She asked rapidly and very low, "Can you face four men with this?"
He laughed while narrating this part at the recollection of his polite
alacrity. It seems he made a great display of it. "Certainly--of
course--certainly--command me." He was not properly awake, and had a
notion of being very civil in these extraordinary circumstances, of
showing his unquestioning, devoted readiness. She left the room, and
he followed her; in the passage they disturbed an old hag who did the
casual cooking of the household, though she was so decrepit as to be
hardly able to understand human speech. She got up and hobbled behind
them, mumbling toothlessly. On the verandah a hammock of sail-cloth,
belonging to Cornelius, swayed lightly to the touch of Jim's elbow. It
was empty.

'The Patusan establishment, like all the posts of Stein's Trading
Company, had originally consisted of four buildings. Two of them were
represented by two heaps of sticks, broken bamboos, rotten thatch,
over which the four corner-posts of hardwood leaned sadly at different
angles: the principal storeroom, however, stood yet, facing the agent's
house. It was an oblong hut, built of mud and clay; it had at one end a
wide door of stout planking, which so far had not come off the hinges,
and in one of the side walls there was a square aperture, a sort of
window, with three wooden bars. Before descending the few steps the girl
turned her face over her shoulder and said quickly, "You were to be set
upon while you slept." Jim tells me he experienced a sense of deception.
It was the old story. He was weary of these attempts upon his life. He
had had his fill of these alarms. He was sick of them. He assured me he
was angry with the girl for deceiving him. He had followed her under the
impression that it was she who wanted his help, and now he had half
a mind to turn on his heel and go back in disgust. "Do you know," he
commented profoundly, "I rather think I was not quite myself for whole
weeks on end about that time." "Oh yes. You were though," I couldn't
help contradicting.

'But she moved on swiftly, and he followed her into the courtyard. All
its fences had fallen in a long time ago; the neighbours' buffaloes
would pace in the morning across the open space, snorting profoundly,
without haste; the very jungle was invading it already. Jim and the girl
stopped in the rank grass. The light in which they stood made a dense
blackness all round, and only above their heads there was an opulent
glitter of stars. He told me it was a beautiful night--quite cool, with
a little stir of breeze from the river. It seems he noticed its friendly
beauty. Remember this is a love story I am telling you now. A lovely
night seemed to breathe on them a soft caress. The flame of the torch
streamed now and then with a fluttering noise like a flag, and for
a time this was the only sound. "They are in the storeroom waiting,"
whispered the girl; "they are waiting for the signal." "Who's to give
it?" he asked. She shook the torch, which blazed up after a shower of
sparks. "Only you have been sleeping so restlessly," she continued in
a murmur; "I watched your sleep, too." "You!" he exclaimed, craning his
neck to look about him. "You think I watched on this night only!" she
said, with a sort of despairing indignation.

'He says it was as if he had received a blow on the chest. He gasped.
He thought he had been an awful brute somehow, and he felt remorseful,
touched, happy, elated. This, let me remind you again, is a love story;
you can see it by the imbecility, not a repulsive imbecility, the
exalted imbecility of these proceedings, this station in torchlight, as
if they had come there on purpose to have it out for the edification of
concealed murderers. If Sherif Ali's emissaries had been possessed--as
Jim remarked--of a pennyworth of spunk, this was the time to make a
rush. His heart was thumping--not with fear--but he seemed to hear the
grass rustle, and he stepped smartly out of the light. Something dark,
imperfectly seen, flitted rapidly out of sight. He called out in a
strong voice, "Cornelius! O Cornelius!" A profound silence succeeded:
his voice did not seem to have carried twenty feet. Again the girl was
by his side. "Fly!" she said. The old woman was coming up; her broken
figure hovered in crippled little jumps on the edge of the light; they
heard her mumbling, and a light, moaning sigh. "Fly!" repeated the girl
excitedly. "They are frightened now--this light--the voices. They know
you are awake now--they know you are big, strong, fearless . . ." "If
I am all that," he began; but she interrupted him: "Yes--to-night! But
what of to-morrow night? Of the next night? Of the night after--of all
the many, many nights? Can I be always watching?" A sobbing catch of her
breath affected him beyond the power of words.

'He told me that he had never felt so small, so powerless--and as to
courage, what was the good of it? he thought. He was so helpless that
even flight seemed of no use; and though she kept on whispering, "Go to
Doramin, go to Doramin," with feverish insistence, he realised that for
him there was no refuge from that loneliness which centupled all his
dangers except--in her. "I thought," he said to me, "that if I went
away from her it would be the end of everything somehow." Only as they
couldn't stop there for ever in the middle of that courtyard, he made
up his mind to go and look into the storehouse. He let her follow
him without thinking of any protest, as if they had been indissolubly
united. "I am fearless--am I?" he muttered through his teeth. She
restrained his arm. "Wait till you hear my voice," she said, and,
torch in hand, ran lightly round the corner. He remained alone in the
darkness, his face to the door: not a sound, not a breath came from
the other side. The old hag let out a dreary groan somewhere behind his
back. He heard a high-pitched almost screaming call from the girl. "Now!
Push!" He pushed violently; the door swung with a creak and a clatter,
disclosing to his intense astonishment the low dungeon-like interior
illuminated by a lurid, wavering glare. A turmoil of smoke eddied down
upon an empty wooden crate in the middle of the floor, a litter of rags
and straw tried to soar, but only stirred feebly in the draught. She had
thrust the light through the bars of the window. He saw her bare round
arm extended and rigid, holding up the torch with the steadiness of
an iron bracket. A conical ragged heap of old mats cumbered a distant
corner almost to the ceiling, and that was all.

'He explained to me that he was bitterly disappointed at this. His
fortitude had been tried by so many warnings, he had been for weeks
surrounded by so many hints of danger, that he wanted the relief of
some reality, of something tangible that he could meet. "It would have
cleared the air for a couple of hours at least, if you know what I
mean," he said to me. "Jove! I had been living for days with a stone on
my chest." Now at last he had thought he would get hold of something,
and--nothing! Not a trace, not a sign of anybody. He had raised his
weapon as the door flew open, but now his arm fell. "Fire! Defend
yourself," the girl outside cried in an agonising voice. She, being in
the dark and with her arm thrust in to the shoulder through the small
hole, couldn't see what was going on, and she dared not withdraw
the torch now to run round. "There's nobody here!" yelled Jim
contemptuously, but his impulse to burst into a resentful exasperated
laugh died without a sound: he had perceived in the very act of turning
away that he was exchanging glances with a pair of eyes in the heap of
mats. He saw a shifting gleam of whites. "Come out!" he cried in a fury,
a little doubtful, and a dark-faced head, a head without a body, shaped
itself in the rubbish, a strangely detached head, that looked at him
with a steady scowl. Next moment the whole mound stirred, and with a
low grunt a man emerged swiftly, and bounded towards Jim. Behind him the
mats as it were jumped and flew, his right arm was raised with a crooked
elbow, and the dull blade of a kriss protruded from his fist held off,
a little above his head. A cloth wound tight round his loins seemed
dazzlingly white on his bronze skin; his naked body glistened as if wet.

'Jim noted all this. He told me he was experiencing a feeling of
unutterable relief, of vengeful elation. He held his shot, he says,
deliberately. He held it for the tenth part of a second, for three
strides of the man--an unconscionable time. He held it for the pleasure
of saying to himself, That's a dead man! He was absolutely positive
and certain. He let him come on because it did not matter. A dead man,
anyhow. He noticed the dilated nostrils, the wide eyes, the intent,
eager stillness of the face, and then he fired.

'The explosion in that confined space was stunning. He stepped back a
pace. He saw the man jerk his head up, fling his arms forward, and drop
the kriss. He ascertained afterwards that he had shot him through the
mouth, a little upwards, the bullet coming out high at the back of the
skull. With the impetus of his rush the man drove straight on, his face
suddenly gaping disfigured, with his hands open before him gropingly, as
though blinded, and landed with terrific violence on his forehead, just
short of Jim's bare toes. Jim says he didn't lose the smallest detail
of all this. He found himself calm, appeased, without rancour, without
uneasiness, as if the death of that man had atoned for everything. The
place was getting very full of sooty smoke from the torch, in which
the unswaying flame burned blood-red without a flicker. He walked in
resolutely, striding over the dead body, and covered with his revolver
another naked figure outlined vaguely at the other end. As he was about
to pull the trigger, the man threw away with force a short heavy spear,
and squatted submissively on his hams, his back to the wall and his
clasped hands between his legs. "You want your life?" Jim said. The
other made no sound. "How many more of you?" asked Jim again. "Two more,
Tuan," said the man very softly, looking with big fascinated eyes into
the muzzle of the revolver. Accordingly two more crawled from under the
mats, holding out ostentatiously their empty hands.'



CHAPTER 32


'Jim took up an advantageous position and shepherded them out in a bunch
through the doorway: all that time the torch had remained vertical in
the grip of a little hand, without so much as a tremble. The three men
obeyed him, perfectly mute, moving automatically. He ranged them in a
row. "Link arms!" he ordered. They did so. "The first who withdraws his
arm or turns his head is a dead man," he said. "March!" They stepped out
together, rigidly; he followed, and at the side the girl, in a trailing
white gown, her black hair falling as low as her waist, bore the light.
Erect and swaying, she seemed to glide without touching the earth; the
only sound was the silky swish and rustle of the long grass. "Stop!"
cried Jim.

'The river-bank was steep; a great freshness ascended, the light fell on
the edge of smooth dark water frothing without a ripple; right and left
the shapes of the houses ran together below the sharp outlines of the
roofs. "Take my greetings to Sherif Ali--till I come myself," said
Jim. Not one head of the three budged. "Jump!" he thundered. The
three splashes made one splash, a shower flew up, black heads bobbed
convulsively, and disappeared; but a great blowing and spluttering went
on, growing faint, for they were diving industriously in great fear of
a parting shot. Jim turned to the girl, who had been a silent and
attentive observer. His heart seemed suddenly to grow too big for his
breast and choke him in the hollow of his throat. This probably made
him speechless for so long, and after returning his gaze she flung the
burning torch with a wide sweep of the arm into the river. The ruddy
fiery glare, taking a long flight through the night, sank with a vicious
hiss, and the calm soft starlight descended upon them, unchecked.

'He did not tell me what it was he said when at last he recovered his
voice. I don't suppose he could be very eloquent. The world was still,
the night breathed on them, one of those nights that seem created for
the sheltering of tenderness, and there are moments when our souls, as
if freed from their dark envelope, glow with an exquisite sensibility
that makes certain silences more lucid than speeches. As to the girl,
he told me, "She broke down a bit. Excitement--don't you know.
Reaction. Deucedly tired she must have been--and all that kind of thing.
And--and--hang it all--she was fond of me, don't you see. . . . I
too . . . didn't know, of course . . . never entered my head . . ."

'Then he got up and began to walk about in some agitation. "I--I love
her dearly. More than I can tell. Of course one cannot tell. You take a
different view of your actions when you come to understand, when you
are _made_ to understand every day that your existence is necessary--you
see, absolutely necessary--to another person. I am made to feel that.
Wonderful! But only try to think what her life has been. It is too
extravagantly awful! Isn't it? And me finding her here like this--as you
may go out for a stroll and come suddenly upon somebody drowning in a
lonely dark place. Jove! No time to lose. Well, it is a trust too . . .
I believe I am equal to it . . ."

'I must tell you the girl had left us to ourselves some time before. He
slapped his chest. "Yes! I feel that, but I believe I am equal to all my
luck!" He had the gift of finding a special meaning in everything that
happened to him. This was the view he took of his love affair; it was
idyllic, a little solemn, and also true, since his belief had all the
unshakable seriousness of youth. Some time after, on another occasion,
he said to me, "I've been only two years here, and now, upon my word, I
can't conceive being able to live anywhere else. The very thought of the
world outside is enough to give me a fright; because, don't you see," he
continued, with downcast eyes watching the action of his boot busied in
squashing thoroughly a tiny bit of dried mud (we were strolling on the
river-bank)--"because I have not forgotten why I came here. Not yet!"

'I refrained from looking at him, but I think I heard a short sigh; we
took a turn or two in silence. "Upon my soul and conscience," he began
again, "if such a thing can be forgotten, then I think I have a right to
dismiss it from my mind. Ask any man here" . . . his voice changed. "Is
it not strange," he went on in a gentle, almost yearning tone, "that all
these people, all these people who would do anything for me, can never
be made to understand? Never! If you disbelieved me I could not call
them up. It seems hard, somehow. I am stupid, am I not? What more can I
want? If you ask them who is brave--who is true--who is just--who is it
they would trust with their lives?--they would say, Tuan Jim. And yet
they can never know the real, real truth . . ."

'That's what he said to me on my last day with him. I did not let a
murmur escape me: I felt he was going to say more, and come no nearer
to the root of the matter. The sun, whose concentrated glare dwarfs the
earth into a restless mote of dust, had sunk behind the forest, and
the diffused light from an opal sky seemed to cast upon a world without
shadows and without brilliance the illusion of a calm and pensive
greatness. I don't know why, listening to him, I should have noted
so distinctly the gradual darkening of the river, of the air; the
irresistible slow work of the night settling silently on all the visible
forms, effacing the outlines, burying the shapes deeper and deeper, like
a steady fall of impalpable black dust.

'"Jove!" he began abruptly, "there are days when a fellow is too absurd
for anything; only I know I can tell you what I like. I talk about
being done with it--with the bally thing at the back of my head . . .
Forgetting . . . Hang me if I know! I can think of it quietly. After
all, what has it proved? Nothing. I suppose you don't think so . . ."

'I made a protesting murmur.

'"No matter," he said. "I am satisfied . . . nearly. I've got to
look only at the face of the first man that comes along, to regain my
confidence. They can't be made to understand what is going on in me.
What of that? Come! I haven't done so badly."

'"Not so badly," I said.

'"But all the same, you wouldn't like to have me aboard your own ship
hey?"

'"Confound you!" I cried. "Stop this."

'"Aha! You see," he said, crowing, as it were, over me placidly. "Only,"
he went on, "you just try to tell this to any of them here. They would
think you a fool, a liar, or worse. And so I can stand it. I've done a
thing or two for them, but this is what they have done for me."

'"My dear chap," I cried, "you shall always remain for them an insoluble
mystery." Thereupon we were silent.

'"Mystery," he repeated, before looking up. "Well, then let me always
remain here."

'After the sun had set, the darkness seemed to drive upon us, borne in
every faint puff of the breeze. In the middle of a hedged path I saw the
arrested, gaunt, watchful, and apparently one-legged silhouette of Tamb'
Itam; and across the dusky space my eye detected something white moving
to and fro behind the supports of the roof. As soon as Jim, with Tamb'
Itam at his heels, had started upon his evening rounds, I went up to the
house alone, and, unexpectedly, found myself waylaid by the girl, who
had been clearly waiting for this opportunity.

'It is hard to tell you what it was precisely she wanted to wrest
from me. Obviously it would be something very simple--the simplest
impossibility in the world; as, for instance, the exact description of
the form of a cloud. She wanted an assurance, a statement, a promise, an
explanation--I don't know how to call it: the thing has no name. It was
dark under the projecting roof, and all I could see were the flowing
lines of her gown, the pale small oval of her face, with the white flash
of her teeth, and, turned towards me, the big sombre orbits of her eyes,
where there seemed to be a faint stir, such as you may fancy you can
detect when you plunge your gaze to the bottom of an immensely deep
well. What is it that moves there? you ask yourself. Is it a blind
monster or only a lost gleam from the universe? It occurred to me--don't
laugh--that all things being dissimilar, she was more inscrutable in
her childish ignorance than the Sphinx propounding childish riddles
to wayfarers. She had been carried off to Patusan before her eyes
were open. She had grown up there; she had seen nothing, she had known
nothing, she had no conception of anything. I ask myself whether she
were sure that anything else existed. What notions she may have formed
of the outside world is to me inconceivable: all that she knew of its
inhabitants were a betrayed woman and a sinister pantaloon. Her lover
also came to her from there, gifted with irresistible seductions; but
what would become of her if he should return to these inconceivable
regions that seemed always to claim back their own? Her mother had
warned her of this with tears, before she died . . .

'She had caught hold of my arm firmly, and as soon as I had stopped she
had withdrawn her hand in haste. She was audacious and shrinking. She
feared nothing, but she was checked by the profound incertitude and the
extreme strangeness--a brave person groping in the dark. I belonged to
this Unknown that might claim Jim for its own at any moment. I was,
as it were, in the secret of its nature and of its intentions--the
confidant of a threatening mystery--armed with its power perhaps! I
believe she supposed I could with a word whisk Jim away out of her very
arms; it is my sober conviction she went through agonies of apprehension
during my long talks with Jim; through a real and intolerable anguish
that might have conceivably driven her into plotting my murder, had the
fierceness of her soul been equal to the tremendous situation it had
created. This is my impression, and it is all I can give you: the whole
thing dawned gradually upon me, and as it got clearer and clearer I was
overwhelmed by a slow incredulous amazement. She made me believe her,
but there is no word that on my lips could render the effect of the
headlong and vehement whisper, of the soft, passionate tones, of the
sudden breathless pause and the appealing movement of the white arms
extended swiftly. They fell; the ghostly figure swayed like a slender
tree in the wind, the pale oval of the face drooped; it was impossible
to distinguish her features, the darkness of the eyes was unfathomable;
two wide sleeves uprose in the dark like unfolding wings, and she stood
silent, holding her head in her hands.'



CHAPTER 33


'I was immensely touched: her youth, her ignorance, her pretty beauty,
which had the simple charm and the delicate vigour of a wild-flower,
her pathetic pleading, her helplessness, appealed to me with almost
the strength of her own unreasonable and natural fear. She feared the
unknown as we all do, and her ignorance made the unknown infinitely
vast. I stood for it, for myself, for you fellows, for all the world
that neither cared for Jim nor needed him in the least. I would have
been ready enough to answer for the indifference of the teeming earth
but for the reflection that he too belonged to this mysterious unknown
of her fears, and that, however much I stood for, I did not stand for
him. This made me hesitate. A murmur of hopeless pain unsealed my lips.
I began by protesting that I at least had come with no intention to take
Jim away.

'Why did I come, then? After a slight movement she was as still as a
marble statue in the night. I tried to explain briefly: friendship,
business; if I had any wish in the matter it was rather to see him stay.
. . . "They always leave us," she murmured. The breath of sad wisdom
from the grave which her piety wreathed with flowers seemed to pass in a
faint sigh. . . . Nothing, I said, could separate Jim from her.

'It is my firm conviction now; it was my conviction at the time; it was
the only possible conclusion from the facts of the case. It was not made
more certain by her whispering in a tone in which one speaks to oneself,
"He swore this to me." "Did you ask him?" I said.

'She made a step nearer. "No. Never!" She had asked him only to go away.
It was that night on the river-bank, after he had killed the man--after
she had flung the torch in the water because he was looking at her so.
There was too much light, and the danger was over then--for a little
time--for a little time. He said then he would not abandon her to
Cornelius. She had insisted. She wanted him to leave her. He said that
he could not--that it was impossible. He trembled while he said this.
She had felt him tremble. . . . One does not require much imagination
to see the scene, almost to hear their whispers. She was afraid for him
too. I believe that then she saw in him only a predestined victim of
dangers which she understood better than himself. Though by nothing
but his mere presence he had mastered her heart, had filled all
her thoughts, and had possessed himself of all her affections, she
underestimated his chances of success. It is obvious that at about
that time everybody was inclined to underestimate his chances. Strictly
speaking he didn't seem to have any. I know this was Cornelius's view.
He confessed that much to me in extenuation of the shady part he had
played in Sherif Ali's plot to do away with the infidel. Even Sherif Ali
himself, as it seems certain now, had nothing but contempt for the white
man. Jim was to be murdered mainly on religious grounds, I believe. A
simple act of piety (and so far infinitely meritorious), but otherwise
without much importance. In the last part of this opinion Cornelius
concurred. "Honourable sir," he argued abjectly on the only occasion he
managed to have me to himself--"honourable sir, how was I to know? Who
was he? What could he do to make people believe him? What did Mr. Stein
mean sending a boy like that to talk big to an old servant? I was ready
to save him for eighty dollars. Only eighty dollars. Why didn't the
fool go? Was I to get stabbed myself for the sake of a stranger?" He
grovelled in spirit before me, with his body doubled up insinuatingly
and his hands hovering about my knees, as though he were ready to
embrace my legs. "What's eighty dollars? An insignificant sum to give to
a defenceless old man ruined for life by a deceased she-devil." Here he
wept. But I anticipate. I didn't that night chance upon Cornelius till I
had had it out with the girl.

