فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Chapter four

Marlow offers to help

Our coffee and cigars were finished. I knew that tomorrow - or was it today? It was well past midnight - the inquiry judges would take up the weapon of the law and punish Jim. I told myself repeatedly that the young man was guilty, but I wanted to help him get away. My friends, if you can’t understand my reasons, you haven’t been listening to me all this time.

So I suggested Brierly’s plan of escape to Jim. I would lend him some money - he could pay it back when he liked - and I would also write a letter to a friend of mine in Rangoon, who would give him a job. Jim could leave that same day, and save himself the shame of the final day in the crowded courthouse. I was impatient to begin writing the letter immediately. But Jim refused.

‘Run away? No, I couldn’t think of it,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘It’s awfully good of you, but no.’

I am sure that things looked terribly uncertain to him at that moment, but he did not hesitate. He was young and strong, and there was something fine in his wild hope that he would survive.

I felt angry, however. ‘The whole miserable business is bitter enough for a man like you…’ I started saying.

‘Yes, it is, it is,’ he whispered, his eyes fixed on the floor. The way he spoke touched me to the heart. ‘The captain escaped - the others went to hospital - they all got away…’ He waved them scornfully away with his hand. ‘But I’ve got to accept this thing. I’m not going to avoid any of it.’

‘Oh really, my dear man…’ I said crossly.

‘You don’t understand,’ he replied, looking straight into my eyes. ‘I jumped, but I don’t run away.’

Neither of us knew how to continue the conversation. I stood up at last, saying, ‘I had no idea it was so late.’

‘I expect you’ve had enough of this,’ he said, ‘and to tell you the truth, so have I.’

Well, he had refused my offer of help, and he was ready to go now. Outside, the night was waiting for him, quietly and dangerously. For a few seconds we stood together silently. ‘What will you do after - after…?’ I asked, very low. ‘Go to hell, probably,’ he replied.

I judged it best to answer lightly, ‘Please remember, I would very much like to see you before you go.’

‘Nothing will prevent you,’ he said bitterly. ‘Everybody will know where I am.’

And then, as we said goodbye, he stupidly imagined that I did not want to shake hands with him. First he offered his hand, then pulled back, then hesitated, then - it was too awful for words. I had to shout at him, ‘Jim! Shake hands with me, man!’ Finally it was over, and he disappeared into the night. I heard his heavy footsteps. He was running, with nowhere to go to. And he was only twenty-three.

Next morning, the last day of the inquiry, I was in court again. It was really very wrong of me, because my chief mate was expecting me to visit my ship, but I had to know what would happen to Jim. Outside, the streets were full of colour and bright sunshine, but the courtroom was dark and airless. Jim stood there, pink and fair and serious, while the judge spoke. ‘This court has decided that the officers of the Patna, who were responsible for all the ship’s passengers, were guilty of forgetting their clear duty, when they left the ship in the moment of danger. The court has therefore decided to take away the master’s certificates of the captain and chief mate.’

The room was silent, then people started to leave. I saw Jim, his face as black as thunder, walking out slowly and a little uncertainly. As I was watching him, a man called Chester spoke to me. I knew him a little. He was a West Australian who normally traded in the Pacific, but had come here looking for a cheap ship to buy. He watched Jim walking away.

‘That young man’s no good, is he?’ he said. ‘But I can give him a job. I’ve discovered a guano island among the Walpole rocks which is going to make me rich. It’s rocky, and a bit dangerous to land there. I can’t get anybody to take the job, but I need a man to do the work there for me. I don’t care if he’s a bit of a coward, or hasn’t got his certificate. He’ll have forty natives to collect the guano, and I’ll give him a couple of guns, of course. You could persuade him to take the job, Marlow, couldn’t you?’

I stared at him in horror. I knew the place he was talking about. There was no water on the island and very little rain fell there. I had a sudden picture of Jim on a shadow less rock, up to his knees in guano, with the screams of seabirds in his ears, and the sun beating down on his head.

‘I wouldn’t advise my worst enemy to accept your offer,’ I said scornfully.

‘It’s just the job for him.’ Chester smiled unpleasantly. ‘I can promise the island wouldn’t sink under him - and I believe he’s a bit sensitive on that question.’

‘Good morning,’ I said sharply, and walked away, leaving him staring angrily after me.

I hurried down to the waterside, and found Jim looking miserably at the sea. He didn’t hear me come up, but turned quickly when I touched his shoulder. He followed me back to the hotel obediently. I realized that he had nowhere in the whole world where he could be alone with his suffering.

He spent the rest of the day in my room, where he stood looking out on the veranda, while I sat at my desk, busily writing letters. We did not speak to each other. I wrote all the letters I owed people, and then I wrote to people who would certainly be surprised to receive a letter from me. It became dark, and still I went on writing. It was clear that he was very unhappy. Occasionally I saw his strong shoulders shaking, and I was glad his family could not see him like that. Suddenly, with a crash, he pushed open the glass door on to the veranda, and stepped out into the blackness, standing there like a lonely figure by a dark and hopeless sea. I began to think he was taking it all too seriously. Should I persuade him to accept Chester’s offer? I knew there was nothing except myself between him and the dark sea. But I said nothing.

