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´╗┐Title: A Personal Record
Author: Conrad, Joseph, 1857-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Personal Record" ***

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A PERSONAL RECORD

By Joseph Conrad



A FAMILIAR PREFACE

As a general rule we do not want much encouragement to talk about
ourselves; yet this little book is the result of a friendly suggestion,
and even of a little friendly pressure. I defended myself with some
spirit; but, with characteristic tenacity, the friendly voice insisted,
"You know, you really must."

It was not an argument, but I submitted at once. If one must! . . .

You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade should put
his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of
sound has always been greater than the power of sense. I don't say this
by way of disparagement. It is better for mankind to be impressionable
than reflective. Nothing humanely great--great, I mean, as affecting a
whole mass of lives--has come from reflection. On the other hand, you
cannot fail to see the power of mere words; such words as Glory, for
instance, or Pity. I won't mention any more. They are not far to seek.
Shouted with perseverance, with ardour, with conviction, these two by
their sound alone have set whole nations in motion and upheaved the dry,
hard ground on which rests our whole social fabric. There's "virtue"
for you if you like! . . . Of course the accent must be attended to. The
right accent. That's very important. The capacious lung, the thundering
or the tender vocal chords. Don't talk to me of your Archimedes' lever.

He was an absent-minded person with a mathematical imagination.
Mathematics commands all my respect, but I have no use for engines. Give
me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.

What a dream for a writer! Because written words have their accent, too.
Yes! Let me only find the right word! Surely it must be lying somewhere
among the wreckage of all the plaints and all the exultations poured out
aloud since the first day when hope, the undying, came down on earth. It
may be there, close by, disregarded, invisible, quite at hand. But
it's no good. I believe there are men who can lay hold of a needle in a
pottle of hay at the first try. For myself, I have never had such luck.
And then there is that accent. Another difficulty. For who is going to
tell whether the accent is right or wrong till the word is shouted,
and fails to be heard, perhaps, and goes down-wind, leaving the world
unmoved? Once upon a time there lived an emperor who was a sage and
something of a literary man. He jotted down on ivory tablets thoughts,
maxims, reflections which chance has preserved for the edification of
posterity. Among other sayings--I am quoting from memory--I remember
this solemn admonition: "Let all thy words have the accent of heroic
truth." The accent of heroic truth! This is very fine, but I am thinking
that it is an easy matter for an austere emperor to jot down grandiose
advice. Most of the working truths on this earth are humble, not heroic;
and there have been times in the history of mankind when the accents of
heroic truth have moved it to nothing but derision.

Nobody will expect to find between the covers of this little book words
of extraordinary potency or accents of irresistible heroism. However
humiliating for my self esteem, I must confess that the counsels of
Marcus Aurelius are not for me. They are more fit for a moralist than
for an artist. Truth of a modest sort I can promise you, and also
sincerity. That complete, praise worthy sincerity which, while it
delivers one into the hands of one's enemies, is as likely as not to
embroil one with one's friends.

"Embroil" is perhaps too strong an expression. I can't imagine among
either my enemies or my friends a being so hard up for something to do
as to quarrel with me. "To disappoint one's friends" would be nearer the
mark. Most, almost all, friend ships of the writing period of my life
have come to me through my books; and I know that a novelist lives in
his work. He stands there, the only reality in an invented world, among
imaginary things, happenings, and people. Writing about them, he is only
writing about himself. But the disclosure is not complete. He remains,
to a certain extent, a figure behind the veil; a suspected rather than
a seen presence--a movement and a voice behind the draperies of fiction.
In these personal notes there is no such veil. And I cannot help
thinking of a passage in the "Imitation of Christ" where the ascetic
author, who knew life so profoundly, says that "there are persons
esteemed on their reputation who by showing themselves destroy the
opinion one had of them." This is the danger incurred by an author of
fiction who sets out to talk about himself without disguise.

While these reminiscent pages were appearing serially I was remonstrated
with for bad economy; as if such writing were a form of self-indulgence
wasting the substance of future volumes. It seems that I am not
sufficiently literary. Indeed, a man who never wrote a line for print
till he was thirty-six cannot bring himself to look upon his existence
and his experience, upon the sum of his thoughts, sensations, and
emotions, upon his memories and his regrets, and the whole possession
of his past, as only so much material for his hands. Once before, some
three years ago, when I published "The Mirror of the Sea," a volume of
impressions and memories, the same remarks were made to me. Practical
remarks. But, truth to say, I have never understood the kind of thrift
they recommend. I wanted to pay my tribute to the sea, its ships and
its men, to whom I remain indebted for so much which has gone to make me
what I am. That seemed to me the only shape in which I could offer it to
their shades. There could not be a question in my mind of anything else.
It is quite possible that I am a bad economist; but it is certain that I
am incorrigible.

Having matured in the surroundings and under the special conditions of
sea life, I have a special piety toward that form of my past; for its
impressions were vivid, its appeal direct, its demands such as could be
responded to with the natural elation of youth and strength equal to the
call. There was nothing in them to perplex a young conscience. Having
broken away from my origins under a storm of blame from every quarter
which had the merest shadow of right to voice an opinion, removed by
great distances from such natural affections as were still left to
me, and even estranged, in a measure, from them by the totally
unintelligible character of the life which had seduced me so
mysteriously from my allegiance, I may safely say that through the blind
force of circumstances the sea was to be all my world and the merchant
service my only home for a long succession of years. No wonder, then,
that in my two exclusively sea books--"The Nigger of the Narcissus," and
"The Mirror of the Sea" (and in the few short sea stories like "Youth"
and "Typhoon")--I have tried with an almost filial regard to render the
vibration of life in the great world of waters, in the hearts of the
simple men who have for ages traversed its solitudes, and also that
something sentient which seems to dwell in ships--the creatures of their
hands and the objects of their care.

One's literary life must turn frequently for sustenance to memories and
seek discourse with the shades, unless one has made up one's mind to
write only in order to reprove mankind for what it is, or praise it for
what it is not, or--generally--to teach it how to behave. Being neither
quarrelsome, nor a flatterer, nor a sage, I have done none of these
things, and I am prepared to put up serenely with the insignificance
which attaches to persons who are not meddlesome in some way or other.
But resignation is not indifference. I would not like to be left
standing as a mere spectator on the bank of the great stream carrying
onward so many lives. I would fain claim for myself the faculty of so
much insight as can be expressed in a voice of sympathy and compassion.

It seems to me that in one, at least, authoritative quarter of criticism
I am suspected of a certain unemotional, grim acceptance of facts--of
what the French would call _secheresse du coeur_. Fifteen years of
unbroken silence before praise or blame testify sufficiently to my
respect for criticism, that fine flower of personal expression in the
garden of letters. But this is more of a personal matter, reaching the
man behind the work, and therefore it may be alluded to in a volume
which is a personal note in the margin of the public page. Not that
I feel hurt in the least. The charge--if it amounted to a charge at
all--was made in the most considerate terms; in a tone of regret.

My answer is that if it be true that every novel contains an element of
autobiography--and this can hardly be denied, since the creator can only
express himself in his creation--then there are some of us to whom an
open display of sentiment is repugnant.

I would not unduly praise the virtue of restraint. It is often merely
temperamental. But it is not always a sign of coldness. It may be pride.
There can be nothing more humiliating than to see the shaft of one's
emotion miss the mark of either laughter or tears. Nothing more
humiliating! And this for the reason that should the mark be missed,
should the open display of emotion fail to move, then it must perish
unavoidably in disgust or contempt. No artist can be reproached for
shrinking from a risk which only fools run to meet and only genius dare
confront with impunity. In a task which mainly consists in laying one's
soul more or less bare to the world, a regard for decency, even at
the cost of success, is but the regard for one's own dignity which is
inseparably united with the dignity of one's work.

