Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 6
'The authorities were evidently of the same opinion. The inquiry was not
adjourned. It was held on the appointed day to satisfy the law, and it was well
attended because of its human interest, no doubt. There was no incertitude as to
facts--as to the one material fact, I mean. How the Patna came by her hurt it was
impossible to find out; the court did not expect to find out; and in the whole
audience there was not a man who cared. Yet, as I've told you, all the sailors in
the port attended, and the waterside business was fully represented. Whether
they knew it or not, the interest that drew them here was purely psychological--
the expectation of some essential disclosure as to the strength, the power, the
horror, of human emotions. Naturally nothing of the kind could be disclosed. The
examination of the only man able and willing to face it was beating futilely round
the well-known fact, and the play of questions upon it was as instructive as the
tapping with a hammer on an iron box, were the object to find out what's inside.
However, an official inquiry could not be any other thing. Its object was not the
fundamental why, but the superficial how, of this affair.
'The young chap could have told them, and, though that very thing was the thing
that interested the audience, the questions put to him necessarily led him away
from what to me, for instance, would have been the only truth worth knowing.
You can't expect the constituted authorities to inquire into the state of a man's
soul-- or is it only of his liver? Their business was to come down upon the
consequences, and frankly, a casual police magistrate and two nautical
assessors are not much good for anything else. I don't mean to imply these
fellows were stupid. The magistrate was very patient. One of the assessors was
a sailing-ship skipper with a reddish beard, and of a pious disposition. Brierly was
the other. Big Brierly. Some of you must have heard of Big Brierly--the captain of
the crack ship of the Blue Star line. That's the man.
'He seemed consumedly bored by the honour thrust upon him. He had never in
his life made a mistake, never had an accident, never a mishap, never a check in
his steady rise, and he seemed to be one of those lucky fellows who know
nothing of indecision, much less of self-mistrust. At thirty-two he had one of the
best commands going in the Eastern trade--and, what's more, he thought a lot of
what he had. There was nothing like it in the world, and I suppose if you had
asked him point-blank he would have confessed that in his opinion there was not
such another commander. The choice had fallen upon the right man. The rest of
mankind that did not command the sixteen-knot steel steamer Ossa were rather
poor creatures. He had saved lives at sea, had rescued ships in distress, had a
gold chronometer presented to him by the underwriters, and a pair of binoculars
with a suitable inscription from some foreign Government, in commemoration of
these services. He was acutely aware of his merits and of his rewards. I liked him
well enough, though some I know--meek, friendly men at that--couldn't stand him