The time was coming when I would hear him described as a hero. It’s true, I tell you. Towards the end, he found honour and a perfect happiness in the Malaysian jungle. When I saw him for the last time, a few years later, he was completely in control, strong and successful, loved and trusted by the natives of Patusan. But that is not the way I remember him. I shall always see his lonely, shaking figure on that hotel veranda, suffering in the darkness.

A crash of thunder made me lift my head, and lightning suddenly lit up the night. A few moments later, we were in the middle of a storm, with an angry wind shaking the windows. He stepped inside, closing the door behind him.

Well, that’s over,’ he said, sounding almost normal. This encouraged me to look up at him. ‘I think I’m all right now,’ he went on. Thank you - for letting me - here in your room nowhere else to go.’ The rain was falling heavily on the veranda by now. ‘Well - goodbye,’ he said, and turned to go.

‘Wait! Come back!’ I cried. ‘Look! Let me help you!’

‘You can’t,’ he replied miserably. ‘I can’t take money…’

‘It’s not money I’m offering you!’ I answered angrily. ‘Look at this letter I’m writing! It’s to a man I know well, asking him to give you work. I would only do this for a good friend. Just think about that.’

His face changed in a moment. ‘My God!’ he shouted. ‘I never realized! How can I thank you? It’s just what I wanted an opportunity to start again! I know I can do it! Look - I’m sorry - I can’t stay - I’m too excited!’

I waved my hand as he ran from the room. I had probably saved him from an early death, or perhaps from madness, but I felt sad. He was so young, and believed so fully in himself and in the beauty of life! I was no longer young, and I knew that his fate, like mine, was written in large letters on the face of a rock, and nothing he could do would change it.

My friend not only employed Jim, but welcomed him into his house. Unfortunately, only a year later, the second engineer from the Patna arrived unexpectedly in Rangoon, and Jim decided to leave the port at once. I was extremely disappointed to hear this, but helped Jim to find a second job in a port a thousand kilometres south of there. His new employers thought a lot of Jim, and trusted him with all their business. But one day the name of the Patna was mentioned, and Jim was too sensitive to bear it. Again, he left the place immediately. From now on, he moved from port to port to find work, trying to hide his terrible secret, until someone who knew the story spoke of it, and then he moved on again.

I felt responsible for him, and helped and encouraged him as much as I could, but I knew that he was losing confidence in himself, although he was always cheerful and polite to me. What would be the end of it all? How long could Jim go on running away from his past?

I decided to ask for advice from someone I trusted more than most men. He was a rich German trader called Stein, who had a large business buying and selling all kinds of things in the islands, ports and jungle villages of the East. He was tall and thin, with a sympathetic, intelligent face, and white hair brushed back from a high forehead. Although his life had been long and adventurous, he now spent most of his time studying and collecting butterflies. In fact, by now he had become a world-famous collector. He was liked by everyone, for the bravery of his past, and the kindness he showed to all of us.

When I visited him in his large, dark study, he was looking delightedly at the best butterfly in his collection. ‘A wonderful example!’ he said, smiling. ‘So beautiful! So perfect!’

‘I have another example of nature to discuss with you,’ I said. ‘But I’m afraid it’s a man, not an insect.’

His smile disappeared, but he listened encouragingly. ‘I understand very well,’ he said, when I had finished telling him Jim’s story. ‘He is romantic.’

I felt like a patient asking his doctor for advice, so it seemed natural to say, ‘What is good for it?’

‘There is only one kind of medicine! One thing alone can stop us from being ourselves - death!’

The problem appeared simple, but hopeless. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘so, the real question is not how to get better, but how to go on living.’

Stein agreed sadly. ‘For a butterfly it is enough to be beautiful, and to live. But for man it is different, if he is sensitive. Every time he shuts his eyes, he sees himself as a hero, as a perfect man. It’s all a dream - he can never be as fine as that. And so it is painful when he opens his eyes, to find he cannot make his dream come true. It is terrible for him. But you ask me - how to live?’ His voice sounded suddenly strong and confident. He looked away from me into the shadows of his past. ‘There is only one way. Follow the dream, and again, follow the dream, and so - to the end.’ No doubt Stein was right. He had travelled very far in life, always bravely, always without hesitating, and fate had brought him friends, love, adventure. But it seemed a lonely, difficult life to me. ‘Nobody could be more romantic than you,’ I told him. ‘And sometimes you dream of a beautiful butterfly, but when it appears, you don’t let the opportunity go, do you? You catch it! But Jim-‘

Stein lifted his hand. ‘Do you know how many opportunities I have missed? How many dreams I have lost?’ He shook his head sadly. ‘Perhaps I myself don’t know. Everyone knows of one or two dreams like that. And that is the trouble… Well, it’s getting late. Tonight you will sleep here, and tomorrow we will think of a way of helping the young man.’

He showed me to my room, and shook hands with me. ‘Good night,’ he said. I watched him return the way he had come. He was going back to his butterflies.

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