And then--it is very difficult to be wholly joyous or wholly sad on this
earth. The comic, when it is human, soon takes upon itself a face of
pain; and some of our griefs (some only, not all, for it is the capacity
for suffering which makes man August in the eyes of men) have their
source in weaknesses which must be recognized with smiling com passion
as the common inheritance of us all. Joy and sorrow in this world pass
into each other, mingling their forms and their murmurs in the twilight
of life as mysterious as an over shadowed ocean, while the dazzling
brightness of supreme hopes lies far off, fascinating and still, on the
distant edge of the horizon.

Yes! I, too, would like to hold the magic wand giving that command over
laughter and tears which is declared to be the highest achievement of
imaginative literature. Only, to be a great magician one must surrender
oneself to occult and irresponsible powers, either outside or within
one's breast. We have all heard of simple men selling their souls for
love or power to some grotesque devil. The most ordinary intelligence
can perceive without much reflection that anything of the sort is bound
to be a fool's bargain. I don't lay claim to particular wisdom because
of my dislike and distrust of such transactions. It may be my sea
training acting upon a natural disposition to keep good hold on the
one thing really mine, but the fact is that I have a positive horror of
losing even for one moving moment that full possession of my self which
is the first condition of good service. And I have carried my notion of
good service from my earlier into my later existence. I, who have never
sought in the written word anything else but a form of the Beautiful--I
have carried over that article of creed from the decks of ships to the
more circumscribed space of my desk, and by that act, I suppose, I have
become permanently imperfect in the eyes of the ineffable company of
pure esthetes.

As in political so in literary action a man wins friends for himself
mostly by the passion of his prejudices and by the consistent narrowness
of his outlook. But I have never been able to love what was not
lovable or hate what was not hateful out of deference for some general
principle. Whether there be any courage in making this admission I know
not. After the middle turn of life's way we consider dangers and joys
with a tranquil mind. So I proceed in peace to declare that I have
always suspected in the effort to bring into play the extremities of
emotions the debasing touch of insincerity. In order to move others
deeply we must deliberately allow ourselves to be carried away beyond
the bounds of our normal sensibility--innocently enough, perhaps, and
of necessity, like an actor who raises his voice on the stage above the
pitch of natural conversation--but still we have to do that. And surely
this is no great sin. But the danger lies in the writer becoming the
victim of his own exaggeration, losing the exact notion of sincerity,
and in the end coming to despise truth itself as something too cold, too
blunt for his purpose--as, in fact, not good enough for his insistent
emotion. From laughter and tears the descent is easy to snivelling and
giggles.

These may seem selfish considerations; but you can't, in sound morals,
condemn a man for taking care of his own integrity. It is his clear
duty. And least of all can you condemn an artist pursuing, however
humbly and imperfectly, a creative aim. In that interior world where
his thought and his emotions go seeking for the experience of imagined
adventures, there are no policemen, no law, no pressure of circumstance
or dread of opinion to keep him within bounds. Who then is going to say
Nay to his temptations if not his conscience?

And besides--this, remember, is the place and the moment of perfectly
open talk--I think that all ambitions are lawful except those which
climb upward on the miseries or credulities of mankind. All intellectual
and artistic ambitions are permissible, up to and even beyond the limit
of prudent sanity. They can hurt no one. If they are mad, then so
much the worse for the artist. Indeed, as virtue is said to be, such
ambitions are their own reward. Is it such a very mad presumption to
believe in the sovereign power of one's art, to try for other means, for
other ways of affirming this belief in the deeper appeal of one's work?
To try to go deeper is not to be insensible. A historian of hearts is
not a historian of emotions, yet he penetrates further, restrained as he
may be, since his aim is to reach the very fount of laughter and tears.
The sight of human affairs deserves admiration and pity. They are
worthy of respect, too. And he is not insensible who pays them the
undemonstrative tribute of a sigh which is not a sob, and of a smile
which is not a grin. Resignation, not mystic, not detached, but
resignation open-eyed, conscious, and informed by love, is the only one
of our feelings for which it is impossible to become a sham.

Not that I think resignation the last word of wisdom. I am too much the
creature of my time for that. But I think that the proper wisdom is to
will what the gods will without, perhaps, being certain what their will
is--or even if they have a will of their own. And in this matter of life
and art it is not the Why that matters so much to our happiness as the
How. As the Frenchman said, "_Il y a toujours la maniere_." Very true.
Yes. There is the manner. The manner in laughter, in tears, in irony, in
indignations and enthusiasms, in judgments--and even in love. The manner
in which, as in the features and character of a human face, the inner
truth is foreshadowed for those who know how to look at their kind.

Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the temporal world,
rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as
the hills. It rests notably, among others, on the idea of Fidelity. At
a time when nothing which is not revolutionary in some way or other can
expect to attract much attention I have not been revolutionary in my
writings. The revolutionary spirit is mighty convenient in this, that
it frees one from all scruples as regards ideas. Its hard, absolute
optimism is repulsive to my mind by the menace of fanaticism and
intolerance it contains. No doubt one should smile at these things; but,
imperfect Esthete, I am no better Philosopher.

All claim to special righteousness awakens in me that scorn and danger
from which a philosophical mind should be free. . . .

I fear that trying to be conversational I have only managed to be unduly
discursive. I have never been very well acquainted with the art of
conversation--that art which, I understand, is supposed to be lost now.
My young days, the days when one's habits and character are formed, have
been rather familiar with long silences. Such voices as broke into them
were anything but conversational. No. I haven't got the habit. Yet
this discursiveness is not so irrelevant to the handful of pages which
follow. They, too, have been charged with discursiveness, with
disregard of chronological order (which is in itself a crime), with
unconventionality of form (which is an impropriety). I was told severely
that the public would view with displeasure the informal character of
my recollections. "Alas!" I protested, mildly. "Could I begin with the
sacramental words, 'I was born on such a date in such a place'? The
remoteness of the locality would have robbed the statement of all
interest. I haven't lived through wonderful adventures to be related
seriatim. I haven't known distinguished men on whom I could pass fatuous
remarks. I haven't been mixed up with great or scandalous affairs. This
is but a bit of psychological document, and even so, I haven't written
it with a view to put forward any conclusion of my own."

But my objector was not placated. These were good reasons for not
writing at all--not a defense of what stood written already, he said.

I admit that almost anything, anything in the world, would serve as a
good reason for not writing at all. But since I have written them, all I
want to say in their defense is that these memories put down without
any regard for established conventions have not been thrown off without
system and purpose. They have their hope and their aim. The hope that
from the reading of these pages there may emerge at last the vision of
a personality; the man behind the books so fundamentally dissimilar
as, for instance, "Almayer's Folly" and "The Secret Agent," and yet a
coherent, justifiable personality both in its origin and in its action.
This is the hope. The immediate aim, closely associated with the hope,
is to give the record of personal memories by presenting faithfully the
feelings and sensations connected with the writing of my first book and
with my first contact with the sea.

In the purposely mingled resonance of this double strain a friend here
and there will perhaps detect a subtle accord.

J. C. K.



A PERSONAL RECORD

I

Books may be written in all sorts of places. Verbal inspiration may
enter the berth of a mariner on board a ship frozen fast in a river in
the middle of a town; and since saints are supposed to look benignantly
on humble believers, I indulge in the pleasant fancy that the shade
of old Flaubert--who imagined himself to be (among other things) a
descendant of Vikings--might have hovered with amused interest over
the docks of a 2,000-ton steamer called the Adowa, on board of which,
gripped by the inclement winter alongside a quay in Rouen, the tenth
chapter of "Almayer's Folly" was begun. With interest, I say, for was
not the kind Norman giant with enormous mustaches and a thundering voice
the last of the Romantics? Was he not, in his unworldly, almost ascetic,
devotion to his art, a sort of literary, saint-like hermit?

