Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 36
With these words Marlow had ended his narrative, and his audience had broken
up forthwith, under his abstract, pensive gaze. Men drifted off the verandah in
pairs or alone without loss of time, without offering a remark, as if the last image
of that incomplete story, its incompleteness itself, and the very tone of the
speaker, had made discussion in vain and comment impossible. Each of them
seemed to carry away his own impression, to carry it away with him like a secret;
but there was only one man of all these listeners who was ever to hear the last
word of the story. It came to him at home, more than two years later, and it came
contained in a thick packet addressed in Marlow's upright and angular
The privileged man opened the packet, looked in, then, laying it down, went to
the window. His rooms were in the highest flat of a lofty building, and his glance
could travel afar beyond the clear panes of glass, as though he were looking out
of the lantern of a lighthouse. The slopes of the roofs glistened, the dark broken
ridges succeeded each other without end like sombre, uncrested waves, and
from the depths of the town under his feet ascended a confused and unceasing
mutter. The spires of churches, numerous, scattered haphazard, uprose like
beacons on a maze of shoals without a channel; the driving rain mingled with the
falling dusk of a winter's evening; and the booming of a big clock on a tower,
striking the hour, rolled past in voluminous, austere bursts of sound, with a shrill
vibrating cry at the core. He drew the heavy curtains.
The light of his shaded reading-lamp slept like a sheltered pool, his footfalls
made no sound on the carpet, his wandering days were over. No more horizons
as boundless as hope, no more twilights within the forests as solemn as temples,
in the hot quest for the Ever-undiscovered Country over the hill, across the
stream, beyond the wave. The hour was striking! No more! No more!--but the
opened packet under the lamp brought back the sounds, the visions, the very
savour of the past--a multitude of fading faces, a tumult of low voices, dying away
upon the shores of distant seas under a passionate and unconsoling sunshine.
He sighed and sat down to read.
At first he saw three distinct enclosures. A good many pages closely blackened
and pinned together; a loose square sheet of greyish paper with a few words
traced in a handwriting he had never seen before, and an explanatory letter from
Marlow. From this last fell another letter, yellowed by time and frayed on the
folds. He picked it up and, laying it aside, turned to Marlow's message, ran swiftly
over the opening lines, and, checking himself, thereafter read on deliberately, like
one approaching with slow feet and alert eyes the glimpse of an undiscovered