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Lord Jim

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
 
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