"'It has set at last,' said Nina to her mother, pointing to the hills
behind which the sun had sunk." . . . These words of Almayer's romantic
daughter I remember tracing on the gray paper of a pad which rested on
the blanket of my bed-place. They referred to a sunset in Malayan Isles
and shaped themselves in my mind, in a hallucinated vision of forests
and rivers and seas, far removed from a commercial and yet romantic town
of the northern hemisphere. But at that moment the mood of visions and
words was cut short by the third officer, a cheerful and casual youth,
coming in with a bang of the door and the exclamation: "You've made it
jolly warm in here."

It was warm. I had turned on the steam heater after placing a tin under
the leaky water-cock--for perhaps you do not know that water will leak
where steam will not. I am not aware of what my young friend had
been doing on deck all that morning, but the hands he rubbed together
vigorously were very red and imparted to me a chilly feeling by their
mere aspect. He has remained the only banjoist of my acquaintance, and
being also a younger son of a retired colonel, the poem of Mr. Kipling,
by a strange aberration of associated ideas, always seems to me to have
been written with an exclusive view to his person. When he did not
play the banjo he loved to sit and look at it. He proceeded to this
sentimental inspection, and after meditating a while over the strings
under my silent scrutiny inquired, airily:

"What are you always scribbling there, if it's fair to ask?"

It was a fair enough question, but I did not answer him, and simply
turned the pad over with a movement of instinctive secrecy: I could not
have told him he had put to flight the psychology of Nina Almayer, her
opening speech of the tenth chapter, and the words of Mrs. Almayer's
wisdom which were to follow in the ominous oncoming of a tropical night.
I could not have told him that Nina had said, "It has set at last."
He would have been extremely surprised and perhaps have dropped his
precious banjo. Neither could I have told him that the sun of my
sea-going was setting, too, even as I wrote the words expressing the
impatience of passionate youth bent on its desire. I did not know this
myself, and it is safe to say he would not have cared, though he was an
excellent young fellow and treated me with more deference than, in our
relative positions, I was strictly entitled to.

He lowered a tender gaze on his banjo, and I went on looking through the
port-hole. The round opening framed in its brass rim a fragment of the
quays, with a row of casks ranged on the frozen ground and the tail end
of a great cart. A red-nosed carter in a blouse and a woollen night-cap
leaned against the wheel. An idle, strolling custom house guard, belted
over his blue capote, had the air of being depressed by exposure to the
weather and the monotony of official existence. The background of grimy
houses found a place in the picture framed by my port-hole, across a
wide stretch of paved quay brown with frozen mud. The colouring
was sombre, and the most conspicuous feature was a little cafe with
curtained windows and a shabby front of white woodwork, corresponding
with the squalor of these poorer quarters bordering the river. We had
been shifted down there from another berth in the neighbourhood of the
Opera House, where that same port-hole gave me a view of quite another
soft of cafe--the best in the town, I believe, and the very one where
the worthy Bovary and his wife, the romantic daughter of old Pere
Renault, had some refreshment after the memorable performance of an
opera which was the tragic story of Lucia di Lammermoor in a setting of
light music.

I could recall no more the hallucination of the Eastern Archipelago
which I certainly hoped to see again. The story of "Almayer's Folly"
got put away under the pillow for that day. I do not know that I had any
occupation to keep me away from it; the truth of the matter is that on
board that ship we were leading just then a contemplative life. I
will not say anything of my privileged position. I was there "just to
oblige," as an actor of standing may take a small part in the benefit
performance of a friend.

As far as my feelings were concerned I did not wish to be in that
steamer at that time and in those circumstances. And perhaps I was not
even wanted there in the usual sense in which a ship "wants" an
officer. It was the first and last instance in my sea life when I served
ship-owners who have remained completely shadowy to my apprehension. I
do not mean this for the well-known firm of London ship-brokers which
had chartered the ship to the, I will not say short-lived, but ephemeral
Franco-Canadian Transport Company. A death leaves something behind,
but there was never anything tangible left from the F. C. T. C. It
flourished no longer than roses live, and unlike the roses it blossomed
in the dead of winter, emitted a sort of faint perfume of adventure, and
died before spring set in. But indubitably it was a company, it had even
a house-flag, all white with the letters F. C. T. C. artfully tangled
up in a complicated monogram. We flew it at our mainmast head, and now
I have come to the conclusion that it was the only flag of its kind in
existence. All the same we on board, for many days, had the impression
of being a unit of a large fleet with fortnightly departures for
Montreal and Quebec as advertised in pamphlets and prospectuses which
came aboard in a large package in Victoria Dock, London, just before we
started for Rouen, France. And in the shadowy life of the F. C. T. C.
lies the secret of that, my last employment in my calling, which in a
remote sense interrupted the rhythmical development of Nina Almayer's
story.

The then secretary of the London Shipmasters' Society, with its modest
rooms in Fenchurch Street, was a man of indefatigable activity and the
greatest devotion to his task. He is responsible for what was my last
association with a ship. I call it that be cause it can hardly be called
a sea-going experience. Dear Captain Froud--it is impossible not to
pay him the tribute of affectionate familiarity at this distance of
years--had very sound views as to the advancement of knowledge and
status for the whole body of the officers of the mercantile marine. He
organized for us courses of professional lectures, St. John ambulance
classes, corresponded industriously with public bodies and members of
Parliament on subjects touching the interests of the service; and as to
the oncoming of some inquiry or commission relating to matters of the
sea and to the work of seamen, it was a perfect godsend to his need of
exerting himself on our corporate behalf. Together with this high sense
of his official duties he had in him a vein of personal kindness, a
strong disposition to do what good he could to the individual members of
that craft of which in his time he had been a very excellent master. And
what greater kindness can one do to a seaman than to put him in the way
of employment? Captain Froud did not see why the Shipmasters' Society,
besides its general guardianship of our interests, should not be
unofficially an employment agency of the very highest class.

"I am trying to persuade all our great ship-owning firms to come to
us for their men. There is nothing of a trade-union spirit about our
society, and I really don't see why they should not," he said once
to me. "I am always telling the captains, too, that, all things being
equal, they ought to give preference to the members of the society.
In my position I can generally find for them what they want among our
members or our associate members."

In my wanderings about London from west to east and back again (I was
very idle then) the two little rooms in Fenchurch Street were a sort
of resting-place where my spirit, hankering after the sea, could feel
itself nearer to the ships, the men, and the life of its choice--nearer
there than on any other spot of the solid earth. This resting-place used
to be, at about five o'clock in the afternoon, full of men and tobacco
smoke, but Captain Froud had the smaller room to himself and there
he granted private interviews, whose principal motive was to render
service. Thus, one murky November afternoon he beckoned me in with a
crooked finger and that peculiar glance above his spectacles which is
perhaps my strongest physical recollection of the man.

"I have had in here a shipmaster, this morning," he said, getting back
to his desk and motioning me to a chair, "who is in want of an officer.
It's for a steamship. You know, nothing pleases me more than to be
asked, but, unfortunately, I do not quite see my way . . ."

As the outer room was full of men I cast a wondering glance at the
closed door; but he shook his head.

"Oh, yes, I should be only too glad to get that berth for one of them.
But the fact of the matter is, the captain of that ship wants an officer
who can speak French fluently, and that's not so easy to find. I do
not know anybody myself but you. It's a second officer's berth and, of
course, you would not care . . . would you now? I know that it isn't
what you are looking for."

