Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 8
'How long he stood stock-still by the hatch expecting every moment to feel the
ship dip under his feet and the rush of water take him at the back and toss him
like a chip, I cannot say. Not very long--two minutes perhaps. A couple of men he
could not make out began to converse drowsily, and also, he could not tell
where, he detected a curious noise of shuffling feet. Above these faint sounds
there was that awful stillness preceding a catastrophe, that trying silence of the
moment before the crash; then it came into his head that perhaps he would have
time to rush along and cut all the lanyards of the gripes, so that the boats would
float as the ship went down.
'The Patna had a long bridge, and all the boats were up there, four on one side
and three on the other--the smallest of them on the port-side and nearly abreast
of the steering gear. He assured me, with evident anxiety to be believed, that he
had been most careful to keep them ready for instant service. He knew his duty. I
dare say he was a good enough mate as far as that went. "I always believed in
being prepared for the worst," he commented, staring anxiously in my face. I
nodded my approval of the sound principle, averting my eyes before the subtle
unsoundness of the man.
'He started unsteadily to run. He had to step over legs, avoid stumbling against
the heads. Suddenly some one caught hold of his coat from below, and a
distressed voice spoke under his elbow. The light of the lamp he carried in his
right hand fell upon an upturned dark face whose eyes entreated him together
with the voice. He had picked up enough of the language to understand the word
water, repeated several times in a tone of insistence, of prayer, almost of
despair. He gave a jerk to get away, and felt an arm embrace his leg.
' "The beggar clung to me like a drowning man," he said impressively. "Water,
water! What water did he mean? What did he know? As calmly as I could I
ordered him to let go. He was stopping me, time was pressing, other men began
to stir; I wanted time--time to cut the boats adrift. He got hold of my hand now,
and I felt that he would begin to shout. It flashed upon me it was enough to start
a panic, and I hauled off with my free arm and slung the lamp in his face. The
glass jingled, the light went out, but the blow made him let go, and I ran off--I
wanted to get at the boats; I wanted to get at the boats. He leaped after me from
behind. I turned on him. He would not keep quiet; he tried to shout; I had half
throttled him before I made out what he wanted. He wanted some water--water to
drink; they were on strict allowance, you know, and he had with him a young boy
I had noticed several times. His child was sick--and thirsty. He had caught sight
of me as I passed by, and was begging for a little water. That's all. We were
under the bridge, in the dark. He kept on snatching at my wrists; there was no
getting rid of him. I dashed into my berth, grabbed my water-bottle, and thrust it