'She was unselfish when she urged Jim to leave her, and even to leave
the country. It was his danger that was foremost in her thoughts--even
if she wanted to save herself too--perhaps unconsciously: but then look
at the warning she had, look at the lesson that could be drawn from
every moment of the recently ended life in which all her memories were
centred. She fell at his feet--she told me so--there by the river, in
the discreet light of stars which showed nothing except great masses of
silent shadows, indefinite open spaces, and trembling faintly upon the
broad stream made it appear as wide as the sea. He had lifted her up.
He lifted her up, and then she would struggle no more. Of course not.
Strong arms, a tender voice, a stalwart shoulder to rest her poor lonely
little head upon. The need--the infinite need--of all this for the
aching heart, for the bewildered mind;--the promptings of youth--the
necessity of the moment. What would you have? One understands--unless
one is incapable of understanding anything under the sun. And so she was
content to be lifted up--and held. "You know--Jove! this is serious--no
nonsense in it!" as Jim had whispered hurriedly with a troubled
concerned face on the threshold of his house. I don't know so much about
nonsense, but there was nothing light-hearted in their romance: they
came together under the shadow of a life's disaster, like knight and
maiden meeting to exchange vows amongst haunted ruins. The starlight was
good enough for that story, a light so faint and remote that it cannot
resolve shadows into shapes, and show the other shore of a stream. I
did look upon the stream that night and from the very place; it rolled
silent and as black as Styx: the next day I went away, but I am not
likely to forget what it was she wanted to be saved from when she
entreated him to leave her while there was time. She told me what
it was, calmed--she was now too passionately interested for mere
excitement--in a voice as quiet in the obscurity as her white half-lost
figure. She told me, "I didn't want to die weeping." I thought I had not
heard aright.

'"You did not want to die weeping?" I repeated after her. "Like my
mother," she added readily. The outlines of her white shape did not
stir in the least. "My mother had wept bitterly before she died," she
explained. An inconceivable calmness seemed to have risen from the
ground around us, imperceptibly, like the still rise of a flood in the
night, obliterating the familiar landmarks of emotions. There came
upon me, as though I had felt myself losing my footing in the midst of
waters, a sudden dread, the dread of the unknown depths. She went on
explaining that, during the last moments, being alone with her mother,
she had to leave the side of the couch to go and set her back against
the door, in order to keep Cornelius out. He desired to get in, and
kept on drumming with both fists, only desisting now and again to shout
huskily, "Let me in! Let me in! Let me in!" In a far corner upon a few
mats the moribund woman, already speechless and unable to lift her arm,
rolled her head over, and with a feeble movement of her hand seemed to
command--"No! No!" and the obedient daughter, setting her shoulders with
all her strength against the door, was looking on. "The tears fell from
her eyes--and then she died," concluded the girl in an imperturbable
monotone, which more than anything else, more than the white statuesque
immobility of her person, more than mere words could do, troubled my
mind profoundly with the passive, irremediable horror of the scene. It
had the power to drive me out of my conception of existence, out of
that shelter each of us makes for himself to creep under in moments of
danger, as a tortoise withdraws within its shell. For a moment I had
a view of a world that seemed to wear a vast and dismal aspect of
disorder, while, in truth, thanks to our unwearied efforts, it is
as sunny an arrangement of small conveniences as the mind of man can
conceive. But still--it was only a moment: I went back into my shell
directly. One _must_--don't you know?--though I seemed to have lost all
my words in the chaos of dark thoughts I had contemplated for a second
or two beyond the pale. These came back, too, very soon, for words also
belong to the sheltering conception of light and order which is our
refuge. I had them ready at my disposal before she whispered softly, "He
swore he would never leave me, when we stood there alone! He swore to
me!". . . "And it is possible that you--you! do not believe him?"
I asked, sincerely reproachful, genuinely shocked. Why couldn't she
believe? Wherefore this craving for incertitude, this clinging to fear,
as if incertitude and fear had been the safeguards of her love. It was
monstrous. She should have made for herself a shelter of inexpugnable
peace out of that honest affection. She had not the knowledge--not the
skill perhaps. The night had come on apace; it had grown pitch-dark
where we were, so that without stirring she had faded like the
intangible form of a wistful and perverse spirit. And suddenly I heard
her quiet whisper again, "Other men had sworn the same thing." It was
like a meditative comment on some thoughts full of sadness, of awe. And
she added, still lower if possible, "My father did." She paused the
time to draw an inaudible breath. "Her father too." . . . These were the
things she knew! At once I said, "Ah! but he is not like that." This,
it seemed, she did not intend to dispute; but after a time the strange
still whisper wandering dreamily in the air stole into my ears. "Why
is he different? Is he better? Is he . . ." "Upon my word of honour," I
broke in, "I believe he is." We subdued our tones to a mysterious pitch.
Amongst the huts of Jim's workmen (they were mostly liberated slaves
from the Sherif's stockade) somebody started a shrill, drawling song.
Across the river a big fire (at Doramin's, I think) made a glowing
ball, completely isolated in the night. "Is he more true?" she murmured.
"Yes," I said. "More true than any other man," she repeated in
lingering accents. "Nobody here," I said, "would dream of doubting his
word--nobody would dare--except you."

'I think she made a movement at this. "More brave," she went on in a
changed tone. "Fear will never drive him away from you," I said a little
nervously. The song stopped short on a shrill note, and was succeeded by
several voices talking in the distance. Jim's voice too. I was struck
by her silence. "What has he been telling you? He has been telling you
something?" I asked. There was no answer. "What is it he told you?" I
insisted.

'"Do you think I can tell you? How am I to know? How am I to
understand?" she cried at last. There was a stir. I believe she was
wringing her hands. "There is something he can never forget."

'"So much the better for you," I said gloomily.

'"What is it? What is it?" She put an extraordinary force of appeal into
her supplicating tone. "He says he had been afraid. How can I believe
this? Am I a mad woman to believe this? You all remember something! You
all go back to it. What is it? You tell me! What is this thing? Is it
alive?--is it dead? I hate it. It is cruel. Has it got a face and a
voice--this calamity? Will he see it--will he hear it? In his sleep
perhaps when he cannot see me--and then arise and go. Ah! I shall never
forgive him. My mother had forgiven--but I, never! Will it be a sign--a
call?"

'It was a wonderful experience. She mistrusted his very slumbers--and
she seemed to think I could tell her why! Thus a poor mortal seduced by
the charm of an apparition might have tried to wring from another
ghost the tremendous secret of the claim the other world holds over a
disembodied soul astray amongst the passions of this earth. The very
ground on which I stood seemed to melt under my feet. And it was so
simple too; but if the spirits evoked by our fears and our unrest have
ever to vouch for each other's constancy before the forlorn magicians
that we are, then I--I alone of us dwellers in the flesh--have shuddered
in the hopeless chill of such a task. A sign, a call! How telling in its
expression was her ignorance. A few words! How she came to know them,
how she came to pronounce them, I can't imagine. Women find their
inspiration in the stress of moments that for us are merely awful,
absurd, or futile. To discover that she had a voice at all was enough
to strike awe into the heart. Had a spurned stone cried out in pain it
could not have appeared a greater and more pitiful miracle. These few
sounds wandering in the dark had made their two benighted lives tragic
to my mind. It was impossible to make her understand. I chafed silently
at my impotence. And Jim, too--poor devil! Who would need him? Who would
remember him? He had what he wanted. His very existence probably had
been forgotten by this time. They had mastered their fates. They were
tragic.

'Her immobility before me was clearly expectant, and my part was to
speak for my brother from the realm of forgetful shade. I was deeply
moved at my responsibility and at her distress. I would have given
anything for the power to soothe her frail soul, tormenting itself in
its invincible ignorance like a small bird beating about the cruel
wires of a cage. Nothing easier than to say, Have no fear! Nothing more
difficult. How does one kill fear, I wonder? How do you shoot a spectre
through the heart, slash off its spectral head, take it by its spectral
throat? It is an enterprise you rush into while you dream, and are glad
to make your escape with wet hair and every limb shaking. The bullet is
not run, the blade not forged, the man not born; even the winged words
of truth drop at your feet like lumps of lead. You require for such a
desperate encounter an enchanted and poisoned shaft dipped in a lie too
subtle to be found on earth. An enterprise for a dream, my masters!

'I began my exorcism with a heavy heart, with a sort of sullen anger in
it too. Jim's voice, suddenly raised with a stern intonation, carried
across the courtyard, reproving the carelessness of some dumb sinner by
the river-side. Nothing--I said, speaking in a distinct murmur--there
could be nothing, in that unknown world she fancied so eager to rob her
of her happiness, there was nothing, neither living nor dead, there was
no face, no voice, no power, that could tear Jim from her side. I drew
breath and she whispered softly, "He told me so." "He told you the
truth," I said. "Nothing," she sighed out, and abruptly turned upon me
with a barely audible intensity of tone: "Why did you come to us from
out there? He speaks of you too often. You make me afraid. Do you--do
you want him?" A sort of stealthy fierceness had crept into our hurried
mutters. "I shall never come again," I said bitterly. "And I don't want
him. No one wants him." "No one," she repeated in a tone of doubt. "No
one," I affirmed, feeling myself swayed by some strange excitement. "You
think him strong, wise, courageous, great--why not believe him to be
true too? I shall go to-morrow--and that is the end. You shall never be
troubled by a voice from there again. This world you don't know is too
big to miss him. You understand? Too big. You've got his heart in your
hand. You must feel that. You must know that." "Yes, I know that," she
breathed out, hard and still, as a statue might whisper.

'I felt I had done nothing. And what is it that I had wished to do? I am
not sure now. At the time I was animated by an inexplicable ardour, as
if before some great and necessary task--the influence of the moment
upon my mental and emotional state. There are in all our lives
such moments, such influences, coming from the outside, as it were,
irresistible, incomprehensible--as if brought about by the mysterious
conjunctions of the planets. She owned, as I had put it to her, his
heart. She had that and everything else--if she could only believe it.
What I had to tell her was that in the whole world there was no one who
ever would need his heart, his mind, his hand. It was a common fate, and
yet it seemed an awful thing to say of any man. She listened without
a word, and her stillness now was like the protest of an invincible
unbelief. What need she care for the world beyond the forests? I asked.
From all the multitudes that peopled the vastness of that unknown there
would come, I assured her, as long as he lived, neither a call nor a
sign for him. Never. I was carried away. Never! Never! I remember with
wonder the sort of dogged fierceness I displayed. I had the illusion
of having got the spectre by the throat at last. Indeed the whole real
thing has left behind the detailed and amazing impression of a dream.
Why should she fear? She knew him to be strong, true, wise, brave. He
was all that. Certainly. He was more. He was great--invincible--and the
world did not want him, it had forgotten him, it would not even know
him.

'I stopped; the silence over Patusan was profound, and the feeble dry
sound of a paddle striking the side of a canoe somewhere in the middle
of the river seemed to make it infinite. "Why?" she murmured. I felt
that sort of rage one feels during a hard tussle. The spectre was trying
to slip out of my grasp. "Why?" she repeated louder; "tell me!" And as
I remained confounded, she stamped with her foot like a spoilt child.
"Why? Speak." "You want to know?" I asked in a fury. "Yes!" she cried.
"Because he is not good enough," I said brutally. During the moment's
pause I noticed the fire on the other shore blaze up, dilating the
circle of its glow like an amazed stare, and contract suddenly to a
red pin-point. I only knew how close to me she had been when I felt
the clutch of her fingers on my forearm. Without raising her voice, she
threw into it an infinity of scathing contempt, bitterness, and despair.

'"This is the very thing he said. . . . You lie!"

'The last two words she cried at me in the native dialect. "Hear me
out!" I entreated; she caught her breath tremulously, flung my arm away.
"Nobody, nobody is good enough," I began with the greatest earnestness.
I could hear the sobbing labour of her breath frightfully quickened. I
hung my head. What was the use? Footsteps were approaching; I slipped
away without another word. . . .'



CHAPTER 34


Marlow swung his legs out, got up quickly, and staggered a little, as
though he had been set down after a rush through space. He leaned his
back against the balustrade and faced a disordered array of long cane
chairs. The bodies prone in them seemed startled out of their torpor by
his movement. One or two sat up as if alarmed; here and there a cigar
glowed yet; Marlow looked at them all with the eyes of a man returning
from the excessive remoteness of a dream. A throat was cleared; a calm
voice encouraged negligently, 'Well.'

'Nothing,' said Marlow with a slight start. 'He had told her--that's
all. She did not believe him--nothing more. As to myself, I do not know
whether it be just, proper, decent for me to rejoice or to be sorry. For
my part, I cannot say what I believed--indeed I don't know to this day,
and never shall probably. But what did the poor devil believe himself?
Truth shall prevail--don't you know Magna est veritas el . . . Yes, when
it gets a chance. There is a law, no doubt--and likewise a law regulates
your luck in the throwing of dice. It is not Justice the servant of men,
but accident, hazard, Fortune--the ally of patient Time--that holds an
even and scrupulous balance. Both of us had said the very same thing.
Did we both speak the truth--or one of us did--or neither? . . .'

Marlow paused, crossed his arms on his breast, and in a changed tone--

'She said we lied. Poor soul! Well--let's leave it to Chance, whose ally
is Time, that cannot be hurried, and whose enemy is Death, that will not
wait. I had retreated--a little cowed, I must own. I had tried a fall
with fear itself and got thrown--of course. I had only succeeded in
adding to her anguish the hint of some mysterious collusion, of an
inexplicable and incomprehensible conspiracy to keep her for ever in the
dark. And it had come easily, naturally, unavoidably, by his act, by her
own act! It was as though I had been shown the working of the implacable
destiny of which we are the victims--and the tools. It was appalling
to think of the girl whom I had left standing there motionless; Jim's
footsteps had a fateful sound as he tramped by, without seeing me, in
his heavy laced boots. "What? No lights!" he said in a loud, surprised
voice. "What are you doing in the dark--you two?" Next moment he caught
sight of her, I suppose. "Hallo, girl!" he cried cheerily. "Hallo, boy!"
she answered at once, with amazing pluck.

'This was their usual greeting to each other, and the bit of swagger she
would put into her rather high but sweet voice was very droll, pretty,
and childlike. It delighted Jim greatly. This was the last occasion on
which I heard them exchange this familiar hail, and it struck a chill
into my heart. There was the high sweet voice, the pretty effort, the
swagger; but it all seemed to die out prematurely, and the playful call
sounded like a moan. It was too confoundedly awful. "What have you done
with Marlow?" Jim was asking; and then, "Gone down--has he? Funny I
didn't meet him. . . . You there, Marlow?"

'I didn't answer. I wasn't going in--not yet at any rate. I really
couldn't. While he was calling me I was engaged in making my escape
through a little gate leading out upon a stretch of newly cleared
ground. No; I couldn't face them yet. I walked hastily with lowered head
along a trodden path. The ground rose gently, the few big trees had been
felled, the undergrowth had been cut down and the grass fired. He had a
mind to try a coffee-plantation there. The big hill, rearing its double
summit coal-black in the clear yellow glow of the rising moon, seemed
to cast its shadow upon the ground prepared for that experiment. He was
going to try ever so many experiments; I had admired his energy, his
enterprise, and his shrewdness. Nothing on earth seemed less real now
than his plans, his energy, and his enthusiasm; and raising my eyes, I
saw part of the moon glittering through the bushes at the bottom of the
chasm. For a moment it looked as though the smooth disc, falling from
its place in the sky upon the earth, had rolled to the bottom of that
precipice: its ascending movement was like a leisurely rebound; it
disengaged itself from the tangle of twigs; the bare contorted limb of
some tree, growing on the slope, made a black crack right across its
face. It threw its level rays afar as if from a cavern, and in this
mournful eclipse-like light the stumps of felled trees uprose very dark,
the heavy shadows fell at my feet on all sides, my own moving shadow,
and across my path the shadow of the solitary grave perpetually
garlanded with flowers. In the darkened moonlight the interlaced
blossoms took on shapes foreign to one's memory and colours indefinable
to the eye, as though they had been special flowers gathered by no man,
grown not in this world, and destined for the use of the dead alone.
Their powerful scent hung in the warm air, making it thick and heavy
like the fumes of incense. The lumps of white coral shone round the dark
mound like a chaplet of bleached skulls, and everything around was so
quiet that when I stood still all sound and all movement in the world
seemed to come to an end.

'It was a great peace, as if the earth had been one grave, and for a
time I stood there thinking mostly of the living who, buried in remote
places out of the knowledge of mankind, still are fated to share in its
tragic or grotesque miseries. In its noble struggles too--who knows?
The human heart is vast enough to contain all the world. It is valiant
enough to bear the burden, but where is the courage that would cast it
off?

'I suppose I must have fallen into a sentimental mood; I only know that
I stood there long enough for the sense of utter solitude to get hold
of me so completely that all I had lately seen, all I had heard, and the
very human speech itself, seemed to have passed away out of existence,
living only for a while longer in my memory, as though I had been the
last of mankind. It was a strange and melancholy illusion, evolved
half-consciously like all our illusions, which I suspect only to be
visions of remote unattainable truth, seen dimly. This was, indeed, one
of the lost, forgotten, unknown places of the earth; I had looked under
its obscure surface; and I felt that when to-morrow I had left it for
ever, it would slip out of existence, to live only in my memory till I
myself passed into oblivion. I have that feeling about me now; perhaps
it is that feeling which has incited me to tell you the story, to try to
hand over to you, as it were, its very existence, its reality--the truth
disclosed in a moment of illusion.

'Cornelius broke upon it. He bolted out, vermin-like, from the long
grass growing in a depression of the ground. I believe his house was
rotting somewhere near by, though I've never seen it, not having been
far enough in that direction. He ran towards me upon the path; his feet,
shod in dirty white shoes, twinkled on the dark earth; he pulled himself
up, and began to whine and cringe under a tall stove-pipe hat. His
dried-up little carcass was swallowed up, totally lost, in a suit of
black broadcloth. That was his costume for holidays and ceremonies, and
it reminded me that this was the fourth Sunday I had spent in Patusan.
All the time of my stay I had been vaguely aware of his desire to
confide in me, if he only could get me all to himself. He hung about
with an eager craving look on his sour yellow little face; but his
timidity had kept him back as much as my natural reluctance to have
anything to do with such an unsavoury creature. He would have succeeded,
nevertheless, had he not been so ready to slink off as soon as you
looked at him. He would slink off before Jim's severe gaze, before my
own, which I tried to make indifferent, even before Tamb' Itam's surly,
superior glance. He was perpetually slinking away; whenever seen he was
seen moving off deviously, his face over his shoulder, with either a
mistrustful snarl or a woe-begone, piteous, mute aspect; but no assumed
expression could conceal this innate irremediable abjectness of his
nature, any more than an arrangement of clothing can conceal some
monstrous deformity of the body.

'I don't know whether it was the demoralisation of my utter defeat in
my encounter with a spectre of fear less than an hour ago, but I let
him capture me without even a show of resistance. I was doomed to be
the recipient of confidences, and to be confronted with unanswerable
questions. It was trying; but the contempt, the unreasoned contempt, the
man's appearance provoked, made it easier to bear. He couldn't possibly
matter. Nothing mattered, since I had made up my mind that Jim, for
whom alone I cared, had at last mastered his fate. He had told me he
was satisfied . . . nearly. This is going further than most of us dare.
I--who have the right to think myself good enough--dare not. Neither
does any of you here, I suppose? . . .'

Marlow paused, as if expecting an answer. Nobody spoke.

'Quite right,' he began again. 'Let no soul know, since the truth can be
wrung out of us only by some cruel, little, awful catastrophe. But he
is one of us, and he could say he was satisfied . . . nearly. Just
fancy this! Nearly satisfied. One could almost envy him his catastrophe.
Nearly satisfied. After this nothing could matter. It did not matter who
suspected him, who trusted him, who loved him, who hated him--especially
as it was Cornelius who hated him.

'Yet after all this was a kind of recognition. You shall judge of a man
by his foes as well as by his friends, and this enemy of Jim was such as
no decent man would be ashamed to own, without, however, making too
much of him. This was the view Jim took, and in which I shared; but Jim
disregarded him on general grounds. "My dear Marlow," he said, "I feel
that if I go straight nothing can touch me. Indeed I do. Now you have
been long enough here to have a good look round--and, frankly, don't
you think I am pretty safe? It all depends upon me, and, by Jove! I have
lots of confidence in myself. The worst thing he could do would be to
kill me, I suppose. I don't think for a moment he would. He couldn't,
you know--not if I were myself to hand him a loaded rifle for the
purpose, and then turn my back on him. That's the sort of thing he is.
And suppose he would--suppose he could? Well--what of that? I didn't
come here flying for my life--did I? I came here to set my back against
the wall, and I am going to stay here . . ."

'"Till you are _quite_ satisfied," I struck in.

'We were sitting at the time under the roof in the stern of his boat;
twenty paddles flashed like one, ten on a side, striking the water with
a single splash, while behind our backs Tamb' Itam dipped silently right
and left, and stared right down the river, attentive to keep the long
canoe in the greatest strength of the current. Jim bowed his head, and
our last talk seemed to flicker out for good. He was seeing me off as
far as the mouth of the river. The schooner had left the day before,
working down and drifting on the ebb, while I had prolonged my stay
overnight. And now he was seeing me off.