It was not. I had given myself up to the idleness of a haunted man who
looks for nothing but words wherein to capture his visions. But I admit
that outwardly I resembled sufficiently a man who could make a second
officer for a steamer chartered by a French company. I showed no sign
of being haunted by the fate of Nina and by the murmurs of tropical
forests; and even my intimate intercourse with Almayer (a person of weak
character) had not put a visible mark upon my features. For many years
he and the world of his story had been the companions of my imagination
without, I hope, impairing my ability to deal with the realities of
sea life. I had had the man and his surroundings with me ever since my
return from the eastern waters--some four years before the day of which
I speak.

It was in the front sitting-room of furnished apartments in a Pimlico
square that they first began to live again with a vividness and
poignancy quite foreign to our former real intercourse. I had been
treating myself to a long stay on shore, and in the necessity of
occupying my mornings Almayer (that old acquaintance) came nobly to the
rescue.

Before long, as was only proper, his wife and daughter joined him round
my table, and then the rest of that Pantai band came full of words
and gestures. Unknown to my respectable landlady, it was my practice
directly after my breakfast to hold animated receptions of Malays,
Arabs, and half-castes. They did not clamour aloud for my attention.
They came with a silent and irresistible appeal--and the appeal, I
affirm here, was not to my self-love or my vanity. It seems now to have
had a moral character, for why should the memory of these beings, seen
in their obscure, sun-bathed existence, demand to express itself in the
shape of a novel, except on the ground of that mysterious fellowship
which unites in a community of hopes and fears all the dwellers on this
earth?

I did not receive my visitors with boisterous rapture as the bearers
of any gifts of profit or fame. There was no vision of a printed book
before me as I sat writing at that table, situated in a decayed part of
Belgravia. After all these years, each leaving its evidence of slowly
blackened pages, I can honestly say that it is a sentiment akin to pity
which prompted me to render in words assembled with conscientious care
the memory of things far distant and of men who had lived.

But, coming back to Captain Froud and his fixed idea of never
disappointing ship owners or ship-captains, it was not likely that I
should fail him in his ambition--to satisfy at a few hours' notice the
unusual demand for a French-speaking officer. He explained to me that
the ship was chartered by a French company intending to establish a
regular monthly line of sailings from Rouen, for the transport of French
emigrants to Canada. But, frankly, this sort of thing did not interest
me very much. I said gravely that if it were really a matter of keeping
up the reputation of the Shipmasters' Society I would consider it. But
the consideration was just for form's sake. The next day I interviewed
the captain, and I believe we were impressed favourably with each other.
He explained that his chief mate was an excellent man in every respect
and that he could not think of dismissing him so as to give me the
higher position; but that if I consented to come as second officer I
would be given certain special advantages--and so on.

I told him that if I came at all the rank really did not matter.

"I am sure," he insisted, "you will get on first rate with Mr. Paramor."

I promised faithfully to stay for two trips at least, and it was in
those circumstances that what was to be my last connection with a ship
began. And after all there was not even one single trip. It may be
that it was simply the fulfilment of a fate, of that written word on my
forehead which apparently for bade me, through all my sea wanderings,
ever to achieve the crossing of the Western Ocean--using the words in
that special sense in which sailors speak of Western Ocean trade,
of Western Ocean packets, of Western Ocean hard cases. The new life
attended closely upon the old, and the nine chapters of "Almayer's
Folly" went with me to the Victoria Dock, whence in a few days we
started for Rouen. I won't go so far as saying that the engaging of a
man fated never to cross the Western Ocean was the absolute cause of
the Franco-Canadian Transport Company's failure to achieve even a single
passage. It might have been that of course; but the obvious, gross
obstacle was clearly the want of money. Four hundred and sixty bunks
for emigrants were put together in the 'tween decks by industrious
carpenters while we lay in the Victoria Dock, but never an emigrant
turned up in Rouen--of which, being a humane person, I confess I was
glad. Some gentlemen from Paris--I think there were three of them, and
one was said to be the chairman--turned up, indeed, and went from end
to end of the ship, knocking their silk hats cruelly against the deck
beams. I attended them personally, and I can vouch for it that the
interest they took in things was intelligent enough, though, obviously,
they had never seen anything of the sort before. Their faces as they
went ashore wore a cheerfully inconclusive expression. Notwithstanding
that this inspecting ceremony was supposed to be a preliminary to
immediate sailing, it was then, as they filed down our gangway, that I
received the inward monition that no sailing within the meaning of our
charter party would ever take place.

It must be said that in less than three weeks a move took place. When
we first arrived we had been taken up with much ceremony well toward the
centre of the town, and, all the street corners being placarded with
the tricolor posters announcing the birth of our company, the petit
bourgeois with his wife and family made a Sunday holiday from the
inspection of the ship. I was always in evidence in my best uniform to
give information as though I had been a Cook's tourists' interpreter,
while our quartermasters reaped a harvest of small change from
personally conducted parties. But when the move was made--that move
which carried us some mile and a half down the stream to be tied up to
an altogether muddier and shabbier quay--then indeed the desolation of
solitude became our lot. It was a complete and soundless stagnation; for
as we had the ship ready for sea to the smallest detail, as the frost
was hard and the days short, we were absolutely idle--idle to the point
of blushing with shame when the thought struck us that all the time our
salaries went on. Young Cole was aggrieved because, as he said, we could
not enjoy any sort of fun in the evening after loafing like this all
day; even the banjo lost its charm since there was nothing to prevent
his strumming on it all the time between the meals. The good Paramor--he
was really a most excellent fellow--became unhappy as far as was
possible to his cheery nature, till one dreary day I suggested, out of
sheer mischief, that he should employ the dormant energies of the crew
in hauling both cables up on deck and turning them end for end.

For a moment Mr. Paramor was radiant. "Excellent idea!" but directly
his face fell. "Why . . . Yes! But we can't make that job last more
than three days," he muttered, discontentedly. I don't know how long he
expected us to be stuck on the riverside outskirts of Rouen, but I know
that the cables got hauled up and turned end for end according to my
satanic suggestion, put down again, and their very existence utterly
forgotten, I believe, before a French river pilot came on board to take
our ship down, empty as she came, into the Havre roads. You may think
that this state of forced idleness favoured some advance in the fortunes
of Almayer and his daughter. Yet it was not so. As if it were some sort
of evil spell, my banjoist cabin mate's interruption, as related above,
had arrested them short at the point of that fateful sunset for many
weeks together. It was always thus with this book, begun in '89 and
finished in '94--with that shortest of all the novels which it was to be
my lot to write. Between its opening exclamation calling Almayer to his
dinner in his wife's voice and Abdullah's (his enemy) mental reference
to the God of Islam--"The Merciful, the Compassionate"--which closes the
book, there were to come several long sea passages, a visit (to use the
elevated phraseology suitable to the occasion) to the scenes (some of
them) of my childhood and the realization of childhood's vain words,
expressing a light-hearted and romantic whim.

It was in 1868, when nine years old or thereabouts, that while looking
at a map of Africa of the time and putting my finger on the blank space
then representing the unsolved mystery of that continent, I said to
myself, with absolute assurance and an amazing audacity which are no
longer in my character now:

"When I grow up I shall go _there_."

