Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 7
'An outward-bound mail-boat had come in that afternoon, and the big dining-room
of the hotel was more than half full of people with a-hundred-pounds-round-the-
world tickets in their pockets. There were married couples looking domesticated
and bored with each other in the midst of their travels; there were small parties
and large parties, and lone individuals dining solemnly or feasting boisterously,
but all thinking, conversing, joking, or scowling as was their wont at home; and
just as intelligently receptive of new impressions as their trunks upstairs.
Henceforth they would be labelled as having passed through this and that place,
and so would be their luggage. They would cherish this distinction of their
persons, and preserve the gummed tickets on their portmanteaus as
documentary evidence, as the only permanent trace of their improving enterprise.
The dark-faced servants tripped without noise over the vast and polished floor;
now and then a girl's laugh would be heard, as innocent and empty as her mind,
or, in a sudden hush of crockery, a few words in an affected drawl from some wit
embroidering for the benefit of a grinning tableful the last funny story of shipboard
scandal. Two nomadic old maids, dressed up to kill, worked acrimoniously
through the bill of fare, whispering to each other with faded lips, wooden-faced
and bizarre, like two sumptuous scarecrows. A little wine opened Jim's heart and
loosened his tongue. His appetite was good, too, I noticed. He seemed to have
buried somewhere the opening episode of our acquaintance. It was like a thing of
which there would be no more question in this world. And all the time I had
before me these blue, boyish eyes looking straight into mine, this young face,
these capable shoulders, the open bronzed forehead with a white line under the
roots of clustering fair hair, this appearance appealing at sight to all my
sympathies: this frank aspect, the artless smile, the youthful seriousness. He was
of the right sort; he was one of us. He talked soberly, with a sort of composed
unreserve, and with a quiet bearing that might have been the outcome of manly
self-control, of impudence, of callousness, of a colossal unconsciousness, of a
gigantic deception. Who can tell! From our tone we might have been discussing a
third person, a football match, last year's weather. My mind floated in a sea of
conjectures till the turn of the conversation enabled me, without being offensive,
to remark that, upon the whole, this inquiry must have been pretty trying to him.
He darted his arm across the tablecloth, and clutching my hand by the side of my
plate, glared fixedly. I was startled. "It must be awfully hard," I stammered,
confused by this display of speechless feeling. "It is-- hell," he burst out in a
muffled voice.
'This movement and these words caused two well-groomed male globe-trotters at
a neighbouring table to look up in alarm from their iced pudding. I rose, and we
passed into the front gallery for coffee and cigars.