Lord Jim HTML version

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.