And of course I thought no more about it till after a quarter of a
century or so an opportunity offered to go there--as if the sin of
childish audacity were to be visited on my mature head. Yes. I did go
there: _there_ being the region of Stanley Falls, which in '68 was the
blankest of blank spaces on the earth's figured surface. And the MS.
of "Almayer's Folly," carried about me as if it were a talisman or a
treasure, went _there_, too. That it ever came out of _there_ seems
a special dispensation of Providence, because a good many of my other
properties, infinitely more valuable and useful to me, remained behind
through unfortunate accidents of transportation. I call to mind, for
instance, a specially awkward turn of the Congo between Kinchassa and
Leopoldsville--more particularly when one had to take it at night in
a big canoe with only half the proper number of paddlers. I failed in
being the second white man on record drowned at that interesting spot
through the upsetting of a canoe. The first was a young Belgian officer,
but the accident happened some months before my time, and he, too, I
believe, was going home; not perhaps quite so ill as myself--but still
he was going home. I got round the turn more or less alive, though I
was too sick to care whether I did or not, and, always with "Almayer's
Folly" among my diminishing baggage, I arrived at that delectable
capital, Boma, where, before the departure of the steamer which was to
take me home, I had the time to wish myself dead over and over again
with perfect sincerity. At that date there were in existence only seven
chapters of "Almayer's Folly," but the chapter in my history which
followed was that of a long, long illness and very dismal convalescence.
Geneva, or more precisely the hydropathic establishment of Champel, is
rendered forever famous by the termination of the eighth chapter in
the history of Almayer's decline and fall. The events of the ninth are
inextricably mixed up with the details of the proper management of a
waterside warehouse owned by a certain city firm whose name does not
matter. But that work, undertaken to accustom myself again to the
activities of a healthy existence, soon came to an end. The earth had
nothing to hold me with for very long. And then that memorable story,
like a cask of choice Madeira, got carried for three years to and fro
upon the sea. Whether this treatment improved its flavour or not, of
course I would not like to say. As far as appearance is concerned it
certainly did nothing of the kind. The whole MS. acquired a faded look
and an ancient, yellowish complexion. It became at last unreasonable
to suppose that anything in the world would ever happen to Almayer and
Nina. And yet something most unlikely to happen on the high seas was to
wake them up from their state of suspended animation.

What is it that Novalis says: "It is certain my conviction gains
infinitely the moment an other soul will believe in it." And what is a
novel if not a conviction of our fellow-men's existence strong enough to
take upon itself a form of imagined life clearer than reality and whose
accumulated verisimilitude of selected episodes puts to shame the pride
of documentary history. Providence which saved my MS. from the Congo
rapids brought it to the knowledge of a helpful soul far out on the open
sea. It would be on my part the greatest ingratitude ever to forget the
sallow, sunken face and the deep-set, dark eyes of the young Cambridge
man (he was a "passenger for his health" on board the good ship Torrens
outward bound to Australia) who was the first reader of "Almayer's
Folly"--the very first reader I ever had.

"Would it bore you very much in reading a MS. in a handwriting like
mine?" I asked him one evening, on a sudden impulse at the end of a
longish conversation whose subject was Gibbon's History.

Jacques (that was his name) was sitting in my cabin one stormy dog-watch
below, after bring me a book to read from his own travelling store.

"Not at all," he answered, with his courteous intonation and a faint
smile. As I pulled a drawer open his suddenly aroused curiosity gave him
a watchful expression. I wonder what he expected to see. A poem, maybe.
All that's beyond guessing now.

He was not a cold, but a calm man, still more subdued by disease--a man
of few words and of an unassuming modesty in general intercourse, but
with something uncommon in the whole of his person which set him apart
from the undistinguished lot of our sixty passengers. His eyes had a
thoughtful, introspective look. In his attractive reserved manner and in
a veiled sympathetic voice he asked:

"What is this?" "It is a sort of tale," I answered, with an effort. "It
is not even finished yet. Nevertheless, I would like to know what you
think of it." He put the MS. in the breast-pocket of his jacket; I
remember perfectly his thin, brown fingers folding it lengthwise. "I
will read it to-morrow," he remarked, seizing the door handle; and then
watching the roll of the ship for a propitious moment, he opened the
door and was gone. In the moment of his exit I heard the sustained
booming of the wind, the swish of the water on the decks of the Torrens,
and the subdued, as if distant, roar of the rising sea. I noted the
growing disquiet in the great restlessness of the ocean, and responded
professionally to it with the thought that at eight o'clock, in another
half hour or so at the farthest, the topgallant sails would have to come
off the ship.

Next day, but this time in the first dog watch, Jacques entered my
cabin. He had a thick woollen muffler round his throat, and the MS.
was in his hand. He tendered it to me with a steady look, but without
a word. I took it in silence. He sat down on the couch and still said
nothing. I opened and shut a drawer under my desk, on which a filled-up
log-slate lay wide open in its wooden frame waiting to be copied neatly
into the sort of book I was accustomed to write with care, the ship's
log-book. I turned my back squarely on the desk. And even then Jacques
never offered a word. "Well, what do you say?" I asked at last. "Is
it worth finishing?" This question expressed exactly the whole of my
thoughts.

"Distinctly," he answered, in his sedate, veiled voice, and then coughed
a little.

"Were you interested?" I inquired further, almost in a whisper.

"Very much!"

In a pause I went on meeting instinctively the heavy rolling of the
ship, and Jacques put his feet upon the couch. The curtain of my
bed-place swung to and fro as if it were a punkah, the bulkhead lamp
circled in its gimbals, and now and then the cabin door rattled slightly
in the gusts of wind. It was in latitude 40 south, and nearly in the
longitude of Greenwich, as far as I can remember, that these quiet rites
of Almayer's and Nina's resurrection were taking place. In the prolonged
silence it occurred to me that there was a good deal of retrospective
writing in the story as far as it went. Was it intelligible in its
action, I asked myself, as if already the story-teller were being
born into the body of a seaman. But I heard on deck the whistle of the
officer of the watch and remained on the alert to catch the order that
was to follow this call to attention. It reached me as a faint, fierce
shout to "Square the yards." "Aha!" I thought to myself, "a westerly
blow coming on." Then I turned to my very first reader, who, alas! was
not to live long enough to know the end of the tale.

"Now let me ask you one more thing: is the story quite clear to you as
it stands?"

He raised his dark, gentle eyes to my face and seemed surprised.

"Yes! Perfectly."

This was all I was to hear from his lips concerning the merits of
"Almayer's Folly." We never spoke together of the book again. A long
period of bad weather set in and I had no thoughts left but for my
duties, while poor Jacques caught a fatal cold and had to keep close in
his cabin. When we arrived in Adelaide the first reader of my prose
went at once up-country, and died rather suddenly in the end, either in
Australia or it may be on the passage while going home through the Suez
Canal. I am not sure which it was now, and I do not think I ever heard
precisely; though I made inquiries about him from some of our return
passengers who, wandering about to "see the country" during the ship's
stay in port, had come upon him here and there. At last we sailed,
homeward bound, and still not one line was added to the careless scrawl
of the many pages which poor Jacques had had the patience to read with
the very shadows of Eternity gathering already in the hollows of his
kind, steadfast eyes.

The purpose instilled into me by his simple and final "Distinctly"
remained dormant, yet alive to await its opportunity. I dare say I am
compelled--unconsciously compelled--now to write volume after volume, as
in past years I was compelled to go to sea voyage after voyage. Leaves
must follow upon one an other as leagues used to follow in the days
gone by, on and on to the appointed end, which, being Truth itself, is
One--one for all men and for all occupations.

I do not know which of the two impulses has appeared more mysterious and
more wonderful to me. Still, in writing, as in going to sea, I had to
wait my opportunity. Let me confess here that I was never one of those
wonderful fellows that would go afloat in a wash-tub for the sake of the
fun, and if I may pride myself upon my consistency, it was ever just
the same with my writing. Some men, I have heard, write in railway
carriages, and could do it, perhaps, sitting crossed-legged on a
clothes-line; but I must confess that my sybaritic disposition will not
consent to write without something at least resembling a chair. Line by
line, rather than page by page, was the growth of "Almayer's Folly."