'Jim had been a little angry with me for mentioning Cornelius at all.
I had not, in truth, said much. The man was too insignificant to be
dangerous, though he was as full of hate as he could hold. He had called
me "honourable sir" at every second sentence, and had whined at my elbow
as he followed me from the grave of his "late wife" to the gate of Jim's
compound. He declared himself the most unhappy of men, a victim, crushed
like a worm; he entreated me to look at him. I wouldn't turn my head to
do so; but I could see out of the corner of my eye his obsequious shadow
gliding after mine, while the moon, suspended on our right hand, seemed
to gloat serenely upon the spectacle. He tried to explain--as I've told
you--his share in the events of the memorable night. It was a matter of
expediency. How could he know who was going to get the upper hand? "I
would have saved him, honourable sir! I would have saved him for eighty
dollars," he protested in dulcet tones, keeping a pace behind me. "He
has saved himself," I said, "and he has forgiven you." I heard a sort of
tittering, and turned upon him; at once he appeared ready to take to his
heels. "What are you laughing at?" I asked, standing still. "Don't be
deceived, honourable sir!" he shrieked, seemingly losing all control
over his feelings. "_He_ save himself! He knows nothing, honourable
sir--nothing whatever. Who is he? What does he want here--the big thief?
What does he want here? He throws dust into everybody's eyes; he throws
dust into your eyes, honourable sir; but he can't throw dust into my
eyes. He is a big fool, honourable sir." I laughed contemptuously, and,
turning on my heel, began to walk on again. He ran up to my elbow and
whispered forcibly, "He's no more than a little child here--like a
little child--a little child." Of course I didn't take the slightest
notice, and seeing the time pressed, because we were approaching the
bamboo fence that glittered over the blackened ground of the clearing,
he came to the point. He commenced by being abjectly lachrymose. His
great misfortunes had affected his head. He hoped I would kindly forget
what nothing but his troubles made him say. He didn't mean anything
by it; only the honourable sir did not know what it was to be ruined,
broken down, trampled upon. After this introduction he approached the
matter near his heart, but in such a rambling, ejaculatory, craven
fashion, that for a long time I couldn't make out what he was driving
at. He wanted me to intercede with Jim in his favour. It seemed, too,
to be some sort of money affair. I heard time and again the words,
"Moderate provision--suitable present." He seemed to be claiming value
for something, and he even went the length of saying with some warmth
that life was not worth having if a man were to be robbed of everything.
I did not breathe a word, of course, but neither did I stop my ears.
The gist of the affair, which became clear to me gradually, was in this,
that he regarded himself as entitled to some money in exchange for the
girl. He had brought her up. Somebody else's child. Great trouble and
pains--old man now--suitable present. If the honourable sir would say
a word. . . . I stood still to look at him with curiosity, and fearful
lest I should think him extortionate, I suppose, he hastily brought
himself to make a concession. In consideration of a "suitable present"
given at once, he would, he declared, be willing to undertake the charge
of the girl, "without any other provision--when the time came for the
gentleman to go home." His little yellow face, all crumpled as though it
had been squeezed together, expressed the most anxious, eager avarice.
His voice whined coaxingly, "No more trouble--natural guardian--a sum of
money . . ."

'I stood there and marvelled. That kind of thing, with him, was
evidently a vocation. I discovered suddenly in his cringing attitude
a sort of assurance, as though he had been all his life dealing in
certitudes. He must have thought I was dispassionately considering his
proposal, because he became as sweet as honey. "Every gentleman made
a provision when the time came to go home," he began insinuatingly. I
slammed the little gate. "In this case, Mr. Cornelius," I said, "the
time will never come." He took a few seconds to gather this in. "What!"
he fairly squealed. "Why," I continued from my side of the gate,
"haven't you heard him say so himself? He will never go home." "Oh! this
is too much," he shouted. He would not address me as "honoured sir" any
more. He was very still for a time, and then without a trace of humility
began very low: "Never go--ah! He--he--he comes here devil knows
from where--comes here--devil knows why--to trample on me till I
die--ah--trample" (he stamped softly with both feet), "trample like
this--nobody knows why--till I die. . . ." His voice became quite
extinct; he was bothered by a little cough; he came up close to the
fence and told me, dropping into a confidential and piteous tone,
that he would not be trampled upon. "Patience--patience," he muttered,
striking his breast. I had done laughing at him, but unexpectedly he
treated me to a wild cracked burst of it. "Ha! ha! ha! We shall see! We
shall see! What! Steal from me! Steal from me everything! Everything!
Everything!" His head drooped on one shoulder, his hands were hanging
before him lightly clasped. One would have thought he had cherished
the girl with surpassing love, that his spirit had been crushed and his
heart broken by the most cruel of spoliations. Suddenly he lifted his
head and shot out an infamous word. "Like her mother--she is like her
deceitful mother. Exactly. In her face, too. In her face. The devil!"
He leaned his forehead against the fence, and in that position
uttered threats and horrible blasphemies in Portuguese in very weak
ejaculations, mingled with miserable plaints and groans, coming out with
a heave of the shoulders as though he had been overtaken by a deadly fit
of sickness. It was an inexpressibly grotesque and vile performance,
and I hastened away. He tried to shout something after me. Some
disparagement of Jim, I believe--not too loud though, we were too near
the house. All I heard distinctly was, "No more than a little child--a
little child."'



CHAPTER 35


'But next morning, at the first bend of the river shutting off the
houses of Patusan, all this dropped out of my sight bodily, with its
colour, its design, and its meaning, like a picture created by fancy on
a canvas, upon which, after long contemplation, you turn your back for
the last time. It remains in the memory motionless, unfaded, with its
life arrested, in an unchanging light. There are the ambitions, the
fears, the hate, the hopes, and they remain in my mind just as I had
seen them--intense and as if for ever suspended in their expression. I
had turned away from the picture and was going back to the world where
events move, men change, light flickers, life flows in a clear stream,
no matter whether over mud or over stones. I wasn't going to dive into
it; I would have enough to do to keep my head above the surface. But
as to what I was leaving behind, I cannot imagine any alteration. The
immense and magnanimous Doramin and his little motherly witch of a
wife, gazing together upon the land and nursing secretly their dreams
of parental ambition; Tunku Allang, wizened and greatly perplexed;
Dain Waris, intelligent and brave, with his faith in Jim, with his
firm glance and his ironic friendliness; the girl, absorbed in her
frightened, suspicious adoration; Tamb' Itam, surly and faithful;
Cornelius, leaning his forehead against the fence under the moonlight--I
am certain of them. They exist as if under an enchanter's wand. But the
figure round which all these are grouped--that one lives, and I am not
certain of him. No magician's wand can immobilise him under my eyes. He
is one of us.

'Jim, as I've told you, accompanied me on the first stage of my journey
back to the world he had renounced, and the way at times seemed to
lead through the very heart of untouched wilderness. The empty reaches
sparkled under the high sun; between the high walls of vegetation the
heat drowsed upon the water, and the boat, impelled vigorously, cut her
way through the air that seemed to have settled dense and warm under the
shelter of lofty trees.

'The shadow of the impending separation had already put an immense space
between us, and when we spoke it was with an effort, as if to force our
low voices across a vast and increasing distance. The boat fairly flew;
we sweltered side by side in the stagnant superheated air; the smell of
mud, of mush, the primeval smell of fecund earth, seemed to sting our
faces; till suddenly at a bend it was as if a great hand far away had
lifted a heavy curtain, had flung open un immense portal. The light
itself seemed to stir, the sky above our heads widened, a far-off murmur
reached our ears, a freshness enveloped us, filled our lungs, quickened
our thoughts, our blood, our regrets--and, straight ahead, the forests
sank down against the dark-blue ridge of the sea.

'I breathed deeply, I revelled in the vastness of the opened horizon, in
the different atmosphere that seemed to vibrate with the toil of life,
with the energy of an impeccable world. This sky and this sea were open
to me. The girl was right--there was a sign, a call in them--something
to which I responded with every fibre of my being. I let my eyes roam
through space, like a man released from bonds who stretches his cramped
limbs, runs, leaps, responds to the inspiring elation of freedom. "This
is glorious!" I cried, and then I looked at the sinner by my side. He
sat with his head sunk on his breast and said "Yes," without raising his
eyes, as if afraid to see writ large on the clear sky of the offing the
reproach of his romantic conscience.

'I remember the smallest details of that afternoon. We landed on a bit
of white beach. It was backed by a low cliff wooded on the brow, draped
in creepers to the very foot. Below us the plain of the sea, of a serene
and intense blue, stretched with a slight upward tilt to the thread-like
horizon drawn at the height of our eyes. Great waves of glitter blew
lightly along the pitted dark surface, as swift as feathers chased by
the breeze. A chain of islands sat broken and massive facing the wide
estuary, displayed in a sheet of pale glassy water reflecting faithfully
the contour of the shore. High in the colourless sunshine a solitary
bird, all black, hovered, dropping and soaring above the same spot with
a slight rocking motion of the wings. A ragged, sooty bunch of flimsy
mat hovels was perched over its own inverted image upon a crooked
multitude of high piles the colour of ebony. A tiny black canoe put off
from amongst them with two tiny men, all black, who toiled exceedingly,
striking down at the pale water: and the canoe seemed to slide painfully
on a mirror. This bunch of miserable hovels was the fishing village
that boasted of the white lord's especial protection, and the two men
crossing over were the old headman and his son-in-law. They landed
and walked up to us on the white sand, lean, dark-brown as if dried
in smoke, with ashy patches on the skin of their naked shoulders
and breasts. Their heads were bound in dirty but carefully folded
headkerchiefs, and the old man began at once to state a complaint,
voluble, stretching a lank arm, screwing up at Jim his old bleared eyes
confidently. The Rajah's people would not leave them alone; there had
been some trouble about a lot of turtles' eggs his people had collected
on the islets there--and leaning at arm's-length upon his paddle, he
pointed with a brown skinny hand over the sea. Jim listened for a time
without looking up, and at last told him gently to wait. He would hear
him by-and-by. They withdrew obediently to some little distance, and sat
on their heels, with their paddles lying before them on the sand; the
silvery gleams in their eyes followed our movements patiently; and the
immensity of the outspread sea, the stillness of the coast, passing
north and south beyond the limits of my vision, made up one colossal
Presence watching us four dwarfs isolated on a strip of glistening sand.

'"The trouble is," remarked Jim moodily, "that for generations these
beggars of fishermen in that village there had been considered as the
Rajah's personal slaves--and the old rip can't get it into his head that
. . ."

'He paused. "That you have changed all that," I said.

'"Yes I've changed all that," he muttered in a gloomy voice.

'"You have had your opportunity," I pursued.

'"Have I?" he said. "Well, yes. I suppose so. Yes. I have got back my
confidence in myself--a good name--yet sometimes I wish . . . No! I
shall hold what I've got. Can't expect anything more." He flung his arm
out towards the sea. "Not out there anyhow." He stamped his foot upon
the sand. "This is my limit, because nothing less will do."

'We continued pacing the beach. "Yes, I've changed all that," he went
on, with a sidelong glance at the two patient squatting fishermen; "but
only try to think what it would be if I went away. Jove! can't you see
it? Hell loose. No! To-morrow I shall go and take my chance of drinking
that silly old Tunku Allang's coffee, and I shall make no end of fuss
over these rotten turtles' eggs. No. I can't say--enough. Never. I must
go on, go on for ever holding up my end, to feel sure that nothing can
touch me. I must stick to their belief in me to feel safe and to--to"
. . . He cast about for a word, seemed to look for it on the sea . . .
"to keep in touch with" . . . His voice sank suddenly to a murmur . . .
"with those whom, perhaps, I shall never see any more. With--with--you,
for instance."

'I was profoundly humbled by his words. "For God's sake," I said, "don't
set me up, my dear fellow; just look to yourself." I felt a gratitude,
an affection, for that straggler whose eyes had singled me out, keeping
my place in the ranks of an insignificant multitude. How little that
was to boast of, after all! I turned my burning face away; under the
low sun, glowing, darkened and crimson, like un ember snatched from the
fire, the sea lay outspread, offering all its immense stillness to the
approach of the fiery orb. Twice he was going to speak, but checked
himself; at last, as if he had found a formula--

'"I shall be faithful," he said quietly. "I shall be faithful," he
repeated, without looking at me, but for the first time letting his eyes
wander upon the waters, whose blueness had changed to a gloomy purple
under the fires of sunset. Ah! he was romantic, romantic. I recalled
some words of Stein's. . . . "In the destructive element immerse! . . .
To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream--and
so--always--usque ad finem . . ." He was romantic, but none the
less true. Who could tell what forms, what visions, what faces, what
forgiveness he could see in the glow of the west! . . . A small boat,
leaving the schooner, moved slowly, with a regular beat of two oars,
towards the sandbank to take me off. "And then there's Jewel," he said,
out of the great silence of earth, sky, and sea, which had mastered my
very thoughts so that his voice made me start. "There's Jewel." "Yes,"
I murmured. "I need not tell you what she is to me," he pursued.
"You've seen. In time she will come to understand . . ." "I hope so," I
interrupted. "She trusts me, too," he mused, and then changed his tone.
"When shall we meet next, I wonder?" he said.

'"Never--unless you come out," I answered, avoiding his glance. He
didn't seem to be surprised; he kept very quiet for a while.

'"Good-bye, then," he said, after a pause. "Perhaps it's just as well."

'We shook hands, and I walked to the boat, which waited with her nose
on the beach. The schooner, her mainsail set and jib-sheet to windward,
curveted on the purple sea; there was a rosy tinge on her sails. "Will
you be going home again soon?" asked Jim, just as I swung my leg over
the gunwale. "In a year or so if I live," I said. The forefoot grated on
the sand, the boat floated, the wet oars flashed and dipped once, twice.
Jim, at the water's edge, raised his voice. "Tell them . . ." he began.
I signed to the men to cease rowing, and waited in wonder. Tell who? The
half-submerged sun faced him; I could see its red gleam in his eyes that
looked dumbly at me. . . . "No--nothing," he said, and with a slight
wave of his hand motioned the boat away. I did not look again at the
shore till I had clambered on board the schooner.

'By that time the sun had set. The twilight lay over the east, and the
coast, turned black, extended infinitely its sombre wall that seemed the
very stronghold of the night; the western horizon was one great blaze of
gold and crimson in which a big detached cloud floated dark and still,
casting a slaty shadow on the water beneath, and I saw Jim on the beach
watching the schooner fall off and gather headway.

'The two half-naked fishermen had arisen as soon as I had gone; they
were no doubt pouring the plaint of their trifling, miserable, oppressed
lives into the ears of the white lord, and no doubt he was listening to
it, making it his own, for was it not a part of his luck--the luck "from
the word Go"--the luck to which he had assured me he was so completely
equal? They, too, I should think, were in luck, and I was sure their
pertinacity would be equal to it. Their dark-skinned bodies vanished on
the dark background long before I had lost sight of their protector. He
was white from head to foot, and remained persistently visible with
the stronghold of the night at his back, the sea at his feet, the
opportunity by his side--still veiled. What do you say? Was it still
veiled? I don't know. For me that white figure in the stillness of coast
and sea seemed to stand at the heart of a vast enigma. The twilight
was ebbing fast from the sky above his head, the strip of sand had sunk
already under his feet, he himself appeared no bigger than a child--then
only a speck, a tiny white speck, that seemed to catch all the light
left in a darkened world. . . . And, suddenly, I lost him. . . .



CHAPTER 36


With these words Marlow had ended his narrative, and his audience had
broken up forthwith, under his abstract, pensive gaze. Men drifted off
the verandah in pairs or alone without loss of time, without offering
a remark, as if the last image of that incomplete story, its
incompleteness itself, and the very tone of the speaker, had made
discussion in vain and comment impossible. Each of them seemed to carry
away his own impression, to carry it away with him like a secret; but
there was only one man of all these listeners who was ever to hear the
last word of the story. It came to him at home, more than two years
later, and it came contained in a thick packet addressed in Marlow's
upright and angular handwriting.

The privileged man opened the packet, looked in, then, laying it down,
went to the window. His rooms were in the highest flat of a lofty
building, and his glance could travel afar beyond the clear panes of
glass, as though he were looking out of the lantern of a lighthouse.
The slopes of the roofs glistened, the dark broken ridges succeeded each
other without end like sombre, uncrested waves, and from the depths of
the town under his feet ascended a confused and unceasing mutter. The
spires of churches, numerous, scattered haphazard, uprose like beacons
on a maze of shoals without a channel; the driving rain mingled with the
falling dusk of a winter's evening; and the booming of a big clock on a
tower, striking the hour, rolled past in voluminous, austere bursts
of sound, with a shrill vibrating cry at the core. He drew the heavy
curtains.

The light of his shaded reading-lamp slept like a sheltered pool, his
footfalls made no sound on the carpet, his wandering days were over. No
more horizons as boundless as hope, no more twilights within the forests
as solemn as temples, in the hot quest for the Ever-undiscovered
Country over the hill, across the stream, beyond the wave. The hour
was striking! No more! No more!--but the opened packet under the lamp
brought back the sounds, the visions, the very savour of the past--a
multitude of fading faces, a tumult of low voices, dying away upon the
shores of distant seas under a passionate and unconsoling sunshine. He
sighed and sat down to read.

At first he saw three distinct enclosures. A good many pages closely
blackened and pinned together; a loose square sheet of greyish paper
with a few words traced in a handwriting he had never seen before, and
an explanatory letter from Marlow. From this last fell another letter,
yellowed by time and frayed on the folds. He picked it up and, laying it
aside, turned to Marlow's message, ran swiftly over the opening lines,
and, checking himself, thereafter read on deliberately, like one
approaching with slow feet and alert eyes the glimpse of an undiscovered
country.

'. . . I don't suppose you've forgotten,' went on the letter. 'You alone
have showed an interest in him that survived the telling of his story,
though I remember well you would not admit he had mastered his fate.
You prophesied for him the disaster of weariness and of disgust with
acquired honour, with the self-appointed task, with the love sprung from
pity and youth. You had said you knew so well "that kind of thing," its
illusory satisfaction, its unavoidable deception. You said also--I call
to mind--that "giving your life up to them" (them meaning all of mankind
with skins brown, yellow, or black in colour) "was like selling your
soul to a brute." You contended that "that kind of thing" was only
endurable and enduring when based on a firm conviction in the truth of
ideas racially our own, in whose name are established the order, the
morality of an ethical progress. "We want its strength at our backs,"
you had said. "We want a belief in its necessity and its justice, to
make a worthy and conscious sacrifice of our lives. Without it the
sacrifice is only forgetfulness, the way of offering is no better than
the way to perdition." In other words, you maintained that we must fight
in the ranks or our lives don't count. Possibly! You ought to know--be
it said without malice--you who have rushed into one or two places
single-handed and came out cleverly, without singeing your wings. The
point, however, is that of all mankind Jim had no dealings but with
himself, and the question is whether at the last he had not confessed to
a faith mightier than the laws of order and progress.

'I affirm nothing. Perhaps you may pronounce--after you've read. There
is much truth--after all--in the common expression "under a cloud." It
is impossible to see him clearly--especially as it is through the eyes
of others that we take our last look at him. I have no hesitation in
imparting to you all I know of the last episode that, as he used to say,
had "come to him." One wonders whether this was perhaps that supreme
opportunity, that last and satisfying test for which I had always
suspected him to be waiting, before he could frame a message to the
impeccable world. You remember that when I was leaving him for the last
time he had asked whether I would be going home soon, and suddenly cried
after me, "Tell them . . ." I had waited--curious I'll own, and hopeful
too--only to hear him shout, "No--nothing." That was all then--and there
will be nothing more; there will be no message, unless such as each of
us can interpret for himself from the language of facts, that are so
often more enigmatic than the craftiest arrangement of words. He made,
it is true, one more attempt to deliver himself; but that too failed, as
you may perceive if you look at the sheet of greyish foolscap enclosed
here. He had tried to write; do you notice the commonplace hand? It is
headed "The Fort, Patusan." I suppose he had carried out his intention
of making out of his house a place of defence. It was an excellent plan:
a deep ditch, an earth wall topped by a palisade, and at the angles
guns mounted on platforms to sweep each side of the square. Doramin had
agreed to furnish him the guns; and so each man of his party would know
there was a place of safety, upon which every faithful partisan could
rally in case of some sudden danger. All this showed his judicious
foresight, his faith in the future. What he called "my own people"--the
liberated captives of the Sherif--were to make a distinct quarter of
Patusan, with their huts and little plots of ground under the walls of
the stronghold. Within he would be an invincible host in himself "The
Fort, Patusan." No date, as you observe. What is a number and a name to
a day of days? It is also impossible to say whom he had in his mind when
he seized the pen: Stein--myself--the world at large--or was this only
the aimless startled cry of a solitary man confronted by his fate? "An
awful thing has happened," he wrote before he flung the pen down for the
first time; look at the ink blot resembling the head of an arrow under
these words. After a while he had tried again, scrawling heavily, as if
with a hand of lead, another line. "I must now at once . . ." The pen
had spluttered, and that time he gave it up. There's nothing more;
he had seen a broad gulf that neither eye nor voice could span. I
can understand this. He was overwhelmed by the inexplicable; he was
overwhelmed by his own personality--the gift of that destiny which he
had done his best to master.

