Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 14
'I slept little, hurried over my breakfast, and after a slight hesitation gave up my
early morning visit to my ship. It was really very wrong of me, because, though
my chief mate was an excellent man all round, he was the victim of such black
imaginings that if he did not get a letter from his wife at the expected time he
would go quite distracted with rage and jealousy, lose all grip on the work,
quarrel with all hands, and either weep in his cabin or develop such a ferocity of
temper as all but drove the crew to the verge of mutiny. The thing had always
seemed inexplicable to me: they had been married thirteen years; I had a
glimpse of her once, and, honestly, I couldn't conceive a man abandoned enough
to plunge into sin for the sake of such an unattractive person. I don't know
whether I have not done wrong by refraining from putting that view before poor
Selvin: the man made a little hell on earth for himself, and I also suffered
indirectly, but some sort of, no doubt, false delicacy prevented me. The marital
relations of seamen would make an interesting subject, and I could tell you
instances. . . . However, this is not the place, nor the time, and we are concerned
with Jim-- who was unmarried. If his imaginative conscience or his pride; if all the
extravagant ghosts and austere shades that were the disastrous familiars of his
youth would not let him run away from the block, I, who of course can't be
suspected of such familiars, was irresistibly impelled to go and see his head roll
off. I wended my way towards the court. I didn't hope to be very much impressed
or edified, or interested or even frightened--though, as long as there is any life
before one, a jolly good fright now and then is a salutary discipline. But neither
did I expect to be so awfully depressed. The bitterness of his punishment was in
its chill and mean atmosphere. The real significance of crime is in its being a
breach of faith with the community of mankind, and from that point of view he
was no mean traitor, but his execution was a hole-and-corner affair. There was
no high scaffolding, no scarlet cloth (did they have scarlet cloth on Tower Hill?
They should have had), no awe-stricken multitude to be horrified at his guilt and
be moved to tears at his fate--no air of sombre retribution. There was, as I
walked along, the clear sunshine, a brilliance too passionate to be consoling, the
streets full of jumbled bits of colour like a damaged kaleidoscope: yellow, green,
blue, dazzling white, the brown nudity of an undraped shoulder, a bullock-cart
with a red canopy, a company of native infantry in a drab body with dark heads
marching in dusty laced boots, a native policeman in a sombre uniform of scanty
cut and belted in patent leather, who looked up at me with orientally pitiful eyes
as though his migrating spirit were suffering exceedingly from that unforeseen--
what d'ye call 'em?--avatar--incarnation. Under the shade of a lonely tree in the
courtyard, the villagers connected with the assault case sat in a picturesque
group, looking like a chromo-lithograph of a camp in a book of Eastern travel.
One missed the obligatory thread of smoke in the foreground and the pack-
animals grazing. A blank yellow wall rose behind overtopping the tree, reflecting
the glare. The court-room was sombre, seemed more vast. High up in the dim