Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 1
He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced
straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed
from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull. His voice was deep,
loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had
nothing aggressive in it. It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as
much at himself as at anybody else. He was spotlessly neat, apparelled in
immaculate white from shoes to hat, and in the various Eastern ports where he
got his living as ship-chandler's water-clerk he was very popular.
A water-clerk need not pass an examination in anything under the sun, but he
must have Ability in the abstract and demonstrate it practically. His work consists
in racing under sail, steam, or oars against other water-clerks for any ship about
to anchor, greeting her captain cheerily, forcing upon him a card--the business
card of the ship-chandler--and on his first visit on shore piloting him firmly but
without ostentation to a vast, cavern-like shop which is full of things that are
eaten and drunk on board ship; where you can get everything to make her
seaworthy and beautiful, from a set of chain-hooks for her cable to a book of
gold-leaf for the carvings of her stern; and where her commander is received like
a brother by a ship-chandler he has never seen before. There is a cool parlour,
easy-chairs, bottles, cigars, writing implements, a copy of harbour regulations,
and a warmth of welcome that melts the salt of a three months' passage out of a
seaman's heart. The connection thus begun is kept up, as long as the ship
remains in harbour, by the daily visits of the water-clerk. To the captain he is
faithful like a friend and attentive like a son, with the patience of Job, the
unselfish devotion of a woman, and the jollity of a boon companion. Later on the
bill is sent in. It is a beautiful and humane occupation. Therefore good water-
clerks are scarce. When a water-clerk who possesses Ability in the abstract has
also the advantage of having been brought up to the sea, he is worth to his
employer a lot of money and some humouring. Jim had always good wages and
as much humouring as would have bought the fidelity of a fiend. Nevertheless,
with black ingratitude he would throw up the job suddenly and depart. To his
employers the reasons he gave were obviously inadequate. They said
'Confounded fool!' as soon as his back was turned. This was their criticism on his
exquisite sensibility.
To the white men in the waterside business and to the captains of ships he was
just Jim--nothing more. He had, of course, another name, but he was anxious
that it should not be pronounced. His incognito, which had as many holes as a
sieve, was not meant to hide a personality but a fact. When the fact broke
through the incognito he would leave suddenly the seaport where he happened
to be at the time and go to another--generally farther east. He kept to seaports
because he was a seaman in exile from the sea, and had Ability in the abstract,
which is good for no other work but that of a water-clerk. He retreated in good