'I send you also an old letter--a very old letter. It was found
carefully preserved in his writing-case. It is from his father, and
by the date you can see he must have received it a few days before he
joined the Patna. Thus it must be the last letter he ever had from home.
He had treasured it all these years. The good old parson fancied his
sailor son. I've looked in at a sentence here and there. There is
nothing in it except just affection. He tells his "dear James" that the
last long letter from him was very "honest and entertaining." He would
not have him "judge men harshly or hastily." There are four pages of it,
easy morality and family news. Tom had "taken orders." Carrie's husband
had "money losses." The old chap goes on equably trusting Providence and
the established order of the universe, but alive to its small dangers
and its small mercies. One can almost see him, grey-haired and serene in
the inviolable shelter of his book-lined, faded, and comfortable study,
where for forty years he had conscientiously gone over and over again
the round of his little thoughts about faith and virtue, about the
conduct of life and the only proper manner of dying; where he had
written so many sermons, where he sits talking to his boy, over there,
on the other side of the earth. But what of the distance? Virtue is one
all over the world, and there is only one faith, one conceivable conduct
of life, one manner of dying. He hopes his "dear James" will never
forget that "who once gives way to temptation, in the very instant
hazards his total depravity and everlasting ruin. Therefore resolve
fixedly never, through any possible motives, to do anything which you
believe to be wrong." There is also some news of a favourite dog; and a
pony, "which all you boys used to ride," had gone blind from old age and
had to be shot. The old chap invokes Heaven's blessing; the mother and
all the girls then at home send their love. . . . No, there is nothing
much in that yellow frayed letter fluttering out of his cherishing
grasp after so many years. It was never answered, but who can say what
converse he may have held with all these placid, colourless forms of men
and women peopling that quiet corner of the world as free of danger
or strife as a tomb, and breathing equably the air of undisturbed
rectitude. It seems amazing that he should belong to it, he to whom so
many things "had come." Nothing ever came to them; they would never be
taken unawares, and never be called upon to grapple with fate. Here they
all are, evoked by the mild gossip of the father, all these brothers
and sisters, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, gazing with clear
unconscious eyes, while I seem to see him, returned at last, no longer
a mere white speck at the heart of an immense mystery, but of full
stature, standing disregarded amongst their untroubled shapes, with a
stern and romantic aspect, but always mute, dark--under a cloud.

'The story of the last events you will find in the few pages enclosed
here. You must admit that it is romantic beyond the wildest dreams
of his boyhood, and yet there is to my mind a sort of profound and
terrifying logic in it, as if it were our imagination alone that could
set loose upon us the might of an overwhelming destiny. The imprudence
of our thoughts recoils upon our heads; who toys with the sword shall
perish by the sword. This astounding adventure, of which the most
astounding part is that it is true, comes on as an unavoidable
consequence. Something of the sort had to happen. You repeat this to
yourself while you marvel that such a thing could happen in the year of
grace before last. But it has happened--and there is no disputing its
logic.

'I put it down here for you as though I had been an eyewitness. My
information was fragmentary, but I've fitted the pieces together, and
there is enough of them to make an intelligible picture. I wonder how
he would have related it himself. He has confided so much in me that at
times it seems as though he must come in presently and tell the story
in his own words, in his careless yet feeling voice, with his offhand
manner, a little puzzled, a little bothered, a little hurt, but now and
then by a word or a phrase giving one of these glimpses of his very
own self that were never any good for purposes of orientation. It's
difficult to believe he will never come. I shall never hear his voice
again, nor shall I see his smooth tan-and-pink face with a white line
on the forehead, and the youthful eyes darkened by excitement to a
profound, unfathomable blue.'



CHAPTER 37


'It all begins with a remarkable exploit of a man called Brown, who
stole with complete success a Spanish schooner out of a small bay near
Zamboanga. Till I discovered the fellow my information was incomplete,
but most unexpectedly I did come upon him a few hours before he gave up
his arrogant ghost. Fortunately he was willing and able to talk between
the choking fits of asthma, and his racked body writhed with malicious
exultation at the bare thought of Jim. He exulted thus at the idea that
he had "paid out the stuck-up beggar after all." He gloated over his
action. I had to bear the sunken glare of his fierce crow-footed eyes if
I wanted to know; and so I bore it, reflecting how much certain forms
of evil are akin to madness, derived from intense egoism, inflamed by
resistance, tearing the soul to pieces, and giving factitious vigour to
the body. The story also reveals unsuspected depths of cunning in the
wretched Cornelius, whose abject and intense hate acts like a subtle
inspiration, pointing out an unerring way towards revenge.

'"I could see directly I set my eyes on him what sort of a fool he was,"
gasped the dying Brown. "He a man! Hell! He was a hollow sham. As if he
couldn't have said straight out, 'Hands off my plunder!' blast him! That
would have been like a man! Rot his superior soul! He had me there--but
he hadn't devil enough in him to make an end of me. Not he! A thing like
that letting me off as if I wasn't worth a kick! . . ." Brown struggled
desperately for breath. . . . "Fraud. . . . Letting me off. . . . And
so I did make an end of him after all. . . ." He choked again. . . . "I
expect this thing'll kill me, but I shall die easy now. You . . . you
here . . . I don't know your name--I would give you a five-pound note
if--if I had it--for the news--or my name's not Brown. . . ." He grinned
horribly. . . . "Gentleman Brown."

'He said all these things in profound gasps, staring at me with his
yellow eyes out of a long, ravaged, brown face; he jerked his left arm;
a pepper-and-salt matted beard hung almost into his lap; a dirty ragged
blanket covered his legs. I had found him out in Bankok through that
busybody Schomberg, the hotel-keeper, who had, confidentially, directed
me where to look. It appears that a sort of loafing, fuddled vagabond--a
white man living amongst the natives with a Siamese woman--had
considered it a great privilege to give a shelter to the last days of
the famous Gentleman Brown. While he was talking to me in the wretched
hovel, and, as it were, fighting for every minute of his life, the
Siamese woman, with big bare legs and a stupid coarse face, sat in a
dark corner chewing betel stolidly. Now and then she would get up for
the purpose of shooing a chicken away from the door. The whole hut shook
when she walked. An ugly yellow child, naked and pot-bellied like a
little heathen god, stood at the foot of the couch, finger in mouth,
lost in a profound and calm contemplation of the dying man.

'He talked feverishly; but in the middle of a word, perhaps, an
invisible hand would take him by the throat, and he would look at me
dumbly with an expression of doubt and anguish. He seemed to fear that
I would get tired of waiting and go away, leaving him with his tale
untold, with his exultation unexpressed. He died during the night, I
believe, but by that time I had nothing more to learn.

'So much as to Brown, for the present.

'Eight months before this, coming into Samarang, I went as usual to see
Stein. On the garden side of the house a Malay on the verandah greeted
me shyly, and I remembered that I had seen him in Patusan, in Jim's
house, amongst other Bugis men who used to come in the evening to talk
interminably over their war reminiscences and to discuss State affairs.
Jim had pointed him out to me once as a respectable petty trader owning
a small seagoing native craft, who had showed himself "one of the best
at the taking of the stockade." I was not very surprised to see him,
since any Patusan trader venturing as far as Samarang would naturally
find his way to Stein's house. I returned his greeting and passed on. At
the door of Stein's room I came upon another Malay in whom I recognised
Tamb' Itam.

'I asked him at once what he was doing there; it occurred to me that
Jim might have come on a visit. I own I was pleased and excited at the
thought. Tamb' Itam looked as if he did not know what to say. "Is Tuan
Jim inside?" I asked impatiently. "No," he mumbled, hanging his head
for a moment, and then with sudden earnestness, "He would not fight. He
would not fight," he repeated twice. As he seemed unable to say anything
else, I pushed him aside and went in.

'Stein, tall and stooping, stood alone in the middle of the room between
the rows of butterfly cases. "Ach! is it you, my friend?" he said
sadly, peering through his glasses. A drab sack-coat of alpaca hung,
unbuttoned, down to his knees. He had a Panama hat on his head, and
there were deep furrows on his pale cheeks. "What's the matter now?"
I asked nervously. "There's Tamb' Itam there. . . ." "Come and see the
girl. Come and see the girl. She is here," he said, with a half-hearted
show of activity. I tried to detain him, but with gentle obstinacy he
would take no notice of my eager questions. "She is here, she is here,"
he repeated, in great perturbation. "They came here two days ago. An old
man like me, a stranger--sehen Sie--cannot do much. . . . Come this way.
. . . Young hearts are unforgiving. . . ." I could see he was in utmost
distress. . . . "The strength of life in them, the cruel strength of
life. . . ." He mumbled, leading me round the house; I followed him,
lost in dismal and angry conjectures. At the door of the drawing-room he
barred my way. "He loved her very much," he said interrogatively, and
I only nodded, feeling so bitterly disappointed that I would not trust
myself to speak. "Very frightful," he murmured. "She can't understand
me. I am only a strange old man. Perhaps you . . . she knows you. Talk
to her. We can't leave it like this. Tell her to forgive him. It was
very frightful." "No doubt," I said, exasperated at being in the dark;
"but have you forgiven him?" He looked at me queerly. "You shall hear,"
he said, and opening the door, absolutely pushed me in.

'You know Stein's big house and the two immense reception-rooms,
uninhabited and uninhabitable, clean, full of solitude and of shining
things that look as if never beheld by the eye of man? They are cool
on the hottest days, and you enter them as you would a scrubbed cave
underground. I passed through one, and in the other I saw the girl
sitting at the end of a big mahogany table, on which she rested her
head, the face hidden in her arms. The waxed floor reflected her dimly
as though it had been a sheet of frozen water. The rattan screens were
down, and through the strange greenish gloom made by the foliage of the
trees outside a strong wind blew in gusts, swaying the long draperies
of windows and doorways. Her white figure seemed shaped in snow; the
pendent crystals of a great chandelier clicked above her head like
glittering icicles. She looked up and watched my approach. I was chilled
as if these vast apartments had been the cold abode of despair.

'She recognised me at once, and as soon as I had stopped, looking down
at her: "He has left me," she said quietly; "you always leave us--for
your own ends." Her face was set. All the heat of life seemed withdrawn
within some inaccessible spot in her breast. "It would have been easy to
die with him," she went on, and made a slight weary gesture as if giving
up the incomprehensible. "He would not! It was like a blindness--and yet
it was I who was speaking to him; it was I who stood before his eyes;
it was at me that he looked all the time! Ah! you are hard, treacherous,
without truth, without compassion. What makes you so wicked? Or is it
that you are all mad?"

'I took her hand; it did not respond, and when I dropped it, it hung
down to the floor. That indifference, more awful than tears, cries, and
reproaches, seemed to defy time and consolation. You felt that nothing
you could say would reach the seat of the still and benumbing pain.

'Stein had said, "You shall hear." I did hear. I heard it all, listening
with amazement, with awe, to the tones of her inflexible weariness.
She could not grasp the real sense of what she was telling me, and her
resentment filled me with pity for her--for him too. I stood rooted to
the spot after she had finished. Leaning on her arm, she stared with
hard eyes, and the wind passed in gusts, the crystals kept on clicking
in the greenish gloom. She went on whispering to herself: "And yet he
was looking at me! He could see my face, hear my voice, hear my grief!
When I used to sit at his feet, with my cheek against his knee and his
hand on my head, the curse of cruelty and madness was already within
him, waiting for the day. The day came! . . . and before the sun had
set he could not see me any more--he was made blind and deaf and without
pity, as you all are. He shall have no tears from me. Never, never. Not
one tear. I will not! He went away from me as if I had been worse than
death. He fled as if driven by some accursed thing he had heard or seen
in his sleep. . . ."

'Her steady eyes seemed to strain after the shape of a man torn out of
her arms by the strength of a dream. She made no sign to my silent bow.
I was glad to escape.

'I saw her once again, the same afternoon. On leaving her I had gone
in search of Stein, whom I could not find indoors; and I wandered out,
pursued by distressful thoughts, into the gardens, those famous gardens
of Stein, in which you can find every plant and tree of tropical
lowlands. I followed the course of the canalised stream, and sat for
a long time on a shaded bench near the ornamental pond, where some
waterfowl with clipped wings were diving and splashing noisily. The
branches of casuarina trees behind me swayed lightly, incessantly,
reminding me of the soughing of fir trees at home.

'This mournful and restless sound was a fit accompaniment to my
meditations. She had said he had been driven away from her by a
dream,--and there was no answer one could make her--there seemed to be
no forgiveness for such a transgression. And yet is not mankind itself,
pushing on its blind way, driven by a dream of its greatness and
its power upon the dark paths of excessive cruelty and of excessive
devotion? And what is the pursuit of truth, after all?

'When I rose to get back to the house I caught sight of Stein's drab
coat through a gap in the foliage, and very soon at a turn of the path
I came upon him walking with the girl. Her little hand rested on his
forearm, and under the broad, flat rim of his Panama hat he bent over
her, grey-haired, paternal, with compassionate and chivalrous deference.
I stood aside, but they stopped, facing me. His gaze was bent on the
ground at his feet; the girl, erect and slight on his arm, stared
sombrely beyond my shoulder with black, clear, motionless eyes.
"Schrecklich," he murmured. "Terrible! Terrible! What can one do?" He
seemed to be appealing to me, but her youth, the length of the days
suspended over her head, appealed to me more; and suddenly, even as I
realised that nothing could be said, I found myself pleading his cause
for her sake. "You must forgive him," I concluded, and my own voice
seemed to me muffled, lost in un irresponsive deaf immensity. "We all
want to be forgiven," I added after a while.

'"What have I done?" she asked with her lips only.

'"You always mistrusted him," I said.

'"He was like the others," she pronounced slowly.

'"Not like the others," I protested, but she continued evenly, without
any feeling--

'"He was false." And suddenly Stein broke in. "No! no! no! My poor
child! . . ." He patted her hand lying passively on his sleeve. "No! no!
Not false! True! True! True!" He tried to look into her stony face. "You
don't understand. Ach! Why you do not understand? . . . Terrible," he
said to me. "Some day she _shall_ understand."

'"Will you explain?" I asked, looking hard at him. They moved on.

'I watched them. Her gown trailed on the path, her black hair fell
loose. She walked upright and light by the side of the tall man, whose
long shapeless coat hung in perpendicular folds from the stooping
shoulders, whose feet moved slowly. They disappeared beyond that
spinney (you may remember) where sixteen different kinds of bamboo grow
together, all distinguishable to the learned eye. For my part, I was
fascinated by the exquisite grace and beauty of that fluted grove,
crowned with pointed leaves and feathery heads, the lightness, the
vigour, the charm as distinct as a voice of that unperplexed luxuriating
life. I remember staying to look at it for a long time, as one would
linger within reach of a consoling whisper. The sky was pearly grey. It
was one of those overcast days so rare in the tropics, in which memories
crowd upon one, memories of other shores, of other faces.

'I drove back to town the same afternoon, taking with me Tamb' Itam
and the other Malay, in whose seagoing craft they had escaped in the
bewilderment, fear, and gloom of the disaster. The shock of it seemed to
have changed their natures. It had turned her passion into stone, and
it made the surly taciturn Tamb' Itam almost loquacious. His surliness,
too, was subdued into puzzled humility, as though he had seen the
failure of a potent charm in a supreme moment. The Bugis trader, a shy
hesitating man, was very clear in the little he had to say. Both were
evidently over-awed by a sense of deep inexpressible wonder, by the
touch of an inscrutable mystery.'

There with Marlow's signature the letter proper ended. The privileged
reader screwed up his lamp, and solitary above the billowy roofs of the
town, like a lighthouse-keeper above the sea, he turned to the pages of
the story.



CHAPTER 38


'It all begins, as I've told you, with the man called Brown,' ran the
opening sentence of Marlow's narrative. 'You who have knocked about the
Western Pacific must have heard of him. He was the show ruffian on the
Australian coast--not that he was often to be seen there, but because
he was always trotted out in the stories of lawless life a visitor from
home is treated to; and the mildest of these stories which were told
about him from Cape York to Eden Bay was more than enough to hang a man
if told in the right place. They never failed to let you know, too,
that he was supposed to be the son of a baronet. Be it as it may, it is
certain he had deserted from a home ship in the early gold-digging days,
and in a few years became talked about as the terror of this or that
group of islands in Polynesia. He would kidnap natives, he would strip
some lonely white trader to the very pyjamas he stood in, and after he
had robbed the poor devil, he would as likely as not invite him to fight
a duel with shot-guns on the beach--which would have been fair enough
as these things go, if the other man hadn't been by that time already
half-dead with fright. Brown was a latter-day buccaneer, sorry enough,
like his more celebrated prototypes; but what distinguished him from
his contemporary brother ruffians, like Bully Hayes or the mellifluous
Pease, or that perfumed, Dundreary-whiskered, dandified scoundrel known
as Dirty Dick, was the arrogant temper of his misdeeds and a vehement
scorn for mankind at large and for his victims in particular. The
others were merely vulgar and greedy brutes, but he seemed moved by some
complex intention. He would rob a man as if only to demonstrate his poor
opinion of the creature, and he would bring to the shooting or maiming
of some quiet, unoffending stranger a savage and vengeful earnestness
fit to terrify the most reckless of desperadoes. In the days of his
greatest glory he owned an armed barque, manned by a mixed crew of
Kanakas and runaway whalers, and boasted, I don't know with what truth,
of being financed on the quiet by a most respectable firm of copra
merchants. Later on he ran off--it was reported--with the wife of a
missionary, a very young girl from Clapham way, who had married the
mild, flat-footed fellow in a moment of enthusiasm, and, suddenly
transplanted to Melanesia, lost her bearings somehow. It was a dark
story. She was ill at the time he carried her off, and died on board his
ship. It is said--as the most wonderful put of the tale--that over her
body he gave way to an outburst of sombre and violent grief. His luck
left him, too, very soon after. He lost his ship on some rocks off
Malaita, and disappeared for a time as though he had gone down with her.
He is heard of next at Nuka-Hiva, where he bought an old French schooner
out of Government service. What creditable enterprise he might have had
in view when he made that purchase I can't say, but it is evident that
what with High Commissioners, consuls, men-of-war, and international
control, the South Seas were getting too hot to hold gentlemen of his
kidney. Clearly he must have shifted the scene of his operations farther
west, because a year later he plays an incredibly audacious, but not a
very profitable part, in a serio-comic business in Manila Bay, in which
a peculating governor and an absconding treasurer are the principal
figures; thereafter he seems to have hung around the Philippines in his
rotten schooner battling with un adverse fortune, till at last, running
his appointed course, he sails into Jim's history, a blind accomplice of
the Dark Powers.

'His tale goes that when a Spanish patrol cutter captured him he was
simply trying to run a few guns for the insurgents. If so, then I can't
understand what he was doing off the south coast of Mindanao. My belief,
however, is that he was blackmailing the native villages along the
coast. The principal thing is that the cutter, throwing a guard on
board, made him sail in company towards Zamboanga. On the way, for some
reason or other, both vessels had to call at one of these new Spanish
settlements--which never came to anything in the end--where there was
not only a civil official in charge on shore, but a good stout coasting
schooner lying at anchor in the little bay; and this craft, in every way
much better than his own, Brown made up his mind to steal.

'He was down on his luck--as he told me himself. The world he had
bullied for twenty years with fierce, aggressive disdain, had yielded
him nothing in the way of material advantage except a small bag of
silver dollars, which was concealed in his cabin so that "the devil
himself couldn't smell it out." And that was all--absolutely all. He
was tired of his life, and not afraid of death. But this man, who would
stake his existence on a whim with a bitter and jeering recklessness,
stood in mortal fear of imprisonment. He had an unreasoning cold-sweat,
nerve-shaking, blood-to-water-turning sort of horror at the bare
possibility of being locked up--the sort of terror a superstitious man
would feel at the thought of being embraced by a spectre. Therefore the
civil official who came on board to make a preliminary investigation
into the capture, investigated arduously all day long, and only went
ashore after dark, muffled up in a cloak, and taking great care not to
let Brown's little all clink in its bag. Afterwards, being a man of his
word, he contrived (the very next evening, I believe) to send off
the Government cutter on some urgent bit of special service. As her
commander could not spare a prize crew, he contented himself by taking
away before he left all the sails of Brown's schooner to the very last
rag, and took good care to tow his two boats on to the beach a couple of
miles off.

'But in Brown's crew there was a Solomon Islander, kidnapped in his
youth and devoted to Brown, who was the best man of the whole gang. That
fellow swam off to the coaster--five hundred yards or so--with the end
of a warp made up of all the running gear unrove for the purpose. The
water was smooth, and the bay dark, "like the inside of a cow," as Brown
described it. The Solomon Islander clambered over the bulwarks with the
end of the rope in his teeth. The crew of the coaster--all Tagals--were
ashore having a jollification in the native village. The two shipkeepers
left on board woke up suddenly and saw the devil. It had glittering eyes
and leaped quick as lightning about the deck. They fell on their knees,
paralysed with fear, crossing themselves and mumbling prayers. With
a long knife he found in the caboose the Solomon Islander, without
interrupting their orisons, stabbed first one, then the other; with the
same knife he set to sawing patiently at the coir cable till suddenly it
parted under the blade with a splash. Then in the silence of the bay
he let out a cautious shout, and Brown's gang, who meantime had been
peering and straining their hopeful ears in the darkness, began to
pull gently at their end of the warp. In less than five minutes the two
schooners came together with a slight shock and a creak of spars.

'Brown's crowd transferred themselves without losing an instant, taking
with them their firearms and a large supply of ammunition. They were
sixteen in all: two runaway blue-jackets, a lanky deserter from a Yankee
man-of-war, a couple of simple, blond Scandinavians, a mulatto of sorts,
one bland Chinaman who cooked--and the rest of the nondescript spawn
of the South Seas. None of them cared; Brown bent them to his will, and
Brown, indifferent to gallows, was running away from the spectre of
a Spanish prison. He didn't give them the time to trans-ship enough
provisions; the weather was calm, the air was charged with dew, and when
they cast off the ropes and set sail to a faint off-shore draught there
was no flutter in the damp canvas; their old schooner seemed to detach
itself gently from the stolen craft and slip away silently, together
with the black mass of the coast, into the night.

