’Egstrom snorted bitterly, and combed one auburn whisker with knotty fingers. “Haven’t been able to get a man that was any good since. It’s nothing but worry, worry, worry in business. And where might you have come across him, captain, if it’s fair to ask?”
’"He was the mate of the Patna that voyage,” I said, feeling that I owed some explanation. For a time Egstrom remained very still, with his fingers plunged in the hair at the side of his face, and then exploded. “And who the devil cares about that?” “I daresay no one,” I began . . . “And what the devil is he—anyhow—for to go on like this?” He stuffed suddenly his left whisker into his mouth and stood amazed. “Jee!” he exclaimed, “I told him the earth wouldn’t be big enough to hold his caper."’
’I have told you these two episodes at length to show his manner of dealing with himself under the new conditions of his life. There were many others of the sort, more than I could count on the fingers of my two hands. They were all equally tinged by a high-minded absurdity of intention which made their futility profound and touching. To fling away your daily bread so as to get your hands free for a grapple with a ghost may be an act of prosaic heroism. Men had done it before (though we who have lived know full well that it is not the haunted soul but the hungry body that makes an outcast), and men who had eaten and meant to eat every day had applauded the creditable folly. He was indeed unfortunate, for all his recklessness could not carry him out from under the shadow. There was always a doubt of his courage. The truth seems to be that it is impossible to lay the ghost of a fact. You can face it or shirk it—and I have come across a man or two who could wink at their familiar shades. Obviously Jim was not of the winking sort; but what I could never make up my mind about was whether his line of conduct amounted to shirking his ghost or to facing him out.