Lord Jim HTML version

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.