'They got clear away. Brown related to me in detail their passage down
the Straits of Macassar. It is a harrowing and desperate story. They
were short of food and water; they boarded several native craft and got
a little from each. With a stolen ship Brown did not dare to put into
any port, of course. He had no money to buy anything, no papers to show,
and no lie plausible enough to get him out again. An Arab barque, under
the Dutch flag, surprised one night at anchor off Poulo Laut, yielded a
little dirty rice, a bunch of bananas, and a cask of water; three days
of squally, misty weather from the north-east shot the schooner across
the Java Sea. The yellow muddy waves drenched that collection of hungry
ruffians. They sighted mail-boats moving on their appointed routes;
passed well-found home ships with rusty iron sides anchored in the
shallow sea waiting for a change of weather or the turn of the tide; an
English gunboat, white and trim, with two slim masts, crossed their bows
one day in the distance; and on another occasion a Dutch corvette, black
and heavily sparred, loomed up on their quarter, steaming dead slow
in the mist. They slipped through unseen or disregarded, a wan,
sallow-faced band of utter outcasts, enraged with hunger and hunted by
fear. Brown's idea was to make for Madagascar, where he expected, on
grounds not altogether illusory, to sell the schooner in Tamatave, and
no questions asked, or perhaps obtain some more or less forged papers
for her. Yet before he could face the long passage across the Indian
Ocean food was wanted--water too.

'Perhaps he had heard of Patusan--or perhaps he just only happened to
see the name written in small letters on the chart--probably that of a
largish village up a river in a native state, perfectly defenceless, far
from the beaten tracks of the sea and from the ends of submarine cables.
He had done that kind of thing before--in the way of business;
and this now was an absolute necessity, a question of life and
death--or rather of liberty. Of liberty! He was sure to get
provisions--bullocks--rice--sweet-potatoes. The sorry gang licked
their chops. A cargo of produce for the schooner perhaps could be
extorted--and, who knows?--some real ringing coined money! Some of these
chiefs and village headmen can be made to part freely. He told me he
would have roasted their toes rather than be baulked. I believe him. His
men believed him too. They didn't cheer aloud, being a dumb pack, but
made ready wolfishly.

'Luck served him as to weather. A few days of calm would have brought
unmentionable horrors on board that schooner, but with the help of land
and sea breezes, in less than a week after clearing the Sunda Straits,
he anchored off the Batu Kring mouth within a pistol-shot of the fishing
village.

'Fourteen of them packed into the schooner's long-boat (which was big,
having been used for cargo-work) and started up the river, while two
remained in charge of the schooner with food enough to keep starvation
off for ten days. The tide and wind helped, and early one afternoon the
big white boat under a ragged sail shouldered its way before the sea
breeze into Patusan Reach, manned by fourteen assorted scarecrows
glaring hungrily ahead, and fingering the breech-blocks of cheap rifles.
Brown calculated upon the terrifying surprise of his appearance. They
sailed in with the last of the flood; the Rajah's stockade gave no sign;
the first houses on both sides of the stream seemed deserted. A few
canoes were seen up the reach in full flight. Brown was astonished at
the size of the place. A profound silence reigned. The wind dropped
between the houses; two oars were got out and the boat held on
up-stream, the idea being to effect a lodgment in the centre of the town
before the inhabitants could think of resistance.

'It seems, however, that the headman of the fishing village at Batu
Kring had managed to send off a timely warning. When the long-boat came
abreast of the mosque (which Doramin had built: a structure with gables
and roof finials of carved coral) the open space before it was full of
people. A shout went up, and was followed by a clash of gongs all up the
river. From a point above two little brass 6-pounders were discharged,
and the round-shot came skipping down the empty reach, spurting
glittering jets of water in the sunshine. In front of the mosque a
shouting lot of men began firing in volleys that whipped athwart the
current of the river; an irregular, rolling fusillade was opened on the
boat from both banks, and Brown's men replied with a wild, rapid fire.
The oars had been got in.

'The turn of the tide at high water comes on very quickly in that river,
and the boat in mid-stream, nearly hidden in smoke, began to drift back
stern foremost. Along both shores the smoke thickened also, lying below
the roofs in a level streak as you may see a long cloud cutting the
slope of a mountain. A tumult of war-cries, the vibrating clang
of gongs, the deep snoring of drums, yells of rage, crashes of
volley-firing, made an awful din, in which Brown sat confounded but
steady at the tiller, working himself into a fury of hate and rage
against those people who dared to defend themselves. Two of his men
had been wounded, and he saw his retreat cut off below the town by some
boats that had put off from Tunku Allang's stockade. There were six of
them, full of men. While he was thus beset he perceived the entrance of
the narrow creek (the same which Jim had jumped at low water). It was
then brim full. Steering the long-boat in, they landed, and, to make a
long story short, they established themselves on a little knoll about
900 yards from the stockade, which, in fact, they commanded from that
position. The slopes of the knoll were bare, but there were a few trees
on the summit. They went to work cutting these down for a breastwork,
and were fairly intrenched before dark; meantime the Rajah's boats
remained in the river with curious neutrality. When the sun set the glue
of many brushwood blazes lighted on the river-front, and between the
double line of houses on the land side threw into black relief the
roofs, the groups of slender palms, the heavy clumps of fruit trees.
Brown ordered the grass round his position to be fired; a low ring of
thin flames under the slow ascending smoke wriggled rapidly down the
slopes of the knoll; here and there a dry bush caught with a tall,
vicious roar. The conflagration made a clear zone of fire for the rifles
of the small party, and expired smouldering on the edge of the forests
and along the muddy bank of the creek. A strip of jungle luxuriating in
a damp hollow between the knoll and the Rajah's stockade stopped it
on that side with a great crackling and detonations of bursting bamboo
stems. The sky was sombre, velvety, and swarming with stars. The
blackened ground smoked quietly with low creeping wisps, till a little
breeze came on and blew everything away. Brown expected an attack to
be delivered as soon as the tide had flowed enough again to enable the
war-boats which had cut off his retreat to enter the creek. At any rate
he was sure there would be an attempt to carry off his long-boat,
which lay below the hill, a dark high lump on the feeble sheen of a wet
mud-flat. But no move of any sort was made by the boats in the river.
Over the stockade and the Rajah's buildings Brown saw their lights on
the water. They seemed to be anchored across the stream. Other lights
afloat were moving in the reach, crossing and recrossing from side to
side. There were also lights twinkling motionless upon the long walls of
houses up the reach, as far as the bend, and more still beyond, others
isolated inland. The loom of the big fires disclosed buildings, roofs,
black piles as far as he could see. It was an immense place. The
fourteen desperate invaders lying flat behind the felled trees raised
their chins to look over at the stir of that town that seemed to extend
up-river for miles and swarm with thousands of angry men. They did not
speak to each other. Now and then they would hear a loud yell, or a
single shot rang out, fired very far somewhere. But round their position
everything was still, dark, silent. They seemed to be forgotten, as if
the excitement keeping awake all the population had nothing to do with
them, as if they had been dead already.'



CHAPTER 39


'All the events of that night have a great importance, since they
brought about a situation which remained unchanged till Jim's return.
Jim had been away in the interior for more than a week, and it was Dain
Waris who had directed the first repulse. That brave and intelligent
youth ("who knew how to fight after the manner of white men") wished to
settle the business off-hand, but his people were too much for him.
He had not Jim's racial prestige and the reputation of invincible,
supernatural power. He was not the visible, tangible incarnation of
unfailing truth and of unfailing victory. Beloved, trusted, and
admired as he was, he was still one of _them_, while Jim was one of
us. Moreover, the white man, a tower of strength in himself, was
invulnerable, while Dain Waris could be killed. Those unexpressed
thoughts guided the opinions of the chief men of the town, who elected
to assemble in Jim's fort for deliberation upon the emergency, as if
expecting to find wisdom and courage in the dwelling of the absent white
man. The shooting of Brown's ruffians was so far good, or lucky, that
there had been half-a-dozen casualties amongst the defenders. The
wounded were lying on the verandah tended by their women-folk. The women
and children from the lower part of the town had been sent into the
fort at the first alarm. There Jewel was in command, very efficient and
high-spirited, obeyed by Jim's "own people," who, quitting in a body
their little settlement under the stockade, had gone in to form the
garrison. The refugees crowded round her; and through the whole affair,
to the very disastrous last, she showed an extraordinary martial ardour.
It was to her that Dain Waris had gone at once at the first intelligence
of danger, for you must know that Jim was the only one in Patusan who
possessed a store of gunpowder. Stein, with whom he had kept up intimate
relations by letters, had obtained from the Dutch Government a special
authorisation to export five hundred kegs of it to Patusan. The
powder-magazine was a small hut of rough logs covered entirely with
earth, and in Jim's absence the girl had the key. In the council, held
at eleven o'clock in the evening in Jim's dining-room, she backed up
Waris's advice for immediate and vigorous action. I am told that she
stood up by the side of Jim's empty chair at the head of the long table
and made a warlike impassioned speech, which for the moment extorted
murmurs of approbation from the assembled headmen. Old Doramin, who had
not showed himself outside his own gate for more than a year, had been
brought across with great difficulty. He was, of course, the chief man
there. The temper of the council was very unforgiving, and the old man's
word would have been decisive; but it is my opinion that, well aware of
his son's fiery courage, he dared not pronounce the word. More dilatory
counsels prevailed. A certain Haji Saman pointed out at great length
that "these tyrannical and ferocious men had delivered themselves to
a certain death in any case. They would stand fast on their hill and
starve, or they would try to regain their boat and be shot from ambushes
across the creek, or they would break and fly into the forest and perish
singly there." He argued that by the use of proper stratagems these
evil-minded strangers could be destroyed without the risk of a battle,
and his words had a great weight, especially with the Patusan men
proper. What unsettled the minds of the townsfolk was the failure of
the Rajah's boats to act at the decisive moment. It was the diplomatic
Kassim who represented the Rajah at the council. He spoke very little,
listened smilingly, very friendly and impenetrable. During the sitting
messengers kept arriving every few minutes almost, with reports of the
invaders' proceedings. Wild and exaggerated rumours were flying: there
was a large ship at the mouth of the river with big guns and many more
men--some white, others with black skins and of bloodthirsty appearance.
They were coming with many more boats to exterminate every living thing.
A sense of near, incomprehensible danger affected the common people.
At one moment there was a panic in the courtyard amongst the women;
shrieking; a rush; children crying--Haji Sunan went out to quiet them.
Then a fort sentry fired at something moving on the river, and nearly
killed a villager bringing in his women-folk in a canoe together with
the best of his domestic utensils and a dozen fowls. This caused more
confusion. Meantime the palaver inside Jim's house went on in the
presence of the girl. Doramin sat fierce-faced, heavy, looking at the
speakers in turn, and breathing slow like a bull. He didn't speak till
the last, after Kassim had declared that the Rajah's boats would be
called in because the men were required to defend his master's stockade.
Dain Waris in his father's presence would offer no opinion, though the
girl entreated him in Jim's name to speak out. She offered him Jim's own
men in her anxiety to have these intruders driven out at once. He only
shook his head, after a glance or two at Doramin. Finally, when the
council broke up it had been decided that the houses nearest the creek
should be strongly occupied to obtain the command of the enemy's boat.
The boat itself was not to be interfered with openly, so that the
robbers on the hill should be tempted to embark, when a well-directed
fire would kill most of them, no doubt. To cut off the escape of those
who might survive, and to prevent more of them coming up, Dain Waris was
ordered by Doramin to take an armed party of Bugis down the river to a
certain spot ten miles below Patusan, and there form a camp on the shore
and blockade the stream with the canoes. I don't believe for a moment
that Doramin feared the arrival of fresh forces. My opinion is that his
conduct was guided solely by his wish to keep his son out of harm's
way. To prevent a rush being made into the town the construction of a
stockade was to be commenced at daylight at the end of the street on
the left bank. The old nakhoda declared his intention to command there
himself. A distribution of powder, bullets, and percussion-caps was made
immediately under the girl's supervision. Several messengers were to be
dispatched in different directions after Jim, whose exact whereabouts
were unknown. These men started at dawn, but before that time Kassim had
managed to open communications with the besieged Brown.

'That accomplished diplomatist and confidant of the Rajah, on leaving
the fort to go back to his master, took into his boat Cornelius, whom he
found slinking mutely amongst the people in the courtyard. Kassim had a
little plan of his own and wanted him for an interpreter. Thus it came
about that towards morning Brown, reflecting upon the desperate nature
of his position, heard from the marshy overgrown hollow an amicable,
quavering, strained voice crying--in English--for permission to come up,
under a promise of personal safety and on a very important errand. He
was overjoyed. If he was spoken to he was no longer a hunted wild beast.
These friendly sounds took off at once the awful stress of vigilant
watchfulness as of so many blind men not knowing whence the deathblow
might come. He pretended a great reluctance. The voice declared itself
"a white man--a poor, ruined, old man who had been living here for
years." A mist, wet and chilly, lay on the slopes of the hill, and after
some more shouting from one to the other, Brown called out, "Come on,
then, but alone, mind!" As a matter of fact--he told me, writhing with
rage at the recollection of his helplessness--it made no difference.
They couldn't see more than a few yards before them, and no treachery
could make their position worse. By-and-by Cornelius, in his
week-day attire of a ragged dirty shirt and pants, barefooted, with a
broken-rimmed pith hat on his head, was made out vaguely, sidling up to
the defences, hesitating, stopping to listen in a peering posture. "Come
along! You are safe," yelled Brown, while his men stared. All their
hopes of life became suddenly centered in that dilapidated, mean
newcomer, who in profound silence clambered clumsily over a felled
tree-trunk, and shivering, with his sour, mistrustful face, looked about
at the knot of bearded, anxious, sleepless desperadoes.

'Half an hour's confidential talk with Cornelius opened Brown's eyes as
to the home affairs of Patusan. He was on the alert at once. There were
possibilities, immense possibilities; but before he would talk over
Cornelius's proposals he demanded that some food should be sent up as
a guarantee of good faith. Cornelius went off, creeping sluggishly down
the hill on the side of the Rajah's palace, and after some delay a
few of Tunku Allang's men came up, bringing a scanty supply of rice,
chillies, and dried fish. This was immeasurably better than nothing.
Later on Cornelius returned accompanying Kassim, who stepped out with
an air of perfect good-humoured trustfulness, in sandals, and muffled
up from neck to ankles in dark-blue sheeting. He shook hands with Brown
discreetly, and the three drew aside for a conference. Brown's men,
recovering their confidence, were slapping each other on the back, and
cast knowing glances at their captain while they busied themselves with
preparations for cooking.

'Kassim disliked Doramin and his Bugis very much, but he hated the new
order of things still more. It had occurred to him that these whites,
together with the Rajah's followers, could attack and defeat the
Bugis before Jim's return. Then, he reasoned, general defection of
the townsfolk was sure to follow, and the reign of the white man who
protected poor people would be over. Afterwards the new allies could be
dealt with. They would have no friends. The fellow was perfectly able to
perceive the difference of character, and had seen enough of white men
to know that these newcomers were outcasts, men without country.
Brown preserved a stern and inscrutable demeanour. When he first heard
Cornelius's voice demanding admittance, it brought merely the hope of a
loophole for escape. In less than an hour other thoughts were seething
in his head. Urged by an extreme necessity, he had come there to steal
food, a few tons of rubber or gum may be, perhaps a handful of dollars,
and had found himself enmeshed by deadly dangers. Now in consequence
of these overtures from Kassim he began to think of stealing the whole
country. Some confounded fellow had apparently accomplished something of
the kind--single-handed at that. Couldn't have done it very well though.
Perhaps they could work together--squeeze everything dry and then go out
quietly. In the course of his negotiations with Kassim he became aware
that he was supposed to have a big ship with plenty of men outside.
Kassim begged him earnestly to have this big ship with his many guns and
men brought up the river without delay for the Rajah's service. Brown
professed himself willing, and on this basis the negotiation was carried
on with mutual distrust. Three times in the course of the morning the
courteous and active Kassim went down to consult the Rajah and came up
busily with his long stride. Brown, while bargaining, had a sort of grim
enjoyment in thinking of his wretched schooner, with nothing but a heap
of dirt in her hold, that stood for an armed ship, and a Chinaman and
a lame ex-beachcomber of Levuka on board, who represented all his many
men. In the afternoon he obtained further doles of food, a promise
of some money, and a supply of mats for his men to make shelters
for themselves. They lay down and snored, protected from the burning
sunshine; but Brown, sitting fully exposed on one of the felled trees,
feasted his eyes upon the view of the town and the river. There was much
loot there. Cornelius, who had made himself at home in the camp, talked
at his elbow, pointing out the localities, imparting advice, giving his
own version of Jim's character, and commenting in his own fashion upon
the events of the last three years. Brown, who, apparently indifferent
and gazing away, listened with attention to every word, could not make
out clearly what sort of man this Jim could be. "What's his name?
Jim! Jim! That's not enough for a man's name." "They call him," said
Cornelius scornfully, "Tuan Jim here. As you may say Lord Jim." "What is
he? Where does he come from?" inquired Brown. "What sort of man is he?
Is he an Englishman?" "Yes, yes, he's an Englishman. I am an Englishman
too. From Malacca. He is a fool. All you have to do is to kill him and
then you are king here. Everything belongs to him," explained Cornelius.
"It strikes me he may be made to share with somebody before very long,"
commented Brown half aloud. "No, no. The proper way is to kill him the
first chance you get, and then you can do what you like," Cornelius
would insist earnestly. "I have lived for many years here, and I am
giving you a friend's advice."

'In such converse and in gloating over the view of Patusan, which he had
determined in his mind should become his prey, Brown whiled away most
of the afternoon, his men, meantime, resting. On that day Dain Waris's
fleet of canoes stole one by one under the shore farthest from the
creek, and went down to close the river against his retreat. Of this
Brown was not aware, and Kassim, who came up the knoll an hour before
sunset, took good care not to enlighten him. He wanted the white
man's ship to come up the river, and this news, he feared, would be
discouraging. He was very pressing with Brown to send the "order,"
offering at the same time a trusty messenger, who for greater secrecy
(as he explained) would make his way by land to the mouth of the river
and deliver the "order" on board. After some reflection Brown judged
it expedient to tear a page out of his pocket-book, on which he simply
wrote, "We are getting on. Big job. Detain the man." The stolid youth
selected by Kassim for that service performed it faithfully, and was
rewarded by being suddenly tipped, head first, into the schooner's empty
hold by the ex-beachcomber and the Chinaman, who thereupon hastened to
put on the hatches. What became of him afterwards Brown did not say.'



CHAPTER 40


'Brown's object was to gain time by fooling with Kassim's diplomacy. For
doing a real stroke of business he could not help thinking the white man
was the person to work with. He could not imagine such a chap (who must
be confoundedly clever after all to get hold of the natives like
that) refusing a help that would do away with the necessity for slow,
cautious, risky cheating, that imposed itself as the only possible
line of conduct for a single-handed man. He, Brown, would offer him
the power. No man could hesitate. Everything was in coming to a clear
understanding. Of course they would share. The idea of there being a
fort--all ready to his hand--a real fort, with artillery (he knew this
from Cornelius), excited him. Let him only once get in and . . . He
would impose modest conditions. Not too low, though. The man was no
fool, it seemed. They would work like brothers till . . . till the time
came for a quarrel and a shot that would settle all accounts. With grim
impatience of plunder he wished himself to be talking with the man now.
The land already seemed to be his to tear to pieces, squeeze, and throw
away. Meantime Kassim had to be fooled for the sake of food first--and
for a second string. But the principal thing was to get something to eat
from day to day. Besides, he was not averse to begin fighting on that
Rajah's account, and teach a lesson to those people who had received him
with shots. The lust of battle was upon him.

'I am sorry that I can't give you this part of the story, which of
course I have mainly from Brown, in Brown's own words. There was in the
broken, violent speech of that man, unveiling before me his thoughts
with the very hand of Death upon his throat, an undisguised ruthlessness
of purpose, a strange vengeful attitude towards his own past, and a
blind belief in the righteousness of his will against all mankind,
something of that feeling which could induce the leader of a horde of
wandering cut-throats to call himself proudly the Scourge of God.
No doubt the natural senseless ferocity which is the basis of such
a character was exasperated by failure, ill-luck, and the recent
privations, as well as by the desperate position in which he found
himself; but what was most remarkable of all was this, that while he
planned treacherous alliances, had already settled in his own mind the
fate of the white man, and intrigued in an overbearing, offhand manner
with Kassim, one could perceive that what he had really desired, almost
in spite of himself, was to play havoc with that jungle town which had
defied him, to see it strewn over with corpses and enveloped in flames.
Listening to his pitiless, panting voice, I could imagine how he must
have looked at it from the hillock, peopling it with images of murder
and rapine. The part nearest to the creek wore an abandoned aspect,
though as a matter of fact every house concealed a few armed men on the
alert. Suddenly beyond the stretch of waste ground, interspersed with
small patches of low dense bush, excavations, heaps of rubbish, with
trodden paths between, a man, solitary and looking very small, strolled
out into the deserted opening of the street between the shut-up, dark,
lifeless buildings at the end. Perhaps one of the inhabitants, who had
fled to the other bank of the river, coming back for some object of
domestic use. Evidently he supposed himself quite safe at that distance
from the hill on the other side of the creek. A light stockade, set up
hastily, was just round the turn of the street, full of his friends.
He moved leisurely. Brown saw him, and instantly called to his side the
Yankee deserter, who acted as a sort of second in command. This lanky,
loose-jointed fellow came forward, wooden-faced, trailing his rifle
lazily. When he understood what was wanted from him a homicidal and
conceited smile uncovered his teeth, making two deep folds down his
sallow, leathery cheeks. He prided himself on being a dead shot. He
dropped on one knee, and taking aim from a steady rest through the
unlopped branches of a felled tree, fired, and at once stood up to look.
The man, far away, turned his head to the report, made another step
forward, seemed to hesitate, and abruptly got down on his hands and
knees. In the silence that fell upon the sharp crack of the rifle, the
dead shot, keeping his eyes fixed upon the quarry, guessed that "this
there coon's health would never be a source of anxiety to his friends
any more." The man's limbs were seen to move rapidly under his body
in an endeavour to run on all-fours. In that empty space arose a
multitudinous shout of dismay and surprise. The man sank flat, face
down, and moved no more. "That showed them what we could do," said Brown
to me. "Struck the fear of sudden death into them. That was what we
wanted. They were two hundred to one, and this gave them something to
think over for the night. Not one of them had an idea of such a long
shot before. That beggar belonging to the Rajah scooted down-hill with
his eyes hanging out of his head."

