Lord Jim By Joseph Conrad Chapters 31-33

'I think she made a movement at this. "More brave," she went on in a changed tone. "Fear will never drive him away from you," I said a little nervously. The song stopped short on a shrill note, and was succeeded by several voices talking in the distance. Jim's voice too. I was struck by her silence. "What has he been telling you? He has been telling you something?" I asked. There was no answer. "What is it he told you?" I insisted.

'"Do you think I can tell you? How am I to know? How am I to understand?" she cried at last. There was a stir. I believe she was wringing her hands. "There is something he can never forget."

'"So much the better for you," I said gloomily.

'"What is it? What is it?" She put an extraordinary force of appeal into her supplicating tone. "He says he had been afraid. How can I believe this? Am I a mad woman to believe this? You all remember something! You all go back to it. What is it? You tell me! What is this thing? Is it alive? — is it dead? I hate it. It is cruel. Has it got a face and a voice — this calamity? Will he see it — will he hear it? In his sleep perhaps when he cannot see me — and then arise and go. Ah! I shall never forgive him. My mother had forgiven — but I, never! Will it be a sign — a call?"

'It was a wonderful experience. She mistrusted his very slumbers — and she seemed to think I could tell her why! Thus a poor mortal seduced by the charm of an apparition might have tried to wring from another ghost the tremendous secret of the claim the other world holds over a disembodied soul astray amongst the passions of this earth. The very ground on which I stood seemed to melt under my feet. And it was so simple too; but if the spirits evoked by our fears and our unrest have ever to vouch for each other's constancy before the forlorn magicians that we are, then I — I alone of us dwellers in the flesh — have shuddered in the hopeless chill of such a task. A sign, a call! How telling in its expression was her ignorance. A few words! How she came to know them, how she came to pronounce them, I can't imagine. Women find their inspiration in the stress of moments that for us are merely awful, absurd, or futile. To discover that she had a voice at all was enough to strike awe into the heart. Had a spurned stone cried out in pain it could not have appeared a greater and more pitiful miracle. These few sounds wandering in the dark had made their two benighted lives tragic to my mind. It was impossible to make her understand. I chafed silently at my impotence. And Jim, too — poor devil! Who would need him? Who would remember him? He had what he wanted. His very existence probably had been forgotten by this time. They had mastered their fates. They were tragic.

'Her immobility before me was clearly expectant, and my part was to speak for my brother from the realm of forgetful shade. I was deeply moved at my responsibility and at her distress. I would have given anything for the power to soothe her frail soul, tormenting itself in its invincible ignorance like a small bird beating about the cruel wires of a cage. Nothing easier than to say, Have no fear! Nothing more difficult. How does one kill fear, I wonder? How do you shoot a spectre through the heart, slash off its spectral head, take it by its spectral throat? It is an enterprise you rush into while you dream, and are glad to make your escape with wet hair and every limb shaking. The bullet is not run, the blade not forged, the man not born; even the winged words of truth drop at your feet like lumps of lead. You require for such a desperate encounter an enchanted and poisoned shaft dipped in a lie too subtle to be found on earth. An enterprise for a dream, my masters!

'I began my exorcism with a heavy heart, with a sort of sullen anger in it too. Jim's voice, suddenly raised with a stern intonation, carried across the courtyard, reproving the carelessness of some dumb sinner by the river-side. Nothing — I said, speaking in a distinct murmur — there could be nothing, in that unknown world she fancied so eager to rob her of her happiness, there was nothing, neither living nor dead, there was no face, no voice, no power, that could tear Jim from her side. I drew breath and she whispered softly, "He told me so." "He told you the truth," I said. "Nothing," she sighed out, and abruptly turned upon me with a barely audible intensity of tone: "Why did you come to us from out there? He speaks of you too often. You make me afraid. Do you — do you want him?" A sort of stealthy fierceness had crept into our hurried mutters. "I shall never come again," I said bitterly. "And I don't want him. No one wants him." "No one," she repeated in a tone of doubt. "No one," I affirmed, feeling myself swayed by some strange excitement. "You think him strong, wise, courageous, great — why not believe him to be true too? I shall go to-morrow — and that is the end. You shall never be troubled by a voice from there again. This world you don't know is too big to miss him. You understand? Too big. You've got his heart in your hand. You must feel that. You must know that." "Yes, I know that," she breathed out, hard and still, as a statue might whisper.

'I felt I had done nothing. And what is it that I had wished to do? I am not sure now. At the time I was animated by an inexplicable ardour, as if before some great and necessary task — the influence of the moment upon my mental and emotional state. There are in all our lives such moments, such influences, coming from the outside, as it were, irresistible, incomprehensible — as if brought about by the mysterious conjunctions of the planets. She owned, as I had put it to her, his heart. She had that and everything else — if she could only believe it. What I had to tell her was that in the whole world there was no one who ever would need his heart, his mind, his hand. It was a common fate, and yet it seemed an awful thing to say of any man. She listened without a word, and her stillness now was like the protest of an invincible unbelief. What need she care for the world beyond the forests? I asked. From all the multitudes that peopled the vastness of that unknown there would come, I assured her, as long as he lived, neither a call nor a sign for him. Never. I was carried away. Never! Never! I remember with wonder the sort of dogged fierceness I displayed. I had the illusion of having got the spectre by the throat at last. Indeed the whole real thing has left behind the detailed and amazing impression of a dream. Why should she fear? She knew him to be strong, true, wise, brave. He was all that. Certainly. He was more. He was great — invincible — and the world did not want him, it had forgotten him, it would not even know him.

'I stopped; the silence over Patusan was profound, and the feeble dry sound of a paddle striking the side of a canoe somewhere in the middle of the river seemed to make it infinite. "Why?" she murmured. I felt that sort of rage one feels during a hard tussle. The spectre was trying to slip out of my grasp. "Why?" she repeated louder; "tell me!" And as I remained confounded, she stamped with her foot like a spoilt child. "Why? Speak." "You want to know?" I asked in a fury. "Yes!" she cried. "Because he is not good enough," I said brutally. During the moment's pause I noticed the fire on the other shore blaze up, dilating the circle of its glow like an amazed stare, and contract suddenly to a red pin-point. I only knew how close to me she had been when I felt the clutch of her fingers on my forearm. Without raising her voice, she threw into it an infinity of scathing contempt, bitterness, and despair.

'"This is the very thing he said. . . . You lie!"

'The last two words she cried at me in the native dialect. "Hear me out!" I entreated; she caught her breath tremulously, flung my arm away. "Nobody, nobody is good enough," I began with the greatest earnestness. I could hear the sobbing labour of her breath frightfully quickened. I hung my head. What was the use? Footsteps were approaching; I slipped away without another word. . . .'

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