And so it happened that I very nearly lost the MS., advanced now to the
first words of the ninth chapter, in the Friedrichstrasse Poland, or
more precisely to Ukraine. On an early, sleepy morning changing trains
in a hurry I left my Gladstone bag in a refreshment-room. A worthy
and intelligent Koffertrager rescued it. Yet in my anxiety I was not
thinking of the MS., but of all the other things that were packed in the
bag.

In Warsaw, where I spent two days, those wandering pages were never
exposed to the light, except once to candle-light, while the bag lay
open on the chair. I was dressing hurriedly to dine at a sporting club.
A friend of my childhood (he had been in the Diplomatic Service, but
had turned to growing wheat on paternal acres, and we had not seen each
other for over twenty years) was sitting on the hotel sofa waiting to
carry me off there.

"You might tell me something of your life while you are dressing," he
suggested, kindly.

I do not think I told him much of my life story either then or later.
The talk of the select little party with which he made me dine was
extremely animated and embraced most subjects under heaven, from
big-game shooting in Africa to the last poem published in a very
modernist review, edited by the very young and patronized by the highest
society. But it never touched upon "Almayer's Folly," and next morning,
in uninterrupted obscurity, this inseparable companion went on rolling
with me in the southeast direction toward the government of Kiev.

At that time there was an eight hours' drive, if not more, from the
railway station to the country-house which was my destination.

"Dear boy" (these words were always written in English), so ran the last
letter from that house received in London--"Get yourself driven to the
only inn in the place, dine as well as you can, and some time in the
evening my own confidential servant, factotum and majordomo, a Mr. V. S.
(I warn you he is of noble extraction), will present himself before you,
reporting the arrival of the small sledge which will take you here on
the next day. I send with him my heaviest fur, which I suppose with such
overcoats as you may have with you will keep you from freezing on the
road."

Sure enough, as I was dining, served by a Hebrew waiter, in an enormous
barn-like bedroom with a freshly painted floor, the door opened and, in
a travelling costume of long boots, big sheepskin cap, and a short coat
girt with a leather belt, the Mr. V. S. (of noble extraction), a man of
about thirty-five, appeared with an air of perplexity on his open
and mustached countenance. I got up from the table and greeted him in
Polish, with, I hope, the right shade of consideration demanded by his
noble blood and his confidential position. His face cleared up in a
wonderful way. It appeared that, notwithstanding my uncle's earnest
assurances, the good fellow had remained in doubt of our understanding
each other. He imagined I would talk to him in some foreign language.

I was told that his last words on getting into the sledge to come to
meet me shaped an anxious exclamation:

"Well! Well! Here I am going, but God only knows how I am to make myself
understood to our master's nephew."

We understood each other very well from the first. He took charge of
me as if I were not quite of age. I had a delightful boyish feeling
of coming home from school when he muffled me up next morning in an
enormous bearskin travelling-coat and took his seat protectively by
my side. The sledge was a very small one, and it looked utterly
insignificant, almost like a toy behind the four big bays harnessed two
and two. We three, counting the coachman, filled it completely. He was
a young fellow with clear blue eyes; the high collar of his livery fur
coat framed his cheery countenance and stood all round level with the
top of his head.

"Now, Joseph," my companion addressed him, "do you think we shall manage
to get home before six?" His answer was that we would surely, with
God's help, and providing there were no heavy drifts in the long stretch
between certain villages whose names came with an extremely familiar
sound to my ears. He turned out an excellent coachman, with an instinct
for keeping the road among the snow-covered fields and a natural gift of
getting the best out of his horses.

"He is the son of that Joseph that I suppose the Captain remembers.
He who used to drive the Captain's late grandmother of holy memory,"
remarked V. S., busy tucking fur rugs about my feet.

I remembered perfectly the trusty Joseph who used to drive my
grandmother. Why! he it was who let me hold the reins for the first
time in my life and allowed me to play with the great four-in-hand whip
outside the doors of the coach-house.

"What became of him?" I asked. "He is no longer serving, I suppose."

"He served our master," was the reply. "But he died of cholera ten years
ago now--that great epidemic that we had. And his wife died at the same
time--the whole houseful of them, and this is the only boy that was
left."

The MS. of "Almayer's Folly" was reposing in the bag under our feet.

I saw again the sun setting on the plains as I saw it in the travels of
my childhood. It set, clear and red, dipping into the snow in full view
as if it were setting on the sea. It was twenty-three years since I had
seen the sun set over that land; and we drove on in the darkness which
fell swiftly upon the livid expanse of snows till, out of the waste of a
white earth joining a bestarred sky, surged up black shapes, the clumps
of trees about a village of the Ukrainian plain. A cottage or two glided
by, a low interminable wall, and then, glimmering and winking through a
screen of fir-trees, the lights of the master's house.

That very evening the wandering MS. of "Almayer's Folly" was unpacked
and unostentatiously laid on the writing-table in my room, the
guest-room which had been, I was informed in an affectionately careless
tone, awaiting me for some fifteen years or so. It attracted no
attention from the affectionate presence hovering round the son of the
favourite sister.

"You won't have many hours to yourself while you are staying with me,
brother," he said--this form of address borrowed from the speech of
our peasants being the usual expression of the highest good humour in
a moment of affectionate elation. "I shall be always coming in for a
chat."

As a matter of fact, we had the whole house to chat in, and were
everlastingly intruding upon each other. I invaded the retirement of
his study where the principal feature was a colossal silver inkstand
presented to him on his fiftieth year by a subscription of all his
wards then living. He had been guardian of many orphans of land-owning
families from the three southern provinces--ever since the year 1860.
Some of them had been my school fellows and playmates, but not one of
them, girls or boys, that I know of has ever written a novel. One or two
were older than myself--considerably older, too. One of them, a visitor
I remember in my early years, was the man who first put me on horseback,
and his four-horse bachelor turnout, his perfect horsemanship and
general skill in manly exercises, was one of my earliest admirations. I
seem to remember my mother looking on from a colonnade in front of the
dining-room windows as I was lifted upon the pony, held, for all I know,
by the very Joseph--the groom attached specially to my grandmother's
service--who died of cholera. It was certainly a young man in a
dark-blue, tailless coat and huge Cossack trousers, that being the
livery of the men about the stables. It must have been in 1864, but
reckoning by another mode of calculating time, it was certainly in the
year in which my mother obtained permission to travel south and visit
her family, from the exile into which she had followed my father. For
that, too, she had had to ask permission, and I know that one of the
conditions of that favour was that she should be treated exactly as a
condemned exile herself. Yet a couple of years later, in memory of her
eldest brother, who had served in the Guards and dying early left hosts
of friends and a loved memory in the great world of St. Petersburg,
some influential personages procured for her this permission--it was
officially called the "Highest Grace"--of a four months' leave from
exile.

This is also the year in which I first begin to remember my mother with
more distinctness than a mere loving, wide-browed, silent, protecting
presence, whose eyes had a sort of commanding sweetness; and I also
remember the great gathering of all the relations from near and far, and
the gray heads of the family friends paying her the homage of respect
and love in the house of her favourite brother, who, a few years later,
was to take the place for me of both my parents.

I did not understand the tragic significance of it all at the time,
though, indeed, I remember that doctors also came. There were no signs
of invalidism about her--but I think that already they had pronounced
her doom unless perhaps the change to a southern climate could
re-establish her declining strength. For me it seems the very
happiest period of my existence. There was my cousin, a delightful,
quick-tempered little girl, some months younger than myself, whose life,
lovingly watched over as if she were a royal princess, came to an end
with her fifteenth year. There were other children, too, many of whom
are dead now, and not a few whose very names I have forgotten. Over all
this hung the oppressive shadow of the great Russian empire--the shadow
lowering with the darkness of a new-born national hatred fostered by
the Moscow school of journalists against the Poles after the ill-omened
rising of 1863.

