Lord Jim HTML version

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