Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 32
'Jim took up an advantageous position and shepherded them out in a bunch
through the doorway: all that time the torch had remained vertical in the grip of a
little hand, without so much as a tremble. The three men obeyed him, perfectly
mute, moving automatically. He ranged them in a row. "Link arms!" he ordered.
They did so. "The first who withdraws his arm or turns his head is a dead man,"
he said. "March!" They stepped out together, rigidly; he followed, and at the side
the girl, in a trailing white gown, her black hair falling as low as her waist, bore
the light. Erect and swaying, she seemed to glide without touching the earth; the
only sound was the silky swish and rustle of the long grass. "Stop!" cried Jim.
'The river-bank was steep; a great freshness ascended, the light fell on the edge
of smooth dark water frothing without a ripple; right and left the shapes of the
houses ran together below the sharp outlines of the roofs. "Take my greetings to
Sherif Ali--till I come myself," said Jim. Not one head of the three budged.
"Jump!" he thundered. The three splashes made one splash, a shower flew up,
black heads bobbed convulsively, and disappeared; but a great blowing and
spluttering went on, growing faint, for they were diving industriously in great fear
of a parting shot. Jim turned to the girl, who had been a silent and attentive
observer. His heart seemed suddenly to grow too big for his breast and choke
him in the hollow of his throat. This probably made him speechless for so long,
and after returning his gaze she flung the burning torch with a wide sweep of the
arm into the river. The ruddy fiery glare, taking a long flight through the night,
sank with a vicious hiss, and the calm soft starlight descended upon them,
'He did not tell me what it was he said when at last he recovered his voice. I don't
suppose he could be very eloquent. The world was still, the night breathed on
them, one of those nights that seem created for the sheltering of tenderness, and
there are moments when our souls, as if freed from their dark envelope, glow
with an exquisite sensibility that makes certain silences more lucid than
speeches. As to the girl, he told me, "She broke down a bit. Excitement--don't
you know. Reaction. Deucedly tired she must have been--and all that kind of
thing. And--and--hang it all--she was fond of me, don't you see. . . . I too. . . didn't
know, of course . . . never entered my head . . ."
'Then he got up and began to walk about in some agitation. "I--I love her dearly.
More than I can tell. Of course one cannot tell. You take a different view of your
actions when you come to understand, when you are made to understand every
day that your existence is necessary--you see, absolutely necessary--to another
person. I am made to feel that. Wonderful! But only try to think what her life has
been. It is too extravagantly awful! Isn't it? And me finding her here like this--as
you may go out for a stroll and come suddenly upon somebody drowning in a