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Almayer's Folly

Chapter 5
The Professor had turned into a street to the left, and walked along, with his head
carried rigidly erect, in a crowd whose every individual almost overtopped his
stunted stature. It was vain to pretend to himself that he was not disappointed.
But that was mere feeling; the stoicism of his thought could not be disturbed by
this or any other failure. Next time, or the time after next, a telling stroke would be
delivered-something really startling - a blow fit to open the first crack in the
imposing front of the great edifice of legal conceptions sheltering the atrocious
injustice of society. Of humble origin, and with an appearance really so mean as
to stand in the way of his considerable natural abilities, his imagination had been
fired early by the tales of men rising from the depths of poverty to positions of
authority and affluence. The extreme, almost ascetic purity of his thought,
combined with an astounding ignorance of worldly conditions, had set before him
a goal of power and prestige to be attained without the medium of arts, graces,
tact, wealth - by sheer weight of merit alone. On that view he considered himself
entitled to undisputed success. His father, a delicate dark enthusiast with a
sloping forehead, had been an itinerant and rousing preacher of some obscure
but rigid Christian sect - a man supremely confident in the privileges of his
righteousness. In the son, individualist by temperament, once the science of
colleges had replaced thoroughly the faith of conventicles, this moral attitude
translated itself into a frenzied puritanism of ambition. He nursed it as something
secularly holy. To see it thwarted opened his eyes to the true nature of the world,
whose morality was artificial, corrupt, and blasphemous. The way of even the
most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into
creeds. The Professor's indignation found in itself a final cause that absolved him
from the sin of turning to destruction as the agent of his ambition. To destroy
public faith in legality was the imperfect formula of his pedantic fanaticism; but
the subconscious conviction that the framework of an established social order
cannot be effectually shattered except by some form of collective or individual
violence was precise and correct. He was a moral agent - that was settled in his
mind. By exercising his agency with ruthless defiance he procured for himself the
appearances of power and personal prestige. That was undeniable to his
vengeful bitterness. It pacified its unrest; and in their own way the most ardent of
revolutionaries are perhaps doing no more but seeking for peace in common with
the rest of mankind - the peace of soothed vanity, of satisfied appetites, or
perhaps of appeased conscience.
Lost in the crowd, miserable and undersized, he meditated confidently on his
power, keeping his hand in the left pocket of his trousers, grasping lightly the
india-rubber ball, the supreme guarantee of his sinister freedom; but after a while
he became disagreeably affected by the sight of the roadway thronged with
vehicles and of the pavement crowded with men and women. He was in a long,
straight street, peopled by a mere fraction of an immense multitude; but all round
him, on and on, even to the limits of the horizon hidden by the enormous piles of
 
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