Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad

Chapter 45

‘When Tamb’ Itam, paddling madly, came into the town-reach, the women, thronging the platforms before the houses, were looking out for the return of Dain Waris’s little fleet of boats. The town had a festive air; here and there men, still with spears or guns in their hands, could be seen moving or standing on the shore in groups. Chinamen’s shops had been opened early; but the marketplace was empty, and a sentry, still posted at the corner of the fort, made out Tamb’ Itam, and shouted to those within. The gate was wide open. Tamb’ Itam jumped ashore and ran in headlong. The first person he met was the girl coming down from the house.

‘Tamb’ Itam, disordered, panting, with trembling lips and wild eyes, stood for a time before her as if a sudden spell had been laid on him. Then he broke out very quickly: “They have killed Dain Waris and many more.” She clapped her hands, and her first words were, “Shut the gates.” Most of the fortmen had gone back to their houses, but Tamb’ Itam hurried on the few who remained for their turn of duty within. The girl stood in the middle of the courtyard while the others ran about. “Doramin,” she cried despairingly as Tamb’ Itam passed her. Next time he went by he answered her thought rapidly, “Yes. But we have all the powder in Patusan.” She caught him by the arm, and, pointing at the house, “Call him out,” she whispered, trembling.

‘Tamb’ Itam ran up the steps. His master was sleeping. “It is I, Tamb’ Itam,” he cried at the door, “with tidings that cannot wait.” He saw Jim turn over on the pillow and open his eyes, and he burst out at once. “This, Tuan, is a day of evil, an accursed day.” His master raised himself on his elbow to listen — just as Dain Waris had done. And then Tamb’ Itam began his tale, trying to relate the story in order, calling Dain Waris Panglima, and saying: “The Panglima then called out to the chief of his own boatmen, ‘Give Tamb’ Itam something to eat’” — when his master put his feet to the ground and looked at him with such a discomposed face that the words remained in his throat.

‘“Speak out,” said Jim. “Is he dead?” “May you live long,” cried Tamb’ Itam. “It was a most cruel treachery. He ran out at the first shots and fell.” . . . His master walked to the window and with his fist struck at the shutter. The room was made light; and then in a steady voice, but speaking fast, he began to give him orders to assemble a fleet of boats for immediate pursuit, go to this man, to the other — send messengers; and as he talked he sat down on the bed, stooping to lace his boots hurriedly, and suddenly looked up. “Why do you stand here?” he asked very red-faced. “Waste no time.” Tamb’ Itam did not move. “Forgive me, Tuan, but . . . but,” he began to stummer. “What?” cried his master aloud, looking terrible, leaning forward with his hands gripping the edge of the bed. “It is not safe for thy servant to go out amongst the people,” said Tamb’ Itam, after hesitating a moment.

‘Then Jim understood. He had retreated from one world, for a small matter of an impulsive jump, and now the other, the work of his own hands, had fallen in ruins upon his head. It was not safe for his servant to go out amongst his own people! I believe that in that very moment he had decided to defy the disaster in the only way it occurred to him such a disaster could be defied; but all I know is that, without a word, he came out of his room and sat before the long table, at the head of which he was accustomed to regulate the affairs of his world, proclaiming daily the truth that surely lived in his heart. The dark powers should not rob him twice of his peace. He sat like a stone figure. Tamb’ Itam, deferential, hinted at preparations for defence. The girl he loved came in and spoke to him, but he made a sign with his hand, and she was awed by the dumb appeal for silence in it. She went out on the verandah and sat on the threshold, as if to guard him with her body from dangers outside.

‘What thoughts passed through his head — what memories? Who can tell? Everything was gone, and he who had been once unfaithful to his trust had lost again all men’s confidence. It was then, I believe, he tried to write — to somebody — and gave it up. Loneliness was closing on him. People had trusted him with their lives — only for that; and yet they could never, as he had said, never be made to understand him. Those without did not hear him make a sound. Later, towards the evening, he came to the door and called for Tamb’ Itam. “Well?” he asked. “There is much weeping. Much anger too,” said Tamb’ Itam. Jim looked up at him. “You know,” he murmured. “Yes, Tuan,” said Tamb’ Itam. “Thy servant does know, and the gates are closed. We shall have to fight.” “Fight! What for?” he asked. “For our lives.” “I have no life,” he said. Tamb’ Itam heard a cry from the girl at the door. “Who knows?” said Tamb’ Itam. “By audacity and cunning we may even escape. There is much fear in men’s hearts too.” He went out, thinking vaguely of boats and of open sea, leaving Jim and the girl together.

‘I haven’t the heart to set down here such glimpses as she had given me of the hour or more she passed in there wrestling with him for the possession of her happiness. Whether he had any hope — what he expected, what he imagined — it is impossible to say. He was inflexible, and with the growing loneliness of his obstinacy his spirit seemed to rise above the ruins of his existence. She cried “Fight!” into his ear. She could not understand. There was nothing to fight for. He was going to prove his power in another way and conquer the fatal destiny itself. He came out into the courtyard, and behind him, with streaming hair, wild of face, breathless, she staggered out and leaned on the side of the doorway. “Open the gates,” he ordered. Afterwards, turning to those of his men who were inside, he gave them leave to depart to their homes. “For how long, Tuan?” asked one of them timidly. “For all life,” he said, in a sombre tone.