'As he was telling me this he tried with a shaking hand to wipe the thin
foam on his blue lips. "Two hundred to one. Two hundred to one . . .
strike terror, . . . terror, terror, I tell you. . . ." His own eyes
were starting out of their sockets. He fell back, clawing the air with
skinny fingers, sat up again, bowed and hairy, glared at me sideways
like some man-beast of folk-lore, with open mouth in his miserable and
awful agony before he got his speech back after that fit. There are
sights one never forgets.

'Furthermore, to draw the enemy's fire and locate such parties as
might have been hiding in the bushes along the creek, Brown ordered the
Solomon Islander to go down to the boat and bring an oar, as you send a
spaniel after a stick into the water. This failed, and the fellow came
back without a single shot having been fired at him from anywhere.
"There's nobody," opined some of the men. It is "onnatural," remarked
the Yankee. Kassim had gone, by that time, very much impressed, pleased
too, and also uneasy. Pursuing his tortuous policy, he had dispatched a
message to Dain Waris warning him to look out for the white men's
ship, which, he had had information, was about to come up the river.
He minimised its strength and exhorted him to oppose its passage. This
double-dealing answered his purpose, which was to keep the Bugis forces
divided and to weaken them by fighting. On the other hand, he had in
the course of that day sent word to the assembled Bugis chiefs in town,
assuring them that he was trying to induce the invaders to retire; his
messages to the fort asked earnestly for powder for the Rajah's men. It
was a long time since Tunku Allang had had ammunition for the score or
so of old muskets rusting in their arm-racks in the audience-hall.
The open intercourse between the hill and the palace unsettled all the
minds. It was already time for men to take sides, it began to be said.
There would soon be much bloodshed, and thereafter great trouble for
many people. The social fabric of orderly, peaceful life, when every man
was sure of to-morrow, the edifice raised by Jim's hands, seemed on that
evening ready to collapse into a ruin reeking with blood. The poorer
folk were already taking to the bush or flying up the river. A good many
of the upper class judged it necessary to go and pay their court to the
Rajah. The Rajah's youths jostled them rudely. Old Tunku Allang, almost
out of his mind with fear and indecision, either kept a sullen silence
or abused them violently for daring to come with empty hands: they
departed very much frightened; only old Doramin kept his countrymen
together and pursued his tactics inflexibly. Enthroned in a big chair
behind the improvised stockade, he issued his orders in a deep veiled
rumble, unmoved, like a deaf man, in the flying rumours.

'Dusk fell, hiding first the body of the dead man, which had been left
lying with arms outstretched as if nailed to the ground, and then the
revolving sphere of the night rolled smoothly over Patusan and came to
a rest, showering the glitter of countless worlds upon the earth. Again,
in the exposed part of the town big fires blazed along the only street,
revealing from distance to distance upon their glares the falling
straight lines of roofs, the fragments of wattled walls jumbled in
confusion, here and there a whole hut elevated in the glow upon the
vertical black stripes of a group of high piles and all this line of
dwellings, revealed in patches by the swaying flames, seemed to flicker
tortuously away up-river into the gloom at the heart of the land. A
great silence, in which the looms of successive fires played without
noise, extended into the darkness at the foot of the hill; but the
other bank of the river, all dark save for a solitary bonfire at the
river-front before the fort, sent out into the air an increasing tremor
that might have been the stamping of a multitude of feet, the hum of
many voices, or the fall of an immensely distant waterfall. It was
then, Brown confessed to me, while, turning his back on his men, he sat
looking at it all, that notwithstanding his disdain, his ruthless faith
in himself, a feeling came over him that at last he had run his head
against a stone wall. Had his boat been afloat at the time, he believed
he would have tried to steal away, taking his chances of a long chase
down the river and of starvation at sea. It is very doubtful whether he
would have succeeded in getting away. However, he didn't try this. For
another moment he had a passing thought of trying to rush the town,
but he perceived very well that in the end he would find himself in the
lighted street, where they would be shot down like dogs from the houses.
They were two hundred to one--he thought, while his men, huddling round
two heaps of smouldering embers, munched the last of the bananas and
roasted the few yams they owed to Kassim's diplomacy. Cornelius sat
amongst them dozing sulkily.

'Then one of the whites remembered that some tobacco had been left in
the boat, and, encouraged by the impunity of the Solomon Islander,
said he would go to fetch it. At this all the others shook off
their despondency. Brown applied to, said, "Go, and be d--d to you,"
scornfully. He didn't think there was any danger in going to the creek
in the dark. The man threw a leg over the tree-trunk and disappeared. A
moment later he was heard clambering into the boat and then clambering
out. "I've got it," he cried. A flash and a report at the very foot of
the hill followed. "I am hit," yelled the man. "Look out, look out--I am
hit," and instantly all the rifles went off. The hill squirted fire
and noise into the night like a little volcano, and when Brown and
the Yankee with curses and cuffs stopped the panic-stricken firing, a
profound, weary groan floated up from the creek, succeeded by a plaint
whose heartrending sadness was like some poison turning the blood
cold in the veins. Then a strong voice pronounced several distinct
incomprehensible words somewhere beyond the creek. "Let no one fire,"
shouted Brown. "What does it mean?" . . . "Do you hear on the hill?
Do you hear? Do you hear?" repeated the voice three times. Cornelius
translated, and then prompted the answer. "Speak," cried Brown, "we
hear." Then the voice, declaiming in the sonorous inflated tone of a
herald, and shifting continually on the edge of the vague waste-land,
proclaimed that between the men of the Bugis nation living in Patusan
and the white men on the hill and those with them, there would be no
faith, no compassion, no speech, no peace. A bush rustled; a haphazard
volley rang out. "Dam' foolishness," muttered the Yankee, vexedly
grounding the butt. Cornelius translated. The wounded man below
the hill, after crying out twice, "Take me up! take me up!" went on
complaining in moans. While he had kept on the blackened earth of the
slope, and afterwards crouching in the boat, he had been safe enough.
It seems that in his joy at finding the tobacco he forgot himself and
jumped out on her off-side, as it were. The white boat, lying high and
dry, showed him up; the creek was no more than seven yards wide in that
place, and there happened to be a man crouching in the bush on the other
bank.

'He was a Bugis of Tondano only lately come to Patusan, and a relation
of the man shot in the afternoon. That famous long shot had indeed
appalled the beholders. The man in utter security had been struck down,
in full view of his friends, dropping with a joke on his lips, and they
seemed to see in the act an atrocity which had stirred a bitter rage.
That relation of his, Si-Lapa by name, was then with Doramin in the
stockade only a few feet away. You who know these chaps must admit that
the fellow showed an unusual pluck by volunteering to carry the message,
alone, in the dark. Creeping across the open ground, he had deviated
to the left and found himself opposite the boat. He was startled when
Brown's man shouted. He came to a sitting position with his gun to his
shoulder, and when the other jumped out, exposing himself, he pulled the
trigger and lodged three jagged slugs point-blank into the poor wretch's
stomach. Then, lying flat on his face, he gave himself up for dead,
while a thin hail of lead chopped and swished the bushes close on his
right hand; afterwards he delivered his speech shouting, bent double,
dodging all the time in cover. With the last word he leaped sideways,
lay close for a while, and afterwards got back to the houses unharmed,
having achieved on that night such a renown as his children will not
willingly allow to die.

'And on the hill the forlorn band let the two little heaps of embers
go out under their bowed heads. They sat dejected on the ground with
compressed lips and downcast eyes, listening to their comrade below. He
was a strong man and died hard, with moans now loud, now sinking to a
strange confidential note of pain. Sometimes he shrieked, and again,
after a period of silence, he could be heard muttering deliriously a
long and unintelligible complaint. Never for a moment did he cease.

'"What's the good?" Brown had said unmoved once, seeing the Yankee, who
had been swearing under his breath, prepare to go down. "That's so,"
assented the deserter, reluctantly desisting. "There's no encouragement
for wounded men here. Only his noise is calculated to make all the
others think too much of the hereafter, cap'n." "Water!" cried the
wounded man in an extraordinarily clear vigorous voice, and then went
off moaning feebly. "Ay, water. Water will do it," muttered the other to
himself, resignedly. "Plenty by-and-by. The tide is flowing."

'At last the tide flowed, silencing the plaint and the cries of pain,
and the dawn was near when Brown, sitting with his chin in the palm of
his hand before Patusan, as one might stare at the unscalable side of a
mountain, heard the brief ringing bark of a brass 6-pounder far away
in town somewhere. "What's this?" he asked of Cornelius, who hung about
him. Cornelius listened. A muffled roaring shout rolled down-river over
the town; a big drum began to throb, and others responded, pulsating and
droning. Tiny scattered lights began to twinkle in the dark half of the
town, while the part lighted by the loom of fires hummed with a deep and
prolonged murmur. "He has come," said Cornelius. "What? Already? Are
you sure?" Brown asked. "Yes! yes! Sure. Listen to the noise." "What
are they making that row about?" pursued Brown. "For joy," snorted
Cornelius; "he is a very great man, but all the same, he knows no more
than a child, and so they make a great noise to please him, because they
know no better." "Look here," said Brown, "how is one to get at him?"
"He shall come to talk to you," Cornelius declared. "What do you mean?
Come down here strolling as it were?" Cornelius nodded vigorously in the
dark. "Yes. He will come straight here and talk to you. He is just like
a fool. You shall see what a fool he is." Brown was incredulous. "You
shall see; you shall see," repeated Cornelius. "He is not afraid--not
afraid of anything. He will come and order you to leave his people
alone. Everybody must leave his people alone. He is like a little child.
He will come to you straight." Alas! he knew Jim well--that "mean little
skunk," as Brown called him to me. "Yes, certainly," he pursued with
ardour, "and then, captain, you tell that tall man with a gun to shoot
him. Just you kill him, and you will frighten everybody so much that
you can do anything you like with them afterwards--get what you like--go
away when you like. Ha! ha! ha! Fine . . ." He almost danced with
impatience and eagerness; and Brown, looking over his shoulder at him,
could see, shown up by the pitiless dawn, his men drenched with dew,
sitting amongst the cold ashes and the litter of the camp, haggard,
cowed, and in rags.'



CHAPTER 41


'To the very last moment, till the full day came upon them with a
spring, the fires on the west bank blazed bright and clear; and then
Brown saw in a knot of coloured figures motionless between the advanced
houses a man in European clothes, in a helmet, all white. "That's him;
look! look!" Cornelius said excitedly. All Brown's men had sprung up and
crowded at his back with lustreless eyes. The group of vivid colours
and dark faces with the white figure in their midst were observing the
knoll. Brown could see naked arms being raised to shade the eyes and
other brown arms pointing. What should he do? He looked around, and the
forests that faced him on all sides walled the cock-pit of an unequal
contest. He looked once more at his men. A contempt, a weariness, the
desire of life, the wish to try for one more chance--for some other
grave--struggled in his breast. From the outline the figure presented
it seemed to him that the white man there, backed up by all the power of
the land, was examining his position through binoculars. Brown jumped up
on the log, throwing his arms up, the palms outwards. The coloured group
closed round the white man, and fell back twice before he got clear of
them, walking slowly alone. Brown remained standing on the log till
Jim, appearing and disappearing between the patches of thorny scrub, had
nearly reached the creek; then Brown jumped off and went down to meet
him on his side.

'They met, I should think, not very far from the place, perhaps on the
very spot, where Jim took the second desperate leap of his life--the
leap that landed him into the life of Patusan, into the trust, the love,
the confidence of the people. They faced each other across the creek,
and with steady eyes tried to understand each other before they opened
their lips. Their antagonism must have been expressed in their glances;
I know that Brown hated Jim at first sight. Whatever hopes he might have
had vanished at once. This was not the man he had expected to see. He
hated him for this--and in a checked flannel shirt with sleeves cut
off at the elbows, grey bearded, with a sunken, sun-blackened face--he
cursed in his heart the other's youth and assurance, his clear eyes and
his untroubled bearing. That fellow had got in a long way before him!
He did not look like a man who would be willing to give anything for
assistance. He had all the advantages on his side--possession, security,
power; he was on the side of an overwhelming force! He was not hungry
and desperate, and he did not seem in the least afraid. And there was
something in the very neatness of Jim's clothes, from the white helmet
to the canvas leggings and the pipeclayed shoes, which in Brown's sombre
irritated eyes seemed to belong to things he had in the very shaping of
his life condemned and flouted.

'"Who are you?" asked Jim at last, speaking in his usual voice. "My
name's Brown," answered the other loudly; "Captain Brown. What's yours?"
and Jim after a little pause went on quietly, as If he had not heard:
"What made you come here?" "You want to know," said Brown bitterly.
"It's easy to tell. Hunger. And what made you?"

'"The fellow started at this," said Brown, relating to me the opening of
this strange conversation between those two men, separated only by
the muddy bed of a creek, but standing on the opposite poles of that
conception of life which includes all mankind--"The fellow started at
this and got very red in the face. Too big to be questioned, I suppose.
I told him that if he looked upon me as a dead man with whom you may
take liberties, he himself was not a whit better off really. I had
a fellow up there who had a bead drawn on him all the time, and only
waited for a sign from me. There was nothing to be shocked at in this.
He had come down of his own free will. 'Let us agree,' said I, 'that we
are both dead men, and let us talk on that basis, as equals. We are
all equal before death,' I said. I admitted I was there like a rat in
a trap, but we had been driven to it, and even a trapped rat can give
a bite. He caught me up in a moment. 'Not if you don't go near the trap
till the rat is dead.' I told him that sort of game was good enough for
these native friends of his, but I would have thought him too white to
serve even a rat so. Yes, I had wanted to talk with him. Not to beg
for my life, though. My fellows were--well--what they were--men like
himself, anyhow. All we wanted from him was to come on in the devil's
name and have it out. 'God d--n it,' said I, while he stood there as
still as a wooden post, 'you don't want to come out here every day with
your glasses to count how many of us are left on our feet. Come. Either
bring your infernal crowd along or let us go out and starve in the open
sea, by God! You have been white once, for all your tall talk of this
being your own people and you being one with them. Are you? And what the
devil do you get for it; what is it you've found here that is so d--d
precious? Hey? You don't want us to come down here perhaps--do you? You
are two hundred to one. You don't want us to come down into the open.
Ah! I promise you we shall give you some sport before you've done. You
talk about me making a cowardly set upon unoffending people. What's
that to me that they are unoffending, when I am starving for next to no
offence? But I am not a coward. Don't you be one. Bring them along or,
by all the fiends, we shall yet manage to send half your unoffending
town to heaven with us in smoke!'"

'He was terrible--relating this to me--this tortured skeleton of a man
drawn up together with his face over his knees, upon a miserable bed in
that wretched hovel, and lifting his head to look at me with malignant
triumph.

'"That's what I told him--I knew what to say," he began again, feebly
at first, but working himself up with incredible speed into a fiery
utterance of his scorn. "We aren't going into the forest to wander like
a string of living skeletons dropping one after another for ants to
go to work upon us before we are fairly dead. Oh no! . . . 'You don't
deserve a better fate,' he said. 'And what do you deserve,' I shouted
at him, 'you that I find skulking here with your mouth full of your
responsibility, of innocent lives, of your infernal duty? What do
you know more of me than I know of you? I came here for food. D'ye
hear?--food to fill our bellies. And what did _you_ come for? What did
you ask for when you came here? We don't ask you for anything but to
give us a fight or a clear road to go back whence we came. . . .' 'I
would fight with you now,' says he, pulling at his little moustache.
'And I would let you shoot me, and welcome,' I said. 'This is as good a
jumping-off place for me as another. I am sick of my infernal luck. But
it would be too easy. There are my men in the same boat--and, by God, I
am not the sort to jump out of trouble and leave them in a d--d lurch,'
I said. He stood thinking for a while and then wanted to know what I
had done ('out there' he says, tossing his head down-stream) to be hazed
about so. 'Have we met to tell each other the story of our lives?' I
asked him. 'Suppose you begin. No? Well, I am sure I don't want to hear.
Keep it to yourself. I know it is no better than mine. I've lived--and
so did you, though you talk as if you were one of those people that
should have wings so as to go about without touching the dirty earth.
Well--it is dirty. I haven't got any wings. I am here because I was
afraid once in my life. Want to know what of? Of a prison. That scares
me, and you may know it--if it's any good to you. I won't ask you what
scared you into this infernal hole, where you seem to have found pretty
pickings. That's your luck and this is mine--the privilege to beg for
the favour of being shot quickly, or else kicked out to go free and
starve in my own way.' . . ."

'His debilitated body shook with an exultation so vehement, so assured,
and so malicious that it seemed to have driven off the death waiting for
him in that hut. The corpse of his mad self-love uprose from rags and
destitution as from the dark horrors of a tomb. It is impossible to say
how much he lied to Jim then, how much he lied to me now--and to himself
always. Vanity plays lurid tricks with our memory, and the truth of
every passion wants some pretence to make it live. Standing at the gate
of the other world in the guise of a beggar, he had slapped this world's
face, he had spat on it, he had thrown upon it an immensity of scorn
and revolt at the bottom of his misdeeds. He had overcome them all--men,
women, savages, traders, ruffians, missionaries--and Jim--"that
beefy-faced beggar." I did not begrudge him this triumph in articulo
mortis, this almost posthumous illusion of having trampled all the earth
under his feet. While he was boasting to me, in his sordid and repulsive
agony, I couldn't help thinking of the chuckling talk relating to the
time of his greatest splendour when, during a year or more, Gentleman
Brown's ship was to be seen, for many days on end, hovering off an islet
befringed with green upon azure, with the dark dot of the mission-house
on a white beach; while Gentleman Brown, ashore, was casting his spells
over a romantic girl for whom Melanesia had been too much, and giving
hopes of a remarkable conversion to her husband. The poor man, some time
or other, had been heard to express the intention of winning "Captain
Brown to a better way of life." . . . "Bag Gentleman Brown for
Glory"--as a leery-eyed loafer expressed it once--"just to let them see
up above what a Western Pacific trading skipper looks like." And this
was the man, too, who had run off with a dying woman, and had shed tears
over her body. "Carried on like a big baby," his then mate was never
tired of telling, "and where the fun came in may I be kicked to death by
diseased Kanakas if _I_ know. Why, gents! she was too far gone when he
brought her aboard to know him; she just lay there on her back in his
bunk staring at the beam with awful shining eyes--and then she died.
Dam' bad sort of fever, I guess. . . ." I remembered all these stories
while, wiping his matted lump of a beard with a livid hand, he was
telling me from his noisome couch how he got round, got in, got home,
on that confounded, immaculate, don't-you-touch-me sort of fellow. He
admitted that he couldn't be scared, but there was a way, "as broad as
a turnpike, to get in and shake his twopenny soul around and inside out
and upside down--by God!"'



CHAPTER 42


'I don't think he could do more than perhaps look upon that straight
path. He seemed to have been puzzled by what he saw, for he interrupted
himself in his narrative more than once to exclaim, "He nearly slipped
from me there. I could not make him out. Who was he?" And after
glaring at me wildly he would go on, jubilating and sneering. To me the
conversation of these two across the creek appears now as the deadliest
kind of duel on which Fate looked on with her cold-eyed knowledge of the
end. No, he didn't turn Jim's soul inside out, but I am much mistaken if
the spirit so utterly out of his reach had not been made to taste to the
full the bitterness of that contest. These were the emissaries with whom
the world he had renounced was pursuing him in his retreat--white men
from "out there" where he did not think himself good enough to live.
This was all that came to him--a menace, a shock, a danger to his
work. I suppose it is this sad, half-resentful, half-resigned feeling,
piercing through the few words Jim said now and then, that puzzled Brown
so much in the reading of his character. Some great men owe most of
their greatness to the ability of detecting in those they destine for
their tools the exact quality of strength that matters for their work;
and Brown, as though he had been really great, had a satanic gift of
finding out the best and the weakest spot in his victims. He admitted
to me that Jim wasn't of the sort that can be got over by truckling, and
accordingly he took care to show himself as a man confronting without
dismay ill-luck, censure, and disaster. The smuggling of a few guns was
no great crime, he pointed out. As to coming to Patusan, who had the
right to say he hadn't come to beg? The infernal people here let loose
at him from both banks without staying to ask questions. He made
the point brazenly, for, in truth, Dain Waris's energetic action had
prevented the greatest calamities; because Brown told me distinctly
that, perceiving the size of the place, he had resolved instantly in his
mind that as soon as he had gained a footing he would set fire right and
left, and begin by shooting down everything living in sight, in order to
cow and terrify the population. The disproportion of forces was so great
that this was the only way giving him the slightest chance of attaining
his ends--he argued in a fit of coughing. But he didn't tell Jim this.
As to the hardships and starvation they had gone through, these had been
very real; it was enough to look at his band. He made, at the sound of a
shrill whistle, all his men appear standing in a row on the logs in full
view, so that Jim could see them. For the killing of the man, it had
been done--well, it had--but was not this war, bloody war--in a corner?
and the fellow had been killed cleanly, shot through the chest, not like
that poor devil of his lying now in the creek. They had to listen to him
dying for six hours, with his entrails torn with slugs. At any rate this
was a life for a life. . . . And all this was said with the weariness,
with the recklessness of a man spurred on and on by ill-luck till he
cares not where he runs. When he asked Jim, with a sort of brusque
despairing frankness, whether he himself--straight now--didn't
understand that when "it came to saving one's life in the dark, one
didn't care who else went--three, thirty, three hundred people"--it was
as if a demon had been whispering advice in his ear. "I made him wince,"
boasted Brown to me. "He very soon left off coming the righteous over
me. He just stood there with nothing to say, and looking as black as
thunder--not at me--on the ground." He asked Jim whether he had nothing
fishy in his life to remember that he was so damnedly hard upon a man
trying to get out of a deadly hole by the first means that came to
hand--and so on, and so on. And there ran through the rough talk a
vein of subtle reference to their common blood, an assumption of common
experience; a sickening suggestion of common guilt, of secret knowledge
that was like a bond of their minds and of their hearts.

