Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 4
A month or so afterwards, when Jim, in answer to pointed questions, tried to tell
honestly the truth of this experience, he said, speaking of the ship: 'She went
over whatever it was as easy as a snake crawling over a stick.' The illustration
was good: the questions were aiming at facts, and the official Inquiry was being
held in the police court of an Eastern port. He stood elevated in the witness-box,
with burning cheeks in a cool lofty room: the big framework of punkahs moved
gently to and fro high above his head, and from below many eyes were looking at
him out of dark faces, out of white faces, out of red faces, out of faces attentive,
spellbound, as if all these people sitting in orderly rows upon narrow benches
had been enslaved by the fascination of his voice. It was very loud, it rang
startling in his own ears, it was the only sound audible in the world, for the terribly
distinct questions that extorted his answers seemed to shape themselves in
anguish and pain within his breast,-- came to him poignant and silent like the
terrible questioning of one's conscience. Outside the court the sun blazed--within
was the wind of great punkahs that made you shiver, the shame that made you
burn, the attentive eyes whose glance stabbed. The face of the presiding
magistrate, clean shaved and impassible, looked at him deadly pale between the
red faces of the two nautical assessors. The light of a broad window under the
ceiling fell from above on the heads and shoulders of the three men, and they
were fiercely distinct in the half-light of the big court-room where the audience
seemed composed of staring shadows. They wanted facts. Facts! They
demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything!
'After you had concluded you had collided with something floating awash, say a
water-logged wreck, you were ordered by your captain to go forward and
ascertain if there was any damage done. Did you think it likely from the force of
the blow?' asked the assessor sitting to the left. He had a thin horseshoe beard,
salient cheek-bones, and with both elbows on the desk clasped his rugged hands
before his face, looking at Jim with thoughtful blue eyes; the other, a heavy,
scornful man, thrown back in his seat, his left arm extended full length, drummed
delicately with his finger-tips on a blotting-pad: in the middle the magistrate
upright in the roomy arm-chair, his head inclined slightly on the shoulder, had his
arms crossed on his breast and a few flowers in a glass vase by the side of his
'I did not,' said Jim. 'I was told to call no one and to make no noise for fear of
creating a panic. I thought the precaution reasonable. I took one of the lamps that
were hung under the awnings and went forward. After opening the forepeak
hatch I heard splashing in there. I lowered then the lamp the whole drift of its
lanyard, and saw that the forepeak was more than half full of water already. I
knew then there must be a big hole below the water-line.' He paused.