Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 42
'I don't think he could do more than perhaps look upon that straight path. He
seemed to have been puzzled by what he saw, for he interrupted himself in his
narrative more than once to exclaim, "He nearly slipped from me there. I could
not make him out. Who was he?" And after glaring at me wildly he would go on,
jubilating and sneering. To me the conversation of these two across the creek
appears now as the deadliest kind of duel on which Fate looked on with her cold-
eyed knowledge of the end. No, he didn't turn Jim's soul inside out, but I am
much mistaken if the spirit so utterly out of his reach had not been made to taste
to the full the bitterness of that contest. These were the emissaries with whom
the world he had renounced was pursuing him in his retreat--white men from "out
there" where he did not think himself good enough to live. This was all that came
to him--a menace, a shock, a danger to his work. I suppose it is this sad, half-
resentful, half-resigned feeling, piercing through the few words Jim said now and
then, that puzzled Brown so much in the reading of his character. Some great
men owe most of their greatness to the ability of detecting in those they destine
for their tools the exact quality of strength that matters for their work; and Brown,
as though he had been really great, had a satanic gift of finding out the best and
the weakest spot in his victims. He admitted to me that Jim wasn't of the sort that
can be got over by truckling, and accordingly he took care to show himself as a
man confronting without dismay ill-luck, censure, and disaster. The smuggling of
a few guns was no great crime, he pointed out. As to coming to Patusan, who
had the right to say he hadn't come to beg? The infernal people here let loose at
him from both banks without staying to ask questions. He made the point
brazenly, for, in truth, Dain Waris's energetic action had prevented the greatest
calamities; because Brown told me distinctly that, perceiving the size of the
place, he had resolved instantly in his mind that as soon as he had gained a
footing he would set fire right and left, and begin by shooting down everything
living in sight, in order to cow and terrify the population. The disproportion of
forces was so great that this was the only way giving him the slightest chance of
attaining his ends--he argued in a fit of coughing. But he didn't tell Jim this. As to
the hardships and starvation they had gone through, these had been very real; it
was enough to look at his band. He made, at the sound of a shrill whistle, all his
men appear standing in a row on the logs in full view, so that Jim could see them.
For the killing of the man, it had been done--well, it had--but was not this war,
bloody war--in a corner? and the fellow had been killed cleanly, shot through the
chest, not like that poor devil of his lying now in the creek. They had to listen to
him dying for six hours, with his entrails torn with slugs. At any rate this was a life
for a life. . . . And all this was said with the weariness, with the recklessness of a
man spurred on and on by ill-luck till he cares not where he runs. When he asked
Jim, with a sort of brusque despairing frankness, whether he himself--straight
now--didn't understand that when "it came to saving one's life in the dark, one
didn't care who else went--three, thirty, three hundred people"--it was as if a