فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

The end of the story

With these words Marlow finished speaking, and the men around him got up from their armchairs. They did not seem to want to discuss the story, although it was incomplete. And only one of these listeners ever heard the last word of the story. It came to him more than two years later, in a thick packet containing many pages of writing. He had returned to dark, rainy England, and knew he would never go back to the East, but the packet made him think of distant seas under a bright, hot sun, and faces and voices from the past.

He opened Marlow’s letter to him, and began to read.

I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten Jim. You alone have shown interest in him, although you did not agree that he was in control of his fate. Well, you must judge for yourself now. Here is Jim’s last message to the world - a greyish piece of paper, on which he wrote simply, ‘An awful thing has happened’, and then, T must now at once…’ Nothing more. I imagine he could not describe the true horror of what he saw. I can understand that. I also send you an old letter, which was found carefully put away in his desk. It is from his father, and Jim probably received it a few days before joining the Patna. The good old vicar writes four pages of fatherly advice and family news; the mother and daughters send all their love to their sailor son and brother. Jim never answered it, but he kept it lovingly all those years. Who knows what conversations his suffering soul had with those clear-eyed, ghostly figures, living their peaceful lives in that quiet corner of the world?

And in the rest of this letter I will tell you the end of Jim’s story. It is a real adventure, romantic beyond the wildest dreams of his boyhood, but with an ending that seems in some way unavoidable. Something like this had to happen. I have found out almost all the details, but I wonder how Jim himself would tell the story. It is hard for me to believe that I shall never hear his voice again, or see his fresh, young, excited face.

About a year ago I arrived at Samarang, and went to visit Stein as usual. I was surprised and pleased to see Tamb’ Itam, Jim’s servant, at Stein’s house, and hoped that perhaps Jim had come on a visit. But as soon as I met Stein, I realized something was wrong. The old man was looking miserable.

‘Come and see the girl,’ he said sadly. ‘They arrived two days ago. It’s terrible! Terrible! You must talk to her, make her forgive him. Young hearts do not forgive easily.’ Refusing to say any more, he absolutely pushed me through a door.

I found myself in a large, cool room. The girl was sitting at a long table, resting her head on her arms. She opened her eyes and recognized me at once. I felt cold to the bone as I looked at her hard, sad face and her black, staring eyes.

‘He has left me,’ she said quietly, ‘I wanted to die with him! But he refused! Ah, you men are unfaithful! What makes you so bad? I shall never cry for him! Not one tear! He could see my face, hear my voice! And he still went away from me! Driven by some evil thing he had heard or seen in his sleep…’

I was bitterly disappointed. ‘You must forgive him,’ I said. ‘We all want forgiveness.’ My voice sounded strange to me. Her frozen face did not change, and she made no sign as I left the room. I was glad to escape, and went to find Tamb’ Itam, who told me as much of the story as he knew.

It all began with a man called Captain Brown, one of the most evil seamen in the Western Pacific. From Cape York to Eden Bay he was famous for cheating, robbing and murdering; he was a cruel, violent and proud man, with no idea of duty, conscience or honour. At this moment in his life he was also desperate, because he had not earned much from his recent adventures, and his men were hungry and tired. They had stolen a Spanish ship, and were sailing it across the Java Sea, towards the Indian Ocean, when suddenly Brown realized that Patusan would be a good place to get food and water. Perhaps he had heard of it, as a largeish village up the river, or perhaps it was just a name on his map. Anyway, they left their ship at the mouth of the river, and took the ship’s boat up to the trading-post. However, the headman of the fishing village at Batu Kring had managed to warn the Patusan people, who started firing their guns as soon as Brown’s boat appeared. Brown angrily ordered his men to fire back; he had not been expecting a fight. He noticed the creek (which Jim had jumped over in his escape from the Rajah’s men), and told his men to row into it. They landed, and climbed a small hill, which gave them a good view of the village and the Rajah’s stockade. They cut down some trees to make their own stockade, and waited for the natives to attack, in the growing darkness.

The people of Patusan were frightened and confused. Their white lord was away in another part of the country, so it was Dain Waris who had ordered the shooting. Women and children left their homes and crowded into Jim’s house, where Jewel was in control. She also kept the ammunition, while Jim was absent. Doramin, his son, Jewel, the Rajah’s adviser Kassim, and all the local chiefs and headmen met in Jim’s house to decide what to do. Jewel and Dain Waris wanted to drive away the white men, but Doramin only seemed interested in keeping his son safe. Kassim was playing a clever game, hoping that these white men would attack and defeat Doramin’s men before Jim returned. Meanwhile he smiled and listened, pretending to offer the Rajah’s help against the white men.

Part of Kassim’s plan involved Cornelius, because he spoke English. So the next day Kassim and Cornelius went to talk to Brown in his stockade. Brown listened to these offers of help and began to feel more hopeful. He had come to Patusan just to steal food, but perhaps here was an opportunity for him. Perhaps he could take control of Patusan, and make himself a rich man. He would work with this white man they called Tuan Jim, for a while anyway - until it became necessary to kill him. This indeed was Cornelius’s advice. ‘You must kill him as soon as you can,’ he said repeatedly. ‘Then you can have everything!’

While this was happening, Dain Waris’s canoes went silently down to an island at the mouth of the river. This was on Doramin’s orders, in order to cut off Brown’s escape route back to his ship, but also, I suspect, to keep his son out of harm’s way. Kassim sent food to Brown and his men, but did not tell them about the canoes.

Later that day Brown saw from his stockade one of the villagers walking out of a house. He gave an order to one of his men, who fired a single shot. The native fell to the ground, dead. ‘That’s right!’ cried Brown delightedly. ‘Put the fear of sudden death in them!’

Darkness fell, and soon one of the white men decided to go back to the boat to get his pipe. When he reached the creek, there was a bang, and he cried out in pain, ‘I’ve been hit!’ Brown and the others listened to him dying slowly in the mud for several hours; they knew they could not help him.

At last it was morning, and Brown saw a group of Malays coming towards the creek, with a tall white man in the middle of them. Jim had returned to Patusan during the night, to the great happiness of the villagers, and was coming to talk to Brown. ‘He’ll come and order you to leave his people alone,’ Cornelius had told Brown.

Soon Jim left the villagers behind and came on alone. Brown went down to the creek to meet him. He knew at once that he and Jim would never understand each other. Jim’s clean white clothes, his honest eyes, and confident look made Brown hate him immediately. They spoke to each other, two men completely opposite in character, separated only by a muddy creek. Most of the time Jim listened, while Brown talked, choosing his words carefully. He knew nothing of Jim’s past, but he was extremely clever at finding the weakest place in a man’s soul, and, by an evil chance, he found his way to Jim’s.

‘You can’t blame me for shooting that native last night!’ he cried. ‘If you have to save your own life in the dark, you don’t care how many other people die, do you? I know I’ve done wrong in the past, but what about you? Why did you come and bury yourself here? You’re no better than I am! Don’t be a coward! There are two hundred of you to every one of us. Either come and fight us, or let us go!’

Jim’s face was like thunder. Finally, after a long silence, he replied, ‘Well, if you promise to leave the coast, we will let you go, and not fire on you unless you fire first.’ He turned away.

The conversation was at an end, and Jim went back to the village to speak to Doramin and the headmen. Some of them were doubtful about allowing the white men to leave. ‘They are cruel, evil robbers, who have killed one of us!’ they cried. ‘We should kill them!’

But Jim said gently, ‘They have done evil things, certainly; but fortune has not been kind to them. Men can act badly sometimes, and still not be completely evil. It is best to let them go with their lives.’ He paused, then went on, ‘Have I ever given you bad advice? Trust me. I am ready to answer with my life for any harm that comes to you if the white men are allowed to go.’

All the headmen gave their opinion. Most of them simply said, ‘We believe Tuan Jim. We will do what he advises.’

And so it was agreed. Brown and his men were allowed to leave the hill, get into their boat, and row out of the creek into the river.

That evening Jim sent Tamb’ Itam down the river with a message for Dain Waris. ‘Tell him that his men must not fire at the whites when they leave. That is the agreement here.’

‘It is an important message,’ said Tamb’ Itam. ‘Give me a sign for Dain Waris, so that he knows these words come from you.’

Ever since Jim came to Patusan, he had worn Stein’s silver ring. Everyone knew the ring, as it had been Doramin’s present to Stein long ago. Jim now took it off his finger and gave it to Tamb’ Itam, as a sign for Dain Waris.

The next morning Jim stood outside the Rajah’s stockade, watching Brown and his men leave Patusan, in a thick grey mist. But on board Brown’s boat was the evil Cornelius, hiding under a sail. He was disappointed that Brown had not killed Jim, and he had decided to take his revenge in a different way. He had promised to show Brown another creek, which led to the small island further down the river, where Doramin’s son and his men were waiting with their canoes. It was easy for Brown, who saw the chance to take revenge for his own misfortunes. Dain Waris and his men, with Tamb Itam, were watching the bigger creek, and did not expect anyone to attack from the narrow creek behind them. When Brown’s men fired their guns, several natives fell, including Dain Waris, who was shot through the head. The others ran away, screaming with fear. The white robbers were never seen again in Patusan, but it was known that their ship sank in the Indian Ocean a month later.

Cornelius also died, because Tamb’ Itam saw him on the island and realized what he had done. The narrow creek was impossible to find without help from someone who knew it. Cornelius tried to escape, but Tamb’ Itam killed him with his knife. This done, Tamb’ Itam hurried back to his canoe, to take news of the disaster to his lord.

At first Jim was angry. He wanted to chase the robbers, and began to give orders about collecting men and boats, but Tamb’ Itam hesitated.

‘Forgive me, Tuan,’ he said, ashamed, ‘but it is not safe for me, your servant, to go among the people.’

Then Jim understood the awful truth. He had run away from one world, and now his new world, the one he had made with his own hands, was falling around him. He sat silently like a stone figure, while Tamb’ Itam talked of fighting, and the girl talked of danger. Who can tell what thoughts passed through his head? I think it was then that he tried to write - to somebody - and could not finish the message. Loneliness was closing on him. People had trusted him with their lives, but they would never be able to understand him.

Meanwhile in the village there was great sadness, and anger, as the body of the chief’s son was brought home by canoe. Doramin looked at his dead son, and slowly, very slowly, took Jim’s silver ring off the cold, stiff hand. The crowd cried out in horror when they saw that well-known ring, and Doramin suddenly let out a great violent shout, deep from the chest, like a wounded animal - a cry of pain and anger. Then there was silence.

At about this time, Jim left his house and started walking towards the river. ‘Time to finish this,’ he said.

The girl followed him, calling out, ‘Won’t you fight?’

‘There is nothing to fight for,’ he replied.

‘Won’t you escape?’ she cried again.

‘There is no escape,’ he said.

‘So you are leaving? Don’t you remember you promised you would never leave me?’

‘Enough, poor girl,’ he answered. ‘If I stayed, I would not be worth having.’

She ran to him, and, crying bitterly, held him in her arms. ‘I shall hold you like this! You are mine!’

Jim pulled himself away, looked into her face for a long moment, then ran to the water’s edge. He jumped into a canoe, with Tamb’ Itam, and as they moved away, the girl screamed, ‘You are unfaithful!’

‘Forgive me!’ he cried.

‘Never!’ she called back. ‘Never!’

When Jim arrived at Doramin’s stockade, the crowd of crying, confused people separated, respectfully and fearfully, to allow him to enter. He walked slowly through them, right up to the old chief, who was sitting in his usual chair, with a gun on his knees. Doramin’s wife was bending miserably over her son’s body, which was covered with a sheet. Jim lifted the sheet to look at his dead friend, then dropped it without a word. He waited for a moment, then said gently, ‘I am responsible. I come in sadness, with no weapon. I am ready.’ The heavy old man was helped up from his chair, and the silver ring, which Jim had worn so proudly, fell to the floor. With an expression of mad pain and anger on his face, Doramin stared at Jim standing stiffly in front of him. Then, looking him straight in the eyes, he lifted his gun and shot his son’s friend through the chest. Jim looked proudly and bravely round at all the staring faces, then, with a hand over his lips, he fell forward, dead.

And that’s the end. He disappears under a cloud, mysterious, forgotten, and much too romantic. Perhaps in that last, short moment he saw the face of his opportunity, waiting for him like an Eastern bride. He left the arms of a living woman who loved him, to marry the shadowy ghost of imagined honour and duty. Is he completely happy now, I wonder? We ought to know; he is one of us. Was I so very wrong, after all, to believe in him? Who knows? He is gone, and the poor girl is living a soundless, frozen life in Stein’s house. Stein looks much older now, and is feeling his age. He often says he is ‘preparing to leave all this’, while he waves his hand sadly at his butterflies.

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