This is a far cry back from the MS. of "Almayer's Folly," but the public
record of these formative impressions is not the whim of an uneasy
egotism. These, too, are things human, already distant in their appeal.
It is meet that something more should be left for the novelist's
children than the colours and figures of his own hard-won creation. That
which in their grown-up years may appear to the world about them as the
most enigmatic side of their natures and perhaps must remain forever
obscure even to themselves, will be their unconscious response to the
still voice of that inexorable past from which his work of fiction and
their personalities are remotely derived.

Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and
undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master
of art as of life. An imaginative and exact rendering of authentic
memories may serve worthily that spirit of piety toward all things human
which sanctions the conceptions of a writer of tales, and the emotions
of the man reviewing his own experience.


II

As I have said, I was unpacking my luggage after a journey from London
into Ukraine. The MS. of "Almayer's Folly"--my companion already for
some three years or more, and then in the ninth chapter of its age--was
deposited unostentatiously on the writing-table placed between two
windows. It didn't occur to me to put it away in the drawer the table
was fitted with, but my eye was attracted by the good form of the same
drawer's brass handles. Two candelabra, with four candles each, lighted
up festally the room which had waited so many years for the wandering
nephew. The blinds were down.

Within five hundred yards of the chair on which I sat stood the first
peasant hut of the village--part of my maternal grandfather's estate,
the only part remaining in the possession of a member of the family; and
beyond the village in the limitless blackness of a winter's night there
lay the great unfenced fields--not a flat and severe plain, but a kindly
bread-giving land of low rounded ridges, all white now, with the black
patches of timber nestling in the hollows. The road by which I had come
ran through the village with a turn just outside the gates closing the
short drive. Somebody was abroad on the deep snow track; a quick tinkle
of bells stole gradually into the stillness of the room like a tuneful
whisper.

My unpacking had been watched over by the servant who had come to help
me, and, for the most part, had been standing attentive but unnecessary
at the door of the room. I did not want him in the least, but I did not
like to tell him to go away. He was a young fellow, certainly more
than ten years younger than myself; I had not been--I won't say in that
place, but within sixty miles of it, ever since the year '67; yet
his guileless physiognomy of the open peasant type seemed strangely
familiar. It was quite possible that he might have been a descendant, a
son, or even a grandson, of the servants whose friendly faces had been
familiar to me in my early childhood. As a matter of fact he had no such
claim on my consideration. He was the product of some village near by
and was there on his promotion, having learned the service in one or two
houses as pantry boy. I know this because I asked the worthy V---- next
day. I might well have spared the question. I discovered before long
that all the faces about the house and all the faces in the village:
the grave faces with long mustaches of the heads of families, the downy
faces of the young men, the faces of the little fair-haired children,
the handsome, tanned, wide-browed faces of the mothers seen at the doors
of the huts, were as familiar to me as though I had known them all from
childhood and my childhood were a matter of the day before yesterday.

The tinkle of the traveller's bells, after growing louder, had faded
away quickly, and the tumult of barking dogs in the village had calmed
down at last. My uncle, lounging in the corner of a small couch, smoked
his long Turkish chibouk in silence.

"This is an extremely nice writing-table you have got for my room," I
remarked.

"It is really your property," he said, keeping his eyes on me, with
an interested and wistful expression, as he had done ever since I had
entered the house. "Forty years ago your mother used to write at this
very table. In our house in Oratow, it stood in the little sitting-room
which, by a tacit arrangement, was given up to the girls--I mean to
your mother and her sister who died so young. It was a present to them
jointly from your uncle Nicholas B. when your mother was seventeen and
your aunt two years younger. She was a very dear, delightful girl, that
aunt of yours, of whom I suppose you know nothing more than the name.
She did not shine so much by personal beauty and a cultivated mind in
which your mother was far superior. It was her good sense, the admirable
sweetness of her nature, her exceptional facility and ease in daily
relations, that endeared her to every body. Her death was a terrible
grief and a serious moral loss for us all. Had she lived she would have
brought the greatest blessings to the house it would have been her lot
to enter, as wife, mother, and mistress of a household. She would have
created round herself an atmosphere of peace and content which only
those who can love unselfishly are able to evoke. Your mother--of far
greater beauty, exceptionally distinguished in person, manner, and
intellect--had a less easy disposition. Being more brilliantly gifted,
she also expected more from life. At that trying time especially, we
were greatly concerned about her state. Suffering in her health from the
shock of her father's death (she was alone in the house with him when he
died suddenly), she was torn by the inward struggle between her love for
the man whom she was to marry in the end and her knowledge of her dead
father's declared objection to that match. Unable to bring herself
to disregard that cherished memory and that judgment she had always
respected and trusted, and, on the other hand, feeling the impossibility
to resist a sentiment so deep and so true, she could not have been
expected to preserve her mental and moral balance. At war with herself,
she could not give to others that feeling of peace which was not her
own. It was only later, when united at last with the man of her
choice, that she developed those uncommon gifts of mind and heart which
compelled the respect and admiration even of our foes. Meeting with calm
fortitude the cruel trials of a life reflecting all the national
and social misfortunes of the community, she realized the highest
conceptions of duty as a wife, a mother, and a patriot, sharing
the exile of her husband and representing nobly the ideal of Polish
womanhood. Our uncle Nicholas was not a man very accessible to feelings
of affection. Apart from his worship for Napoleon the Great, he loved
really, I believe, only three people in the world: his mother--your
great-grandmother, whom you have seen but cannot possibly remember; his
brother, our father, in whose house he lived for so many years; and
of all of us, his nephews and nieces grown up around him, your mother
alone. The modest, lovable qualities of the youngest sister he did not
seem able to see. It was I who felt most profoundly this unexpected
stroke of death falling upon the family less than a year after I had
become its head. It was terribly unexpected. Driving home one wintry
afternoon to keep me company in our empty house, where I had to remain
permanently administering the estate and at tending to the complicated
affairs--(the girls took it in turn week and week about)--driving, as
I said, from the house of the Countess Tekla Potocka, where our invalid
mother was staying then to be near a doctor, they lost the road and got
stuck in a snow drift. She was alone with the coachman and old Valery,
the personal servant of our late father. Impatient of delay while they
were trying to dig themselves out, she jumped out of the sledge and went
to look for the road herself. All this happened in '51, not ten miles
from the house in which we are sitting now.

"The road was soon found, but snow had begun to fall thickly again, and
they were four more hours getting home. Both the men took off their
sheepskin lined greatcoats and used all their own rugs to wrap her up
against the cold, notwithstanding her protests, positive orders, and
even struggles, as Valery afterward related to me. 'How could I,' he
remonstrated with her, 'go to meet the blessed soul of my late master
if I let any harm come to you while there's a spark of life left in my
body?' When they reached home at last the poor old man was stiff and
speechless from exposure, and the coachman was in not much better
plight, though he had the strength to drive round to the stables
himself. To my reproaches for venturing out at all in such weather, she
answered, characteristically, that she could not bear the thought of
abandoning me to my cheerless solitude. It is incomprehensible how it
was that she was allowed to start. I suppose it had to be! She made
light of the cough which came on next day, but shortly afterward
inflammation of the lungs set in, and in three weeks she was no more!
She was the first to be taken away of the young generation under my
care. Behold the vanity of all hopes and fears! I was the most frail
at birth of all the children. For years I remained so delicate that my
parents had but little hope of bringing me up; and yet I have survived
five brothers and two sisters, and many of my contemporaries; I have
outlived my wife and daughter, too--and from all those who have had some
knowledge at least of these old times you alone are left. It has been
my lot to lay in an early grave many honest hearts, many brilliant
promises, many hopes full of life."