'At last Brown threw himself down full length and watched Jim out of
the corners of his eyes. Jim on his side of the creek stood thinking and
switching his leg. The houses in view were silent, as if a pestilence
had swept them clean of every breath of life; but many invisible eyes
were turned, from within, upon the two men with the creek between them,
a stranded white boat, and the body of the third man half sunk in the
mud. On the river canoes were moving again, for Patusan was recovering
its belief in the stability of earthly institutions since the return of
the white lord. The right bank, the platforms of the houses, the rafts
moored along the shores, even the roofs of bathing-huts, were covered
with people that, far away out of earshot and almost out of sight, were
straining their eyes towards the knoll beyond the Rajah's stockade.
Within the wide irregular ring of forests, broken in two places by the
sheen of the river, there was a silence. "Will you promise to leave the
coast?" Jim asked. Brown lifted and let fall his hand, giving everything
up as it were--accepting the inevitable. "And surrender your arms?" Jim
went on. Brown sat up and glared across. "Surrender our arms! Not till
you come to take them out of our stiff hands. You think I am gone crazy
with funk? Oh no! That and the rags I stand in is all I have got in the
world, besides a few more breechloaders on board; and I expect to sell
the lot in Madagascar, if I ever get so far--begging my way from ship to
ship."

'Jim said nothing to this. At last, throwing away the switch he held in
his hand, he said, as if speaking to himself, "I don't know whether I
have the power." . . . "You don't know! And you wanted me just now to
give up my arms! That's good, too," cried Brown; "Suppose they say one
thing to you, and do the other thing to me." He calmed down markedly. "I
dare say you have the power, or what's the meaning of all this talk?" he
continued. "What did you come down here for? To pass the time of day?"

'"Very well," said Jim, lifting his head suddenly after a long silence.
"You shall have a clear road or else a clear fight." He turned on his
heel and walked away.

'Brown got up at once, but he did not go up the hill till he had seen
Jim disappear between the first houses. He never set his eyes on him
again. On his way back he met Cornelius slouching down with his head
between his shoulders. He stopped before Brown. "Why didn't you kill
him?" he demanded in a sour, discontented voice. "Because I could do
better than that," Brown said with an amused smile. "Never! never!"
protested Cornelius with energy. "Couldn't. I have lived here for many
years." Brown looked up at him curiously. There were many sides to the
life of that place in arms against him; things he would never find out.
Cornelius slunk past dejectedly in the direction of the river. He was
now leaving his new friends; he accepted the disappointing course of
events with a sulky obstinacy which seemed to draw more together his
little yellow old face; and as he went down he glanced askant here and
there, never giving up his fixed idea.

'Henceforth events move fast without a check, flowing from the very
hearts of men like a stream from a dark source, and we see Jim amongst
them, mostly through Tamb' Itam's eyes. The girl's eyes had watched him
too, but her life is too much entwined with his: there is her passion,
her wonder, her anger, and, above all, her fear and her unforgiving
love. Of the faithful servant, uncomprehending as the rest of them, it
is the fidelity alone that comes into play; a fidelity and a belief in
his lord so strong that even amazement is subdued to a sort of saddened
acceptance of a mysterious failure. He has eyes only for one figure,
and through all the mazes of bewilderment he preserves his air of
guardianship, of obedience, of care.

'His master came back from his talk with the white men, walking slowly
towards the stockade in the street. Everybody was rejoiced to see him
return, for while he was away every man had been afraid not only of him
being killed, but also of what would come after. Jim went into one of
the houses, where old Doramin had retired, and remained alone for a
long time with the head of the Bugis settlers. No doubt he discussed
the course to follow with him then, but no man was present at the
conversation. Only Tamb' Itam, keeping as close to the door as he could,
heard his master say, "Yes. I shall let all the people know that such
is my wish; but I spoke to you, O Doramin, before all the others, and
alone; for you know my heart as well as I know yours and its greatest
desire. And you know well also that I have no thought but for the
people's good." Then his master, lifting the sheeting in the doorway,
went out, and he, Tamb' Itam, had a glimpse of old Doramin within,
sitting in the chair with his hands on his knees, and looking between
his feet. Afterwards he followed his master to the fort, where all the
principal Bugis and Patusan inhabitants had been summoned for a talk.
Tamb' Itam himself hoped there would be some fighting. "What was it but
the taking of another hill?" he exclaimed regretfully. However, in the
town many hoped that the rapacious strangers would be induced, by the
sight of so many brave men making ready to fight, to go away. It would
be a good thing if they went away. Since Jim's arrival had been made
known before daylight by the gun fired from the fort and the beating of
the big drum there, the fear that had hung over Patusan had broken and
subsided like a wave on a rock, leaving the seething foam of excitement,
curiosity, and endless speculation. Half of the population had been
ousted out of their homes for purposes of defence, and were living in
the street on the left side of the river, crowding round the fort, and
in momentary expectation of seeing their abandoned dwellings on the
threatened bank burst into flames. The general anxiety was to see the
matter settled quickly. Food, through Jewel's care, had been served
out to the refugees. Nobody knew what their white man would do. Some
remarked that it was worse than in Sherif Ali's war. Then many people
did not care; now everybody had something to lose. The movements of
canoes passing to and fro between the two parts of the town were watched
with interest. A couple of Bugis war-boats lay anchored in the middle of
the stream to protect the river, and a thread of smoke stood at the bow
of each; the men in them were cooking their midday rice when Jim, after
his interviews with Brown and Doramin, crossed the river and entered by
the water-gate of his fort. The people inside crowded round him, so that
he could hardly make his way to the house. They had not seen him before,
because on his arrival during the night he had only exchanged a few
words with the girl, who had come down to the landing-stage for the
purpose, and had then gone on at once to join the chiefs and the
fighting men on the other bank. People shouted greetings after him.
One old woman raised a laugh by pushing her way to the front madly and
enjoining him in a scolding voice to see to it that her two sons, who
were with Doramin, did not come to harm at the hands of the robbers.
Several of the bystanders tried to pull her away, but she struggled and
cried, "Let me go. What is this, O Muslims? This laughter is unseemly.
Are they not cruel, bloodthirsty robbers bent on killing?" "Let her be,"
said Jim, and as a silence fell suddenly, he said slowly, "Everybody
shall be safe." He entered the house before the great sigh, and the loud
murmurs of satisfaction, had died out.

'There's no doubt his mind was made up that Brown should have his way
clear back to the sea. His fate, revolted, was forcing his hand. He
had for the first time to affirm his will in the face of outspoken
opposition. "There was much talk, and at first my master was silent,"
Tamb' Itam said. "Darkness came, and then I lit the candles on the long
table. The chiefs sat on each side, and the lady remained by my master's
right hand."

'When he began to speak, the unaccustomed difficulty seemed only to
fix his resolve more immovably. The white men were now waiting for his
answer on the hill. Their chief had spoken to him in the language of his
own people, making clear many things difficult to explain in any other
speech. They were erring men whom suffering had made blind to right and
wrong. It is true that lives had been lost already, but why lose more?
He declared to his hearers, the assembled heads of the people, that
their welfare was his welfare, their losses his losses, their mourning
his mourning. He looked round at the grave listening faces and told them
to remember that they had fought and worked side by side. They knew his
courage . . . Here a murmur interrupted him . . . And that he had never
deceived them. For many years they had dwelt together. He loved the
land and the people living in it with a very great love. He was ready to
answer with his life for any harm that should come to them if the white
men with beards were allowed to retire. They were evil-doers, but their
destiny had been evil, too. Had he ever advised them ill? Had his words
ever brought suffering to the people? he asked. He believed that it
would be best to let these whites and their followers go with their
lives. It would be a small gift. "I whom you have tried and found always
true ask you to let them go." He turned to Doramin. The old nakhoda made
no movement. "Then," said Jim, "call in Dain Waris, your son, my friend,
for in this business I shall not lead."'



CHAPTER 43


'Tamb' Itam behind his chair was thunderstruck. The declaration produced
an immense sensation. "Let them go because this is best in my knowledge
which has never deceived you," Jim insisted. There was a silence. In
the darkness of the courtyard could be heard the subdued whispering,
shuffling noise of many people. Doramin raised his heavy head and said
that there was no more reading of hearts than touching the sky with the
hand, but--he consented. The others gave their opinion in turn. "It is
best," "Let them go," and so on. But most of them simply said that they
"believed Tuan Jim."

'In this simple form of assent to his will lies the whole gist of
the situation; their creed, his truth; and the testimony to that
faithfulness which made him in his own eyes the equal of the
impeccable men who never fall out of the ranks. Stein's words,
"Romantic!--Romantic!" seem to ring over those distances that will never
give him up now to a world indifferent to his failings and his virtues,
and to that ardent and clinging affection that refuses him the dole of
tears in the bewilderment of a great grief and of eternal separation.
From the moment the sheer truthfulness of his last three years of life
carries the day against the ignorance, the fear, and the anger of men,
he appears no longer to me as I saw him last--a white speck catching all
the dim light left upon a sombre coast and the darkened sea--but greater
and more pitiful in the loneliness of his soul, that remains even for
her who loved him best a cruel and insoluble mystery.

'It is evident that he did not mistrust Brown; there was no reason to
doubt the story, whose truth seemed warranted by the rough frankness,
by a sort of virile sincerity in accepting the morality and the
consequences of his acts. But Jim did not know the almost inconceivable
egotism of the man which made him, when resisted and foiled in his will,
mad with the indignant and revengeful rage of a thwarted autocrat.
But if Jim did not mistrust Brown, he was evidently anxious that some
misunderstanding should not occur, ending perhaps in collision and
bloodshed. It was for this reason that directly the Malay chiefs had
gone he asked Jewel to get him something to eat, as he was going out of
the fort to take command in the town. On her remonstrating against this
on the score of his fatigue, he said that something might happen for
which he would never forgive himself. "I am responsible for every life
in the land," he said. He was moody at first; she served him with her
own hands, taking the plates and dishes (of the dinner-service presented
him by Stein) from Tamb' Itam. He brightened up after a while; told her
she would be again in command of the fort for another night. "There's
no sleep for us, old girl," he said, "while our people are in danger."
Later on he said jokingly that she was the best man of them all. "If you
and Dain Waris had done what you wanted, not one of these poor devils
would be alive to-day." "Are they very bad?" she asked, leaning over his
chair. "Men act badly sometimes without being much worse than others,"
he said after some hesitation.

'Tamb' Itam followed his master to the landing-stage outside the fort.
The night was clear but without a moon, and the middle of the river was
dark, while the water under each bank reflected the light of many fires
"as on a night of Ramadan," Tamb' Itam said. War-boats drifted silently
in the dark lane or, anchored, floated motionless with a loud ripple.
That night there was much paddling in a canoe and walking at his
master's heels for Tamb' Itam: up and down the street they tramped,
where the fires were burning, inland on the outskirts of the town where
small parties of men kept guard in the fields. Tuan Jim gave his orders
and was obeyed. Last of all they went to the Rajah's stockade, which a
detachment of Jim's people manned on that night. The old Rajah had fled
early in the morning with most of his women to a small house he had
near a jungle village on a tributary stream. Kassim, left behind, had
attended the council with his air of diligent activity to explain away
the diplomacy of the day before. He was considerably cold-shouldered,
but managed to preserve his smiling, quiet alertness, and professed
himself highly delighted when Jim told him sternly that he proposed to
occupy the stockade on that night with his own men. After the council
broke up he was heard outside accosting this and that deputing chief,
and speaking in a loud, gratified tone of the Rajah's property being
protected in the Rajah's absence.

'About ten or so Jim's men marched in. The stockade commanded the mouth
of the creek, and Jim meant to remain there till Brown had passed below.
A small fire was lit on the flat, grassy point outside the wall of
stakes, and Tamb' Itam placed a little folding-stool for his master. Jim
told him to try and sleep. Tamb' Itam got a mat and lay down a little
way off; but he could not sleep, though he knew he had to go on an
important journey before the night was out. His master walked to and fro
before the fire with bowed head and with his hands behind his back. His
face was sad. Whenever his master approached him Tamb' Itam pretended to
sleep, not wishing his master to know he had been watched. At last his
master stood still, looking down on him as he lay, and said softly, "It
is time."

'Tamb' Itam arose directly and made his preparations. His mission was
to go down the river, preceding Brown's boat by an hour or more, to tell
Dain Waris finally and formally that the whites were to be allowed to
pass out unmolested. Jim would not trust anybody else with that service.
Before starting, Tamb' Itam, more as a matter of form (since his
position about Jim made him perfectly known), asked for a token.
"Because, Tuan," he said, "the message is important, and these are thy
very words I carry." His master first put his hand into one pocket, then
into another, and finally took off his forefinger Stein's silver ring,
which he habitually wore, and gave it to Tamb' Itam. When Tamb' Itam
left on his mission, Brown's camp on the knoll was dark but for a single
small glow shining through the branches of one of the trees the white
men had cut down.

'Early in the evening Brown had received from Jim a folded piece of
paper on which was written, "You get the clear road. Start as soon
as your boat floats on the morning tide. Let your men be careful. The
bushes on both sides of the creek and the stockade at the mouth are full
of well-armed men. You would have no chance, but I don't believe you
want bloodshed." Brown read it, tore the paper into small pieces, and,
turning to Cornelius, who had brought it, said jeeringly, "Good-bye, my
excellent friend." Cornelius had been in the fort, and had been sneaking
around Jim's house during the afternoon. Jim chose him to carry the note
because he could speak English, was known to Brown, and was not likely
to be shot by some nervous mistake of one of the men as a Malay,
approaching in the dusk, perhaps might have been.

'Cornelius didn't go away after delivering the paper. Brown was sitting
up over a tiny fire; all the others were lying down. "I could tell you
something you would like to know," Cornelius mumbled crossly. Brown paid
no attention. "You did not kill him," went on the other, "and what do
you get for it? You might have had money from the Rajah, besides the
loot of all the Bugis houses, and now you get nothing." "You had better
clear out from here," growled Brown, without even looking at him. But
Cornelius let himself drop by his side and began to whisper very fast,
touching his elbow from time to time. What he had to say made Brown sit
up at first, with a curse. He had simply informed him of Dain Waris's
armed party down the river. At first Brown saw himself completely sold
and betrayed, but a moment's reflection convinced him that there could
be no treachery intended. He said nothing, and after a while Cornelius
remarked, in a tone of complete indifference, that there was another way
out of the river which he knew very well. "A good thing to know, too,"
said Brown, pricking up his ears; and Cornelius began to talk of
what went on in town and repeated all that had been said in council,
gossiping in an even undertone at Brown's ear as you talk amongst
sleeping men you do not wish to wake. "He thinks he has made me
harmless, does he?" mumbled Brown very low. . . . "Yes. He is a fool. A
little child. He came here and robbed me," droned on Cornelius, "and he
made all the people believe him. But if something happened that they did
not believe him any more, where would he be? And the Bugis Dain who
is waiting for you down the river there, captain, is the very man who
chased you up here when you first came." Brown observed nonchalantly
that it would be just as well to avoid him, and with the same detached,
musing air Cornelius declared himself acquainted with a backwater broad
enough to take Brown's boat past Waris's camp. "You will have to be
quiet," he said as an afterthought, "for in one place we pass close
behind his camp. Very close. They are camped ashore with their boats
hauled up." "Oh, we know how to be as quiet as mice; never fear," said
Brown. Cornelius stipulated that in case he were to pilot Brown out, his
canoe should be towed. "I'll have to get back quick," he explained.

'It was two hours before the dawn when word was passed to the stockade
from outlying watchers that the white robbers were coming down to their
boat. In a very short time every armed man from one end of Patusan
to the other was on the alert, yet the banks of the river remained so
silent that but for the fires burning with sudden blurred flares the
town might have been asleep as if in peace-time. A heavy mist lay very
low on the water, making a sort of illusive grey light that showed
nothing. When Brown's long-boat glided out of the creek into the
river, Jim was standing on the low point of land before the Rajah's
stockade--on the very spot where for the first time he put his foot on
Patusan shore. A shadow loomed up, moving in the greyness, solitary,
very bulky, and yet constantly eluding the eye. A murmur of low talking
came out of it. Brown at the tiller heard Jim speak calmly: "A clear
road. You had better trust to the current while the fog lasts; but
this will lift presently." "Yes, presently we shall see clear," replied
Brown.

'The thirty or forty men standing with muskets at ready outside the
stockade held their breath. The Bugis owner of the prau, whom I saw
on Stein's verandah, and who was amongst them, told me that the boat,
shaving the low point close, seemed for a moment to grow big and hang
over it like a mountain. "If you think it worth your while to wait a
day outside," called out Jim, "I'll try to send you down something--a
bullock, some yams--what I can." The shadow went on moving. "Yes. Do,"
said a voice, blank and muffled out of the fog. Not one of the many
attentive listeners understood what the words meant; and then Brown
and his men in their boat floated away, fading spectrally without the
slightest sound.

'Thus Brown, invisible in the mist, goes out of Patusan elbow to elbow
with Cornelius in the stern-sheets of the long-boat. "Perhaps you shall
get a small bullock," said Cornelius. "Oh yes. Bullock. Yam. You'll get
it if he said so. He always speaks the truth. He stole everything I had.
I suppose you like a small bullock better than the loot of many houses."
"I would advise you to hold your tongue, or somebody here may fling
you overboard into this damned fog," said Brown. The boat seemed to be
standing still; nothing could be seen, not even the river alongside,
only the water-dust flew and trickled, condensed, down their beards and
faces. It was weird, Brown told me. Every individual man of them felt
as though he were adrift alone in a boat, haunted by an almost
imperceptible suspicion of sighing, muttering ghosts. "Throw me out,
would you? But I would know where I was," mumbled Cornelius surlily.
"I've lived many years here." "Not long enough to see through a fog like
this," Brown said, lolling back with his arm swinging to and fro on the
useless tiller. "Yes. Long enough for that," snarled Cornelius. "That's
very useful," commented Brown. "Am I to believe you could find that
backway you spoke of blindfold, like this?" Cornelius grunted. "Are you
too tired to row?" he asked after a silence. "No, by God!" shouted Brown
suddenly. "Out with your oars there." There was a great knocking in
the fog, which after a while settled into a regular grind of invisible
sweeps against invisible thole-pins. Otherwise nothing was changed, and
but for the slight splash of a dipped blade it was like rowing a balloon
car in a cloud, said Brown. Thereafter Cornelius did not open his lips
except to ask querulously for somebody to bale out his canoe, which
was towing behind the long-boat. Gradually the fog whitened and became
luminous ahead. To the left Brown saw a darkness as though he had been
looking at the back of the departing night. All at once a big bough
covered with leaves appeared above his head, and ends of twigs, dripping
and still, curved slenderly close alongside. Cornelius, without a word,
took the tiller from his hand.'



CHAPTER 44


'I don't think they spoke together again. The boat entered a narrow
by-channel, where it was pushed by the oar-blades set into crumbling
banks, and there was a gloom as if enormous black wings had been
outspread above the mist that filled its depth to the summits of the
trees. The branches overhead showered big drops through the gloomy fog.
At a mutter from Cornelius, Brown ordered his men to load. "I'll
give you a chance to get even with them before we're done, you dismal
cripples, you," he said to his gang. "Mind you don't throw it away--you
hounds." Low growls answered that speech. Cornelius showed much fussy
concern for the safety of his canoe.

'Meantime Tamb' Itam had reached the end of his journey. The fog had
delayed him a little, but he had paddled steadily, keeping in touch with
the south bank. By-and-by daylight came like a glow in a ground glass
globe. The shores made on each side of the river a dark smudge, in which
one could detect hints of columnar forms and shadows of twisted branches
high up. The mist was still thick on the water, but a good watch was
being kept, for as Iamb' Itam approached the camp the figures of two men
emerged out of the white vapour, and voices spoke to him boisterously.
He answered, and presently a canoe lay alongside, and he exchanged news
with the paddlers. All was well. The trouble was over. Then the men in
the canoe let go their grip on the side of his dug-out and incontinently
fell out of sight. He pursued his way till he heard voices coming to him
quietly over the water, and saw, under the now lifting, swirling mist,
the glow of many little fires burning on a sandy stretch, backed by
lofty thin timber and bushes. There again a look-out was kept, for he
was challenged. He shouted his name as the two last sweeps of his paddle
ran his canoe up on the strand. It was a big camp. Men crouched in many
little knots under a subdued murmur of early morning talk. Many thin
threads of smoke curled slowly on the white mist. Little shelters,
elevated above the ground, had been built for the chiefs. Muskets were
stacked in small pyramids, and long spears were stuck singly into the
sand near the fires.

