The Shadow-Line: A Confession

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He said weightily: "Oh! I've been thinking it was about time for you to run away home and get married to some silly girl.

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My laugh sounded deprecatory. Nobody but a friend could be so angry as that. I became a little crestfallen. Our chief engineer also took a characteristic view of my action, but in a kindlier spirit. He was young, too, but very thin, and with a mist of fluffy brown beard all round his haggard face. All day long, at sea or in harbour, he could be seen walking hastily up and down the after-deck, wearing an intense, spiritually rapt expression, which was caused by a perpetual consciousness of unpleasant physical sensations in his internal economy.

For he was a confirmed dyspeptic. His view of my case was very simple. He said it was nothing but deranged liver. Of course! He suggested I should stay for another trip and meantime dose myself with a certain patent medicine in which his own belief was absolute. I'll buy you two bottles, out of my own pocket. I can't say fairer than that, can I? By that time, however, I was more discontented, disgusted, and dogged than ever. The past eighteen months, so full of new and varied experience, appeared a dreary, prosaic waste of days.

I felt--how shall I express it? What truth? I should have been hard put to it to explain. Probably, if pressed, I would have burst into tears simply.

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I was young enough for that. Next day the Captain and I transacted our business in the Harbour Office. It was a lofty, big, cool, white room, where the screened light of day glowed serenely.

The Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad

Everybody in it--the officials, the public--were in white. Only the heavy polished desks gleamed darkly in a central avenue, and some papers lying on them were blue.

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  • Enormous punkahs sent from on high a gentle draught through that immaculate interior and upon our perspiring heads. The official behind the desk we approached grinned amiably and kept it up till, in answer to his perfunctory question, "Sign off and on again? Signing off for good. He did not look at me again till he handed me my papers with a sorrowful expression, as if they had been my passports for Hades.

    While I was putting them away he murmured some question to the Captain, and I heard the latter answer good-humouredly:"No. He leaves us to go home. I didn't know him outside the official building, but he leaned forward over the desk to shake hands with me, compassionately, as one would with some poor devil going out to be hanged; and I am afraid I performed my part ungraciously, in the hardened manner of an impenitent criminal. No homeward-bound mail-boat was due for three or four days.

    Being now a man without a ship, and having for a time broken my connection with the sea--become, in fact, a mere potential passenger--it would have been more appropriate perhaps if I had gone to stay at a hotel. There it was, too, within a stone's throw of the Harbour Office, low, but somehow palatial, displaying its white, pillared pavilions surrounded by trim grass plots.

    I would have felt a passenger indeed in there! I gave it a hostile glance and directed my steps towards the Officers' Sailors' Home.

    Audiobook, Joseph Conrad – The Shadow–Line

    I walked in the sunshine, disregarding it, and in the shade of the big trees on the esplanade without enjoying it. The heat of the tropical East descended through the leafy boughs, enveloping my thinly-clad body, clinging to my rebellious discontent, as if to rob it of its freedom.


    The Officers' Home was a large bungalow with a wide verandah and a curiously suburban-looking little garden of bushes and a few trees between it and the street. That institution partook somewhat of the character of a residential club, but with a slightly Governmental flavour about it, because it was administered by the Harbour Office.

    Its manager was officially styled Chief Steward. He was an unhappy, wizened little man, who if put into a jockey's rig would have looked the part to perfection. But it was obvious that at some time or other in his life, in some capacity or other, he had been connected with the sea. Possibly in the comprehensive capacity of a failure.

    I should have thought his employment a very easy one, but he used to affirm for some reason or other that his job would be the death of him some day. It was rather mysterious. Perhaps everything naturally was too much trouble for him. He certainly seemed to hate having people in the house. On entering it I thought he must be feeling pleased. It was as still as a tomb.

    I could see no one in the living rooms; and the verandah, too, was empty, except for a man at the far end dozing prone in a long chair. At the noise of my footsteps he opened one horribly fish-like eye. He was a stranger to me. I retreated from there, and, crossing the dining-room--a very bare apartment with a motionless punkah hanging over the centre table--I knocked at a door labelled in black letters: "Chief Steward. Oh, dear! What is it now? It was a strange room to find in the tropics.

    The Shadow Line; a confession eBook

    Twilight and stuffiness reigned in there. Other characters include the young Jukes - most probably an alter ego of Conrad from the time he had sailed under captain John McWhirr - and Solomon Rout, the chief engineer. The novella classically evokes the seafaring life at the turn of the century. While Macwhirr, who, according to Conrad, "never walked on this Earth" - is emotionally estranged from his family and crew, and though he refuses to consider an alternative course to skirt the typhoon, his indomitable will in the face of a superior natural force elicits grudging admiration.

    This one was published in The story is pretty straight forward, the plot direct. It isn't an elaborate story, but one that explores that moment, that shadow-line between youth and adulthood. The basic story involves a young officer, suddenly thrust into command. During his first v "a man should stand up to his bad luck, to his mistakes, to his conscience and all that sort of thing Why--what else would you have to fight against? During his first voyage he is tested and learns about strength, duty, obligation, etc. It is a story about maturity, wisdom, experience. I'm not sure if my love of sea stories is directly tied to Conrad, or if my love of Conrad comes from my love of sea stories.

    The genre and the writer are both so closely mixed in my brain. What I do know is I love the morality of Conrad.

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