Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 13
'After these words, and without a change of attitude, he, so to speak, submitted
himself passively to a state of silence. I kept him company; and suddenly, but not
abruptly, as if the appointed time had arrived for his moderate and husky voice to
come out of his immobility, he pronounced, "Mon Dieu! how the time passes!"
Nothing could have been more commonplace than this remark; but its utterance
coincided for me with a moment of vision. It's extraordinary how we go through
life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it's just as
well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to the incalculable
majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but few of
us who had never known one of these rare moments of awakening when we see,
hear, understand ever so much--everything--in a flash--before we fall back again
into our agreeable somnolence. I raised my eyes when he spoke, and I saw him
as though I had never seen him before. I saw his chin sunk on his breast, the
clumsy folds of his coat, his clasped hands, his motionless pose, so curiously
suggestive of his having been simply left there. Time had passed indeed: it had
overtaken him and gone ahead. It had left him hopelessly behind with a few poor
gifts: the iron-grey hair, the heavy fatigue of the tanned face, two scars, a pair of
tarnished shoulder-straps; one of those steady, reliable men who are the raw
material of great reputations, one of those uncounted lives that are buried without
drums and trumpets under the foundations of monumental successes.
' "I am now third lieutenant of the Victorieuse" (she was the flagship of the French
Pacific squadron at the time), he said, detaching his shoulders from the wall a
couple of inches to introduce himself. I bowed slightly on my side of the table,
and told him I commanded a merchant vessel at present anchored in
Rushcutters' Bay. He had "remarked" her,--a pretty little craft. He was very civil
about it in his impassive way. I even fancy he went the length of tilting his head in
compliment as he repeated, breathing visibly the while, "Ah, yes. A little craft
painted black--very pretty--very pretty (tres coquet)." After a time he twisted his
body slowly to face the glass door on our right. "A dull town (triste ville)," he
observed, staring into the street. It was a brilliant day; a southerly buster was
raging, and we could see the passers-by, men and women, buffeted by the wind
on the sidewalks, the sunlit fronts of the houses across the road blurred by the
tall whirls of dust. "I descended on shore," he said, "to stretch my legs a little, but
. . ." He didn't finish, and sank into the depths of his repose. "Pray--tell me," he
began, coming up ponderously, "what was there at the bottom of this affair--
precisely (au juste)? It is curious. That dead man, for instance--and so on."
' "There were living men too," I said; "much more curious."
' "No doubt, no doubt," he agreed half audibly, then, as if after mature
consideration, murmured, "Evidently." I made no difficulty in communicating to