Lord Jim By Joseph Conrad Chapters 44-45

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 market-place 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 stammer. "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.

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At Jim's trial, someone said, "Look at that wretched cur." Who did Jim think said it?




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