He got up briskly, sighed, and left me saying, "We will dine in half an
hour."

Without moving, I listened to his quick steps resounding on the waxed
floor of the next room, traversing the anteroom lined with bookshelves,
where he paused to put his chibouk in the pipe-stand before passing into
the drawing-room (these were all en suite), where he became inaudible
on the thick carpet. But I heard the door of his study-bedroom close. He
was then sixty-two years old and had been for a quarter of a century the
wisest, the firmest, the most indulgent of guardians, extending over me
a paternal care and affection, a moral support which I seemed to feel
always near me in the most distant parts of the earth.

As to Mr. Nicholas B., sub-lieutenant of 1808, lieutenant of 1813 in
the French army, and for a short time _Officier d'Ordonnance_ of Marshal
Marmont; afterward captain in the 2d Regiment of Mounted Rifles in
the Polish army--such as it existed up to 1830 in the reduced kingdom
established by the Congress of Vienna--I must say that from all that
more distant past, known to me traditionally and a little _de visu_, and
called out by the words of the man just gone away, he remains the most
incomplete figure. It is obvious that I must have seen him in '64, for
it is certain that he would not have missed the opportunity of seeing my
mother for what he must have known would be the last time. From my early
boyhood to this day, if I try to call up his image, a sort of mist rises
before my eyes, mist in which I perceive vaguely only a neatly brushed
head of white hair (which is exceptional in the case of the B. family,
where it is the rule for men to go bald in a becoming manner before
thirty) and a thin, curved, dignified nose, a feature in strict
accordance with the physical tradition of the B. family. But it is not
by these fragmentary remains of perishable mortality that he lives in my
memory. I knew, at a very early age, that my granduncle Nicholas B. was
a Knight of the Legion of Honour and that he had also the Polish Cross
for _valour Virtuti Militari_. The knowledge of these glorious facts
inspired in me an admiring veneration; yet it is not that sentiment,
strong as it was, which resumes for me the force and the significance of
his personality. It is over borne by another and complex impression
of awe, compassion, and horror. Mr. Nicholas B. remains for me the
unfortunate and miserable (but heroic) being who once upon a time had
eaten a dog.

It is a good forty years since I heard the tale, and the effect has not
worn off yet. I believe this is the very first, say, realistic, story I
heard in my life; but all the same I don't know why I should have been
so frightfully impressed. Of course I know what our village dogs look
like--but still. . . . No! At this very day, recalling the horror
and compassion of my childhood, I ask myself whether I am right in
disclosing to a cold and fastidious world that awful episode in the
family history. I ask myself--is it right?--especially as the B. family
had always been honourably known in a wide countryside for the delicacy
of their tastes in the matter of eating and drinking. But upon the
whole, and considering that this gastronomical degradation overtaking a
gallant young officer lies really at the door of the Great Napoleon,
I think that to cover it up by silence would be an exaggeration of
literary restraint. Let the truth stand here. The responsibility rests
with the Man of St. Helena in view of his deplorable levity in the
conduct of the Russian campaign. It was during the memorable retreat
from Moscow that Mr. Nicholas B., in company of two brother officers--as
to whose morality and natural refinement I know nothing--bagged a dog
on the outskirts of a village and subsequently devoured him. As far as
I can remember the weapon used was a cavalry sabre, and the issue of the
sporting episode was rather more of a matter of life and death than if
it had been an encounter with a tiger. A picket of Cossacks was sleeping
in that village lost in the depths of the great Lithuanian forest. The
three sportsmen had observed them from a hiding-place making themselves
very much at home among the huts just before the early winter darkness
set in at four o'clock. They had observed them with disgust and,
perhaps, with despair. Late in the night the rash counsels of hunger
overcame the dictates of prudence. Crawling through the snow they crept
up to the fence of dry branches which generally encloses a village in
that part of Lithuania. What they expected to get and in what manner,
and whether this expectation was worth the risk, goodness only knows.

However, these Cossack parties, in most cases wandering without an
officer, were known to guard themselves badly and often not at all. In
addition, the village lying at a great distance from the line of French
retreat, they could not suspect the presence of stragglers from the
Grand Army. The three officers had strayed away in a blizzard from the
main column and had been lost for days in the woods, which explains
sufficiently the terrible straits to which they were reduced. Their plan
was to try and attract the attention of the peasants in that one of the
huts which was nearest to the enclosure; but as they were preparing to
venture into the very jaws of the lion, so to speak, a dog (it is mighty
strange that there was but one), a creature quite as formidable under
the circumstances as a lion, began to bark on the other side of the
fence. . . .

At this stage of the narrative, which I heard many times (by request)
from the lips of Captain Nicholas B.'s sister-in-law, my grandmother, I
used to tremble with excitement.

The dog barked. And if he had done no more than bark, three officers of
the Great Napoleon's army would have perished honourably on the points
of Cossacks' lances, or perchance escaping the chase would have died
decently of starvation. But before they had time to think of running
away that fatal and revolting dog, being carried away by the excess of
the zeal, dashed out through a gap in the fence. He dashed out and
died. His head, I understand, was severed at one blow from his body.
I understand also that later on, within the gloomy solitudes of the
snow-laden woods, when, in a sheltering hollow, a fire had been lit by
the party, the condition of the quarry was discovered to be distinctly
unsatisfactory. It was not thin--on the contrary, it seemed unhealthily
obese; its skin showed bare patches of an unpleasant character. However,
they had not killed that dog for the sake of the pelt. He was large.
. . . He was eaten. . . . The rest is silence. . . .

A silence in which a small boy shudders and says firmly:

"I could not have eaten that dog."

And his grandmother remarks with a smile:

"Perhaps you don't know what it is to be hungry."

I have learned something of it since. Not that I have been reduced to
eat dog. I have fed on the emblematical animal, which, in the language
of the volatile Gauls, is called la vache enragee; I have lived on
ancient salt junk, I know the taste of shark, of trepang, of snake,
of nondescript dishes containing things without a name--but of the
Lithuanian village dog--never! I wish it to be distinctly understood
that it is not I, but my granduncle Nicholas, of the Polish landed
gentry, Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, etc., who in his young days,
had eaten the Lithuanian dog.

I wish he had not. The childish horror of the deed clings absurdly
to the grizzled man. I am perfectly helpless against it. Still, if
he really had to, let us charitably remember that he had eaten him on
active service, while bearing up bravely against the greatest military
disaster of modern history, and, in a manner, for the sake of his
country. He had eaten him to appease his hunger, no doubt, but also for
the sake of an unappeasable and patriotic desire, in the glow of a great
faith that lives still, and in the pursuit of a great illusion kindled
like a false beacon by a great man to lead astray the effort of a brave
nation.

_Pro patria!_

Looked at in that light, it appears a sweet and decorous meal.

And looked at in the same light, my own diet of la vache enragee appears
a fatuous and extravagant form of self-indulgence; for why should I,
the son of a land which such men as these have turned up with their
plowshares and bedewed with their blood, undertake the pursuit of
fantastic meals of salt junk and hardtack upon the wide seas? On
the kindest view it seems an unanswerable question. Alas! I have the
conviction that there are men of unstained rectitude who are ready
to murmur scornfully the word desertion. Thus the taste of innocent
adventure may be made bitter to the palate. The part of the inexplicable
should be al lowed for in appraising the conduct of men in a world where
no explanation is final. No charge of faithlessness ought to be lightly
uttered. The appearances of this perishable life are deceptive, like
everything that falls under the judgment of our imperfect senses. The
inner voice may