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Chapter 5

I had shot my bolt and I was going to die; I could see it in the way the
King's Advocate tossed his head back, fluttered his bands, looked at
the jury-box, and began to play with the seals on his fob. The court
had resumed its stillness. A man in some sort of livery passed a square
paper to the Lord Mayor, the Lord Mayor passed it to Lord Stowell, who
opened it with a jerking motion of an ancient fashion that impressed me
immensely. It was as if I, there at the end of my life, were looking at
a man opening a letter of the reign of Queen Anne. The shadows of his
ancient, wrinkled face changed as he read, raising his eyebrows and
puckering his mouth. He handed the unfolded paper to Mr. Baron Garrow,
then with one wrinkled finger beckoned the Attorney-General to him. The
third judge was still asleep.

"What the devil's this?" the turnkey beside me said to his companion.

I was in a good deal of pain, and felt sickly that every pulse of my
heart throbbed in my mangled hand. The other spat straight in front of

"Damme if I know," he said. "This cursed business ought to have been
over and done with an hour agone. I told Jinks to have my rarebit and
noggin down by the gate-house fire at half-past five, and it's six now."

They began an interminable argument under their breaths.

"It's that wager of Lord March's... run a mile, walk a mile, eat five
pounds of mutton, drink five pints of claret. No, it ain't.. Medmenham
coach ain't in yet... roads too heavy.... It is. What else would stop
the Court at this time of night? It isn't, or Justice Best 'd be awake
and hedging his bets."

In a dizzy way I noted the Attorney-General making his way carefully
back between the benches to his knot of barristers, and their wigs went
all together in a bunch like ears of corn drawn suddenly into a sheaf.
The heads of the other barristers were like unreaped ears. A man with a
face like a weasel's called to a man with a face like a devil's--he was
leaving the court--something about an ambassador. The other stopped,
turned, and deposited his bag again. I heard the deep voice of Sir
Robert Gifford say: "What!... Never!... too infamous..." and then the
interest and the light seemed to flicker out together. I could hardly
see. Voices called out to each other, harsh, dry, as if their owners had
breathed nothing but dust for years and years.

One loud one barked, "You can't hear him, m'luds; in _Rex v.

A lot began calling all together, "Ah, but that was different, Mr.
Attorney. You couldn't subpoena him, he being in the position of _extra
lege commune_. But if he offers a statement...."

The candles seemed to be waving deliberately like elm-tops in a high

Someone called, "Clerk, fetch me volume xiii.... I think we shall find
there.... You recollect the case of _Hildeshein v. Roe...._ Wasn't it
_Hildegaulen and another_, m'lud?"... "I tried the case myself. The
Prussian Plenipotentiary...."

I wanted to call out to them that it was not worth while to try their
dry throats any more; that having shot my bolt, I gave in. But I could
not think of any words, I was so tired. "I didn't sleep at all last
night," I found myself saying to myself.

The sleeping judge woke up suddenly and snarled, "Why in Heaven's name
don't we get on? We shall be all night. Let him call the second name on
the list. We can take the Spanish ambassador when you have settled. For
my part I think we ought to hear him...."

Lord Stowell said suddenly, "Prisoner at the bar, some gentlemen have
volunteered statements on your behalf. If you wish it, they can be

I didn't answer; I did not understand; I wanted to tell him I did
not care, because the _Lion_ was posted as overdue and Seraphina was
drowned. The Court seemed to be moving slowly up and down in front of me
like the deck of a ship. I thought I was bound again, and on the sofa in
the gorgeous cabin of the _Madre-de-Dios_. Someone seemed to be calling,
"Prisoner at the bar... Prisoner at the bar...." It was as if the
candles had been lit in front of the Madonna with the pink child, only
she had a gilt anchor instead of the spiky gilt glory above her
head. Somebody was saying, "Hello there.... Hold up!... Here, bring a
chair,..." and there were arms around me. Afterwards I sat down. A very
old judge's voice said something rather kindly, I thought. I knew it was
the very old judge, because he was called the star of Cuban law. Someone
would be bending over me soon, with a lanthorn, and I should be wiping
the flour out of my eyes and blinking at the red velvet and gilding of
the cabin ceiling. In a minute Carlos and Castro would come... or was it
O'Brien who would come? No, O'Brien was dead; stabbed, with a knife
in his neck; the blood was still sticky between my first and second
fingers. I could feel it. I ought to have been allowed to wash my hands
before I was tried; or was it before I spoke to the admiral? One would
not speak to a man with hands like that.

A loud, high-pitched voice called from up in the air, "I will give any
of you gentlemen of the robe down there fifty pounds to conduct the
remainder of the case for him. I am the prisoner's father."