'Tamb' Itam, assuming an air of importance, demanded to be led to Dain
Waris. He found the friend of his white lord lying on a raised couch
made of bamboo, and sheltered by a sort of shed of sticks covered with
mats. Dain Waris was awake, and a bright fire was burning before his
sleeping-place, which resembled a rude shrine. The only son of nakhoda
Doramin answered his greeting kindly. Tamb' Itam began by handing him
the ring which vouched for the truth of the messenger's words. Dain
Waris, reclining on his elbow, bade him speak and tell all the news.
Beginning with the consecrated formula, "The news is good," Tamb' Itam
delivered Jim's own words. The white men, deputing with the consent of
all the chiefs, were to be allowed to pass down the river. In answer to
a question or two Tamb' Itam then reported the proceedings of the last
council. Dain Waris listened attentively to the end, toying with the
ring which ultimately he slipped on the forefinger of his right hand.
After hearing all he had to say he dismissed Tamb' Itam to have food
and rest. Orders for the return in the afternoon were given immediately.
Afterwards Dain Waris lay down again, open-eyed, while his personal
attendants were preparing his food at the fire, by which Tamb' Itam also
sat talking to the men who lounged up to hear the latest intelligence
from the town. The sun was eating up the mist. A good watch was kept
upon the reach of the main stream where the boat of the whites was
expected to appear every moment.

'It was then that Brown took his revenge upon the world which, after
twenty years of contemptuous and reckless bullying, refused him the
tribute of a common robber's success. It was an act of cold-blooded
ferocity, and it consoled him on his deathbed like a memory of an
indomitable defiance. Stealthily he landed his men on the other side
of the island opposite to the Bugis camp, and led them across. After a
short but quite silent scuffle, Cornelius, who had tried to slink away
at the moment of landing, resigned himself to show the way where the
undergrowth was most sparse. Brown held both his skinny hands together
behind his back in the grip of one vast fist, and now and then impelled
him forward with a fierce push. Cornelius remained as mute as a fish,
abject but faithful to his purpose, whose accomplishment loomed before
him dimly. At the edge of the patch of forest Brown's men spread
themselves out in cover and waited. The camp was plain from end to end
before their eyes, and no one looked their way. Nobody even dreamed that
the white men could have any knowledge of the narrow channel at the back
of the island. When he judged the moment come, Brown yelled, "Let them
have it," and fourteen shots rang out like one.

'Tamb' Itam told me the surprise was so great that, except for those who
fell dead or wounded, not a soul of them moved for quite an appreciable
time after the first discharge. Then a man screamed, and after that
scream a great yell of amazement and fear went up from all the throats.
A blind panic drove these men in a surging swaying mob to and fro along
the shore like a herd of cattle afraid of the water. Some few jumped
into the river then, but most of them did so only after the last
discharge. Three times Brown's men fired into the ruck, Brown, the only
one in view, cursing and yelling, "Aim low! aim low!"

'Tamb' Itam says that, as for him, he understood at the first volley
what had happened. Though untouched he fell down and lay as if dead,
but with his eyes open. At the sound of the first shots Dain Waris,
reclining on the couch, jumped up and ran out upon the open shore, just
in time to receive a bullet in his forehead at the second discharge.
Tamb' Itam saw him fling his arms wide open before he fell. Then, he
says, a great fear came upon him--not before. The white men retired as
they had come--unseen.

'Thus Brown balanced his account with the evil fortune. Notice that even
in this awful outbreak there is a superiority as of a man who carries
right--the abstract thing--within the envelope of his common desires.
It was not a vulgar and treacherous massacre; it was a lesson, a
retribution--a demonstration of some obscure and awful attribute of our
nature which, I am afraid, is not so very far under the surface as we
like to think.

'Afterwards the whites depart unseen by Tamb' Itam, and seem to vanish
from before men's eyes altogether; and the schooner, too, vanishes after
the manner of stolen goods. But a story is told of a white long-boat
picked up a month later in the Indian Ocean by a cargo steamer. Two
parched, yellow, glassy-eyed, whispering skeletons in her recognised
the authority of a third, who declared that his name was Brown. His
schooner, he reported, bound south with a cargo of Java sugar, had
sprung a bad leak and sank under his feet. He and his companions were
the survivors of a crew of six. The two died on board the steamer which
rescued them. Brown lived to be seen by me, and I can testify that he
had played his part to the last.

'It seems, however, that in going away they had neglected to cast off
Cornelius's canoe. Cornelius himself Brown had let go at the beginning
of the shooting, with a kick for a parting benediction. Tamb' Itam,
after arising from amongst the dead, saw the Nazarene running up and
down the shore amongst the corpses and the expiring fires. He uttered
little cries. Suddenly he rushed to the water, and made frantic efforts
to get one of the Bugis boats into the water. "Afterwards, till he had
seen me," related Tamb' Itam, "he stood looking at the heavy canoe and
scratching his head." "What became of him?" I asked. Tamb' Itam, staring
hard at me, made an expressive gesture with his right arm. "Twice I
struck, Tuan," he said. "When he beheld me approaching he cast himself
violently on the ground and made a great outcry, kicking. He screeched
like a frightened hen till he felt the point; then he was still, and lay
staring at me while his life went out of his eyes."

'This done, Tamb' Itam did not tarry. He understood the importance of
being the first with the awful news at the fort. There were, of course,
many survivors of Dain Waris's party; but in the extremity of panic some
had swum across the river, others had bolted into the bush. The fact is
that they did not know really who struck that blow--whether more white
robbers were not coming, whether they had not already got hold of
the whole land. They imagined themselves to be the victims of a vast
treachery, and utterly doomed to destruction. It is said that some small
parties did not come in till three days afterwards. However, a few tried
to make their way back to Patusan at once, and one of the canoes that
were patrolling the river that morning was in sight of the camp at
the very moment of the attack. It is true that at first the men in her
leaped overboard and swam to the opposite bank, but afterwards they
returned to their boat and started fearfully up-stream. Of these Tamb'
Itam had an hour's advance.'



CHAPTER 45


'When Tamb' Itam, paddling madly, came into the town-reach, the women,
thronging the platforms before the houses, were looking out for the
return of Dain Waris's little fleet of boats. The town had a festive
air; here and there men, still with spears or guns in their hands, could
be seen moving or standing on the shore in groups. Chinamen's shops had
been opened early; but the market-place was empty, and a sentry, still
posted at the corner of the fort, made out Tamb' Itam, and shouted to
those within. The gate was wide open. Tamb' Itam jumped ashore and ran
in headlong. The first person he met was the girl coming down from the
house.

'Tamb' Itam, disordered, panting, with trembling lips and wild eyes,
stood for a time before her as if a sudden spell had been laid on him.
Then he broke out very quickly: "They have killed Dain Waris and many
more." She clapped her hands, and her first words were, "Shut the
gates." Most of the fortmen had gone back to their houses, but Tamb'
Itam hurried on the few who remained for their turn of duty within. The
girl stood in the middle of the courtyard while the others ran about.
"Doramin," she cried despairingly, as Tamb' Itam passed her. Next time
he went by he answered her thought rapidly, "Yes. But we have all the
powder in Patusan." She caught him by the arm, and, pointing at the
house, "Call him out," she whispered, trembling.

'Tamb' Itam ran up the steps. His master was sleeping. "It is I, Tamb'
Itam," he cried at the door, "with tidings that cannot wait." He saw
Jim turn over on the pillow and open his eyes, and he burst out at
once. "This, Tuan, is a day of evil, an accursed day." His master raised
himself on his elbow to listen--just as Dain Waris had done. And then
Tamb' Itam began his tale, trying to relate the story in order, calling
Dain Waris Panglima, and saying: "The Panglima then called out to the
chief of his own boatmen, 'Give Tamb' Itam something to eat'"--when
his master put his feet to the ground and looked at him with such a
discomposed face that the words remained in his throat.

'"Speak out," said Jim. "Is he dead?" "May you live long," cried Tamb'
Itam. "It was a most cruel treachery. He ran out at the first shots and
fell." . . . His master walked to the window and with his fist struck
at the shutter. The room was made light; and then in a steady voice, but
speaking fast, he began to give him orders to assemble a fleet of boats
for immediate pursuit, go to this man, to the other--send messengers;
and as he talked he sat down on the bed, stooping to lace his boots
hurriedly, and suddenly looked up. "Why do you stand here?" he asked
very red-faced. "Waste no time." Tamb' Itam did not move. "Forgive me,
Tuan, but . . . but," he began to stammer. "What?" cried his master
aloud, looking terrible, leaning forward with his hands gripping the
edge of the bed. "It is not safe for thy servant to go out amongst the
people," said Tamb' Itam, after hesitating a moment.

'Then Jim understood. He had retreated from one world, for a small
matter of an impulsive jump, and now the other, the work of his own
hands, had fallen in ruins upon his head. It was not safe for his
servant to go out amongst his own people! I believe that in that very
moment he had decided to defy the disaster in the only way it occurred
to him such a disaster could be defied; but all I know is that, without
a word, he came out of his room and sat before the long table, at the
head of which he was accustomed to regulate the affairs of his world,
proclaiming daily the truth that surely lived in his heart. The dark
powers should not rob him twice of his peace. He sat like a stone
figure. Tamb' Itam, deferential, hinted at preparations for defence.
The girl he loved came in and spoke to him, but he made a sign with his
hand, and she was awed by the dumb appeal for silence in it. She went
out on the verandah and sat on the threshold, as if to guard him with
her body from dangers outside.

'What thoughts passed through his head--what memories? Who can tell?
Everything was gone, and he who had been once unfaithful to his trust
had lost again all men's confidence. It was then, I believe, he tried
to write--to somebody--and gave it up. Loneliness was closing on him.
People had trusted him with their lives--only for that; and yet they
could never, as he had said, never be made to understand him. Those
without did not hear him make a sound. Later, towards the evening, he
came to the door and called for Tamb' Itam. "Well?" he asked. "There is
much weeping. Much anger too," said Tamb' Itam. Jim looked up at him.
"You know," he murmured. "Yes, Tuan," said Tamb' Itam. "Thy servant does
know, and the gates are closed. We shall have to fight." "Fight! What
for?" he asked. "For our lives." "I have no life," he said. Tamb' Itam
heard a cry from the girl at the door. "Who knows?" said Tamb' Itam.
"By audacity and cunning we may even escape. There is much fear in men's
hearts too." He went out, thinking vaguely of boats and of open sea,
leaving Jim and the girl together.

'I haven't the heart to set down here such glimpses as she had given
me of the hour or more she passed in there wrestling with him for the
possession of her happiness. Whether he had any hope--what he expected,
what he imagined--it is impossible to say. He was inflexible, and with
the growing loneliness of his obstinacy his spirit seemed to rise above
the ruins of his existence. She cried "Fight!" into his ear. She could
not understand. There was nothing to fight for. He was going to prove
his power in another way and conquer the fatal destiny itself. He came
out into the courtyard, and behind him, with streaming hair, wild
of face, breathless, she staggered out and leaned on the side of the
doorway. "Open the gates," he ordered. Afterwards, turning to those of
his men who were inside, he gave them leave to depart to their homes.
"For how long, Tuan?" asked one of them timidly. "For all life," he
said, in a sombre tone.

'A hush had fallen upon the town after the outburst of wailing and
lamentation that had swept over the river, like a gust of wind from the
opened abode of sorrow. But rumours flew in whispers, filling the hearts
with consternation and horrible doubts. The robbers were coming back,
bringing many others with them, in a great ship, and there would be no
refuge in the land for any one. A sense of utter insecurity as during
an earthquake pervaded the minds of men, who whispered their suspicions,
looking at each other as if in the presence of some awful portent.

'The sun was sinking towards the forests when Dain Waris's body was
brought into Doramin's campong. Four men carried it in, covered decently
with a white sheet which the old mother had sent out down to the gate to
meet her son on his return. They laid him at Doramin's feet, and the old
man sat still for a long time, one hand on each knee, looking down. The
fronds of palms swayed gently, and the foliage of fruit trees stirred
above his head. Every single man of his people was there, fully armed,
when the old nakhoda at last raised his eyes. He moved them slowly over
the crowd, as if seeking for a missing face. Again his chin sank on his
breast. The whispers of many men mingled with the slight rustling of the
leaves.

'The Malay who had brought Tamb' Itam and the girl to Samarang was there
too. "Not so angry as many," he said to me, but struck with a great
awe and wonder at the "suddenness of men's fate, which hangs over their
heads like a cloud charged with thunder." He told me that when Dain
Waris's body was uncovered at a sign of Doramin's, he whom they often
called the white lord's friend was disclosed lying unchanged with his
eyelids a little open as if about to wake. Doramin leaned forward a
little more, like one looking for something fallen on the ground. His
eyes searched the body from its feet to its head, for the wound maybe.
It was in the forehead and small; and there was no word spoken while
one of the by-standers, stooping, took off the silver ring from the cold
stiff hand. In silence he held it up before Doramin. A murmur of dismay
and horror ran through the crowd at the sight of that familiar token.
The old nakhoda stared at it, and suddenly let out one great fierce cry,
deep from the chest, a roar of pain and fury, as mighty as the bellow of
a wounded bull, bringing great fear into men's hearts, by the magnitude
of his anger and his sorrow that could be plainly discerned without
words. There was a great stillness afterwards for a space, while the
body was being borne aside by four men. They laid it down under a tree,
and on the instant, with one long shriek, all the women of the household
began to wail together; they mourned with shrill cries; the sun
was setting, and in the intervals of screamed lamentations the high
sing-song voices of two old men intoning the Koran chanted alone.

'About this time Jim, leaning on a gun-carriage, looked at the river,
and turned his back on the house; and the girl, in the doorway, panting
as if she had run herself to a standstill, was looking at him across the
yard. Tamb' Itam stood not far from his master, waiting patiently for
what might happen. All at once Jim, who seemed to be lost in quiet
thought, turned to him and said, "Time to finish this."

'"Tuan?" said Tamb' Itam, advancing with alacrity. He did not know what
his master meant, but as soon as Jim made a movement the girl started
too and walked down into the open space. It seems that no one else of
the people of the house was in sight. She tottered slightly, and about
half-way down called out to Jim, who had apparently resumed his peaceful
contemplation of the river. He turned round, setting his back against
the gun. "Will you fight?" she cried. "There is nothing to fight for,"
he said; "nothing is lost." Saying this he made a step towards her.
"Will you fly?" she cried again. "There is no escape," he said, stopping
short, and she stood still also, silent, devouring him with her eyes.
"And you shall go?" she said slowly. He bent his head. "Ah!" she
exclaimed, peering at him as it were, "you are mad or false. Do you
remember the night I prayed you to leave me, and you said that you could
not? That it was impossible! Impossible! Do you remember you said you
would never leave me? Why? I asked you for no promise. You promised
unasked--remember." "Enough, poor girl," he said. "I should not be worth
having."

'Tamb' Itam said that while they were talking she would laugh loud and
senselessly like one under the visitation of God. His master put his
hands to his head. He was fully dressed as for every day, but without
a hat. She stopped laughing suddenly. "For the last time," she cried
menacingly, "will you defend yourself?" "Nothing can touch me," he said
in a last flicker of superb egoism. Tamb' Itam saw her lean forward
where she stood, open her arms, and run at him swiftly. She flung
herself upon his breast and clasped him round the neck.

'"Ah! but I shall hold thee thus," she cried. . . . "Thou art mine!"

'She sobbed on his shoulder. The sky over Patusan was blood-red,
immense, streaming like an open vein. An enormous sun nestled crimson
amongst the tree-tops, and the forest below had a black and forbidding
face.

'Tamb' Itam tells me that on that evening the aspect of the heavens was
angry and frightful. I may well believe it, for I know that on that very
day a cyclone passed within sixty miles of the coast, though there was
hardly more than a languid stir of air in the place.

'Suddenly Tamb' Itam saw Jim catch her arms, trying to unclasp her
hands. She hung on them with her head fallen back; her hair touched the
ground. "Come here!" his master called, and Tamb' Itam helped to ease
her down. It was difficult to separate her fingers. Jim, bending
over her, looked earnestly upon her face, and all at once ran to the
landing-stage. Tamb' Itam followed him, but turning his head, he saw
that she had struggled up to her feet. She ran after them a few steps,
then fell down heavily on her knees. "Tuan! Tuan!" called Tamb' Itam,
"look back;" but Jim was already in a canoe, standing up paddle in hand.
He did not look back. Tamb' Itam had just time to scramble in after
him when the canoe floated clear. The girl was then on her knees, with
clasped hands, at the water-gate. She remained thus for a time in
a supplicating attitude before she sprang up. "You are false!" she
screamed out after Jim. "Forgive me," he cried. "Never! Never!" she
called back.

'Tamb' Itam took the paddle from Jim's hands, it being unseemly that he
should sit while his lord paddled. When they reached the other shore his
master forbade him to come any farther; but Tamb' Itam did follow him at
a distance, walking up the slope to Doramin's campong.

'It was beginning to grow dark. Torches twinkled here and there. Those
they met seemed awestruck, and stood aside hastily to let Jim pass. The
wailing of women came from above. The courtyard was full of armed Bugis
with their followers, and of Patusan people.

'I do not know what this gathering really meant. Were these preparations
for war, or for vengeance, or to repulse a threatened invasion? Many
days elapsed before the people had ceased to look out, quaking, for
the return of the white men with long beards and in rags, whose exact
relation to their own white man they could never understand. Even for
those simple minds poor Jim remains under a cloud.

'Doramin, alone! immense and desolate, sat in his arm-chair with the
pair of flintlock pistols on his knees, faced by a armed throng. When
Jim appeared, at somebody's exclamation, all the heads turned round
together, and then the mass opened right and left, and he walked up a
lane of averted glances. Whispers followed him; murmurs: "He has worked
all the evil." "He hath a charm." . . . He heard them--perhaps!

'When he came up into the light of torches the wailing of the women
ceased suddenly. Doramin did not lift his head, and Jim stood silent
before him for a time. Then he looked to the left, and moved in that
direction with measured steps. Dain Waris's mother crouched at the head
of the body, and the grey dishevelled hair concealed her face. Jim came
up slowly, looked at his dead friend, lifting the sheet, than dropped it
without a word. Slowly he walked back.

'"He came! He came!" was running from lip to lip, making a murmur to
which he moved. "He hath taken it upon his own head," a voice said
aloud. He heard this and turned to the crowd. "Yes. Upon my head." A few
people recoiled. Jim waited awhile before Doramin, and then said gently,
"I am come in sorrow." He waited again. "I am come ready and unarmed,"
he repeated.

'The unwieldy old man, lowering his big forehead like an ox under a
yoke, made an effort to rise, clutching at the flintlock pistols on his
knees. From his throat came gurgling, choking, inhuman sounds, and his
two attendants helped him from behind. People remarked that the ring
which he had dropped on his lap fell and rolled against the foot of
the white man, and that poor Jim glanced down at the talisman that had
opened for him the door of fame, love, and success within the wall of
forests fringed with white foam, within the coast that under the western
sun looks like the very stronghold of the night. Doramin, struggling to
keep his feet, made with his two supporters a swaying, tottering group;
his little eyes stared with an expression of mad pain, of rage, with
a ferocious glitter, which the bystanders noticed; and then, while Jim
stood stiffened and with bared head in the light of torches, looking him
straight in the face, he clung heavily with his left arm round the neck
of a bowed youth, and lifting deliberately his right, shot his son's
friend through the chest.

'The crowd, which had fallen apart behind Jim as soon as Doramin had
raised his hand, rushed tumultuously forward after the shot. They say
that the white man sent right and left at all those faces a proud and
unflinching glance. Then with his hand over his lips he fell forward,
dead.

'And that's the end. He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart,
forgotten, unforgiven, and excessively romantic. Not in the wildest days
of his boyish visions could he have seen the alluring shape of such an
extraordinary success! For it may very well be that in the short moment
of his last proud and unflinching glance, he had beheld the face of that
opportunity which, like an Eastern bride, had come veiled to his side.

'But we can see him, an obscure conqueror of fame, tearing himself out
of the arms of a jealous love at the sign, at the call of his exalted
egoism. He goes away from a living woman to celebrate his pitiless
wedding with a shadowy ideal of conduct. Is he satisfied--quite, now, I
wonder? We ought to know. He is one of us--and have I not stood up once,
like an evoked ghost, to answer for his eternal constancy? Was I so very
wrong after all? Now he is no more, there are days when the reality of
his existence comes to me with an immense, with an overwhelming force;
and yet upon my honour there are moments, too when he passes from my
eyes like a disembodied spirit astray amongst the passions of this
earth, ready to surrender himself faithfully to the claim of his own
world of shades.

'Who knows? He is gone, inscrutable at heart, and the poor girl is
leading a sort of soundless, inert life in Stein's house. Stein has
aged greatly of late. He feels it himself, and says often that he is
"preparing to leave all this; preparing to leave . . ." while he waves
his hand sadly at his butterflies.'

September 1899--July 1900.



THE END





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