‘A hush had fallen upon the town after the outburst of wailing and lamentation that had swept over the river, like a gust of wind from the opened abode of sorrow. But rumours flew in whispers, filling the hearts with consternation and horrible doubts. The robbers were coming back, bringing many others with them, in a great ship, and there would be no refuge in the land for any one. A sense of utter insecurity as during an earthquake pervaded the minds of men, who whispered their suspicions, looking at each other as if in the presence of some awful portent.

‘The sun was sinking towards the forests when Dain Waris’s body was brought into Doramin’s campong. Four men carried it in, covered decently with a white sheet which the old mother had sent out down to the gate to meet her son on his return. They laid him at Doramin’s feet, and the old man sat still for a long time, one hand on each knee, looking down. The fronds of palms swayed gently, and the foliage of fruit trees stirred above his head. Every single man of his people was there, fully armed, when the old nakhoda at last raised his eyes. He moved them slowly over the crowd, as if seeking for a missing face. Again his chin sank on his breast. The whispers of many men mingled with the slight rustling of the leaves.

‘The Malay who had brought Tamb’ Itam and the girl to Samarang was there too. “Not so angry as many,” he said to me, but struck with a great awe and wonder at the “suddenness of men’s fate, which hangs over their heads like a cloud charged with thunder.” He told me that when Dain Waris’s body was uncovered at a sign of Doramin’s, he whom they often called the white lord’s friend was disclosed lying unchanged with his eyelids a little open as if about to wake. Doramin leaned forward a little more, like one looking for something fallen on the ground. His eyes searched the body from its feet to its head, for the wound maybe. It was in the forehead and small; and there was no word spoken while one of the by-standers, stooping, took off the silver ring from the cold stiff hand. In silence he held it up before Doramin. A murmur of dismay and horror ran through the crowd at the sight of that familiar token. The old nakhoda stared at it, and suddenly let out one great fierce cry, deep from the chest, a roar of pain and fury, as mighty as the bellow of a wounded bull, bringing great fear into men’s hearts, by the magnitude of his anger and his sorrow that could be plainly discerned without words. There was a great stillness afterwards for a space, while the body was being borne aside by four men. They laid it down under a tree, and on the instant, with one long shriek, all the women of the household began to wail together; they mourned with shrill cries; the sun was setting, and in the intervals of screamed lamentations the high sing-song voices of two old men intoning the Koran chanted alone.

‘About this time Jim, leaning on a gun-carriage, looked at the river, and turned his back on the house; and the girl, in the doorway, panting as if she had run herself to a standstill, was looking at him across the yard. Tamb’ Itam stood not far from his master, waiting patiently for what might happen. All at once Jim, who seemed to be lost in quiet thought, turned to him and said, “Time to finish this.”

‘“Tuan?” said Tamb’ Itam, advancing with alacrity. He did not know what his master meant, but as soon as Jim made a movement the girl started too and walked down into the open space. It seems that no one else of the people of the house was in sight. She tottered slightly, and about half-way down called out to Jim, who had apparently resumed his peaceful contemplation of the river. He turned round, setting his back against the gun. “Will you fight?” she cried. “There is nothing to fight for,” he said; “nothing is lost.” Saying this he made a step towards her. “Will you fly?” she cried again. “There is no escape,” he said, stopping short, and she stood still also, silent, devouring him with her eyes. “And you shall go?” she said slowly. He bent his head. “Ah!” she exclaimed, peering at him as it were, “you are mad or false. Do you remember the night I prayed you to leave me, and you said that you could not? That it was impossible! Impossible! Do you remember you said you would never leave me? Why? I asked you for no promise. You promised unasked — remember.” “Enough, poor girl,” he said. “I should not be worth having.”

‘Tamb’ Itam said that while they were talking she would laugh loud and senselessly like one under the visitation of God. His master put his hands to his head. He was fully dressed as for every day, but without a hat. She stopped laughing suddenly. “For the last time,” she cried menacingly, “will you defend yourself?” “Nothing can touch me,” he said in a last flicker of superb egoism. Tamb’ Itam saw her lean forward where she stood, open her arms, and run at him swiftly. She flung herself upon his breast and clasped him round the neck.

‘“Ah! but I shall hold thee thus,” she cried. . . . “Thou art mine!”

‘She sobbed on his shoulder. The sky over Patusan was blood-red, immense, streaming like an open vein. An enormous sun nestled crimson amongst the tree-tops, and the forest below had a black and forbidding face.

‘Tamb’ Itam tells me that on that evening the aspect of the heavens was angry and frightful. I may well believe it, for I know that on that very day a cyclone passed within sixty miles of the coast, though there was hardly more than a languid stir of air in the place.

‘Suddenly Tamb’ Itam saw Jim catch her arms, trying to unclasp her hands. She hung on them with her head fallen back; her hair touched the ground. “Come here!” his master called, and Tamb’ Itam helped to ease her down. It was difficult to separate her fingers. Jim, bending over her, looked earnestly upon her face, and all at once ran to the landing-stage. Tamb’ Itam followed him, but turning his head, he saw that she had struggled up to her feet. She ran after them a few steps, then fell down heavily on her knees. “Tuan! Tuan!” called Tamb’ Itam, “look back;” but Jim was already in a canoe, standing up paddle in hand. He did not look back. Tamb’ Itam had just time to scramble in after him when the canoe floated clear. The girl was then on her knees, with clasped hands, at the water-gate. She remained thus for a time in a supplicating attitude before she sprang up. “You are false!” she screamed out after Jim. “Forgive me,” he cried. “Never! Never!” she called back.

‘Tamb’ Itam took the paddle from Jim’s hands, it being unseemly that he should sit while his lord paddled. When they reached the other shore his master forbade him to come any farther; but Tamb’ Itam did follow him at a distance, walking up the slope to Doramin’s campong.

‘It was beginning to grow dark. Torches twinkled here and there. Those they met seemed awestruck, and stood aside hastily to let Jim pass. The wailing of women came from above. The courtyard was full of armed Bugis with their followers, and of Patusan people.

‘I do not know what this gathering really meant. Were these preparations for war, or for vengeance, or to repulse a threatened invasion? Many days elapsed before the people had ceased to look out, quaking, for the return of the white men with long beards and in rags, whose exact relation to their own white man they could never understand. Even for those simple minds poor Jim remains under a cloud.

‘Doramin, alone! immense and desolate, sat in his arm-chair with the pair of flintlock pistols on his knees, faced by a armed throng. When Jim appeared, at somebody’s exclamation, all the heads turned round together, and then the mass opened right and left, and he walked up a lane of averted glances. Whispers followed him; murmurs: “He has worked all the evil.” “He hath a charm.” . . . He heard them — perhaps!

‘When he came up into the light of torches the wailing of the women ceased suddenly. Doramin did not lift his head, and Jim stood silent before him for a time. Then he looked to the left, and moved in that direction with measured steps. Dain Waris’s mother crouched at the head of the body, and the grey dishevelled hair concealed her face. Jim came up slowly, looked at his dead friend, lifting the sheet, than dropped it without a word. Slowly he walked back.

‘“He came! He came!” was running from lip to lip, making a murmur to which he moved. “He hath taken it upon his own head,” a voice said aloud. He heard this and turned to the crowd. “Yes. Upon my head.” A few people recoiled. Jim waited awhile before Doramin, and then said gently, “I am come in sorrow.” He waited again. “I am come ready and unarmed,” he repeated.

‘The unwieldy old man, lowering his big forehead like an ox under a yoke, made an effort to rise, clutching at the flintlock pistols on his knees. From his throat came gurgling, choking, inhuman sounds, and his two attendants helped him from behind. People remarked that the ring which he had dropped on his lap fell and rolled against the foot of the white man, and that poor Jim glanced down at the talisman that had opened for him the door of fame, love, and success within the wall of forests fringed with white foam, within the coast that under the western sun looks like the very stronghold of the night. Doramin, struggling to keep his feet, made with his two supporters a swaying, tottering group; his little eyes stared with an expression of mad pain, of rage, with a ferocious glitter, which the bystanders noticed; and then, while Jim stood stiffened and with bared head in the light of torches, looking him straight in the face, he clung heavily with his left arm round the neck of a bowed youth, and lifting deliberately his right, shot his son’s friend through the chest.

‘The crowd, which had fallen apart behind Jim as soon as Doramin had raised his hand, rushed tumultuously forward after the shot. They say that the white man sent right and left at all those faces a proud and unflinching glance. Then with his hand over his lips he fell forward, dead.

‘And that’s the end. He passes away under a cloud, inscrutable at heart, forgotten, unforgiven, and excessively romantic. Not in the wildest days of his boyish visions could he have seen the alluring shape of such an extraordinary success! For it may very well be that in the short moment of his last proud and unflinching glance, he had beheld the face of that opportunity which, like an Eastern bride, had come veiled to his side.

‘But we can see him, an obscure conqueror of fame, tearing himself out of the arms of a jealous love at the sign, at the call of his exalted egoism. He goes away from a living woman to celebrate his pitiless wedding with a shadowy ideal of conduct. Is he satisfied — quite, now, I wonder? We ought to know. He is one of us — and have I not stood up once, like an evoked ghost, to answer for his eternal constancy? Was I so very wrong after all? Now he is no more, there are days when the reality of his existence comes to me with an immense, with an overwhelming force; and yet upon my honour there are moments too when he passes from my eyes like a disembodied spirit astray amongst the passions of this earth, ready to surrender himself faithfully to the claim of his own world of shades.

‘Who knows? He is gone, inscrutable at heart, and the poor girl is leading a sort of soundless, inert life in Stein’s house. Stein has aged greatly of late. He feels it himself, and says often that he is “preparing to leave all this; preparing to leave . . . ” while he waves his hand sadly at his butterflies.’

September 1899 — July 1900.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/conrad/joseph/c75l/chapter45.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06