My father's voice broke the spell. I was in the court; the candles were
still burning; all the faces, lit up or in the shadow, were bunched
together in little groups; hands waved. The barrister whose face was
like the devil's under his wig held in his hands the paper that had been
handed to Lord Stowell; my father was talking to him from the bench.
The barrister, tall, his robes old and ragged, silhouetted against the
light, glanced down the paper, fluttered it in his hand, nodded to my
father, and began a grotesque, nasal drawl:

"M'luds, I will conduct the case for the prisoner, if your lordships
will bear with me a little. He obviously can't call his own witnesses.
If he has been treated as he says, it has been one of the most

Old Lord Stowell said, "Ch't, ch't, Mr. Walker; you know you must not
make a speech for the prisoner. Call your witness. It is all that is

I wondered what he meant by that. The barrister was calling a man of the
name of Williams. I seemed to know the name. I seemed to know the man,

"Owen Williams, Master of the ship _Lion_.... Coffee and dye-wood....
Just come in under a jury-rig. Had been dismasted and afterwards
becalmed. Heard of this trial from the pilot in Graves-end. Had taken

I only heard snatches of his answers.

"On the twenty-fifth of August last I was close in with the Cuban
coast.... The mate, Sebright, got boiling water for them.... Afterwards
a heavy fog. They boarded us in many boats...." He was giving all the
old evidence over again, fastening another stone around my neck. But
suddenly he said: "This gentleman came alongside in a leaky dinghy. A
dead shot. He saved all our lives."

His bullet-head, the stare of his round blue eyes seemed to draw me out
of a delirium. I called out:

"Williams, for God's sake, Williams, where is Seraphina? Did she come
with you?" There was an immense roaring in my head, and the ushers were
shouting, "Silence! Silence!" I called out again.

Williams was smiling idiotically; then he shook his head and put his
finger to his mouth to warn me to keep silence. I only noted the shake
of the head. Sera-phina had not come. The Havana people must have taken
her. It was all over with me. The roaring noise made me think that I
was on a beach by the sea, with the smugglers, perhaps, at night down
in Kent. The silence that fell upon the court was like the silence of a
grave. Then someone began to speak in measured, portentous Spanish, that
seemed a memory of the past.

"I, the ambassador of his Catholic Majesty, being here upon my honour
and on my oath, demand the re-surrender of this gentleman, whose
courage equals his innocence. Documents which have just reached my hands
establish clearly the mistake of which he is the victim. The functionary
who is called _Alcayde_ of the _carcel_ at Havana confused the men.
Nikola el Escoces escaped, having murdered the judge whose place it was
to identify. I demand that the prisoner be set at liberty..."

A long time after a harsh voice said:

"Your Excellency, we retire, of course, from the prosecution."

A different one directed:

"Gentlemen of the jury, you will return a verdict of 'Not Guilty'..."

Down below they were cheering uproariously because my life was saved.
But it was I that had to face my saved life. I sat there, my head bowed
into my hands. The old judge was speaking to me in a tone of lofty

"You have suffered much, as it seems, but suffering is the lot of us
men. Rejoice now that your character is cleared; that here in this
public place you have received the verdict of your countrymen that
restores you to the liberties of our country and the affection of your
kindred. I rejoice with you who am a very old man, at the end of my

It was rather tremendous, his deep voice, his weighted words. Suffering
is the lot of us men!... The formidable legal array, the great powers
of a nation, had stood up to teach me that, and they had taught me
that--suffering is the lot of us men!

It takes long enough to realize that someone is dead at a distance. I
had done that. But how long, how long it needs to know that the life of
your heart has come back from the dead. For years afterwards I could not
bear to have her out of my sight.

Of our first meeting in London all I remember is a speechlessness that
was like the awed hesitation of our overtried souls before the greatness
of a change from the verge of despair to the opening of a supreme joy.

The whole world, the whole of life, with her return, had changed all
around me; it enveloped me, it enfolded me so lightly as not to be felt,
so suddenly as not to be believed in, so completely that that whole
meeting was an embrace, so softly that at last it lapsed into a sense of
rest that was like the fall of a beneficent and welcome death.

For suffering is the lot of man, but not inevitable failure or worthless
despair which is without end--suffering, the mark of manhood, which
bears within its pain a hope of felicity like a jewel set in iron....

Her first words were:

"You broke our compact. You went away from me whilst I was sleeping."
Only the deepness of her reproach revealed the depth of her love,
and the suffering she too had endured to reach a union that was to be
without end--and to forgive.

And, looking back, we see Romance--that subtle thing that is
mirage--that is life. It is the goodness of the years we have lived
through, of the old time when we did this or that, when we dwelt here
or there. Looking back, it seems a wonderful enough thing that I who
am this, and she who is that, commencing so far away a life that, after
such sufferings borne together and apart, ended so tranquilly there in a
world so stable--that she and I should have passed through so much, good
chance and evil chance, sad hours and joyful, all lived down and swept
away into the little heap of dust that is life. That, too, is Romance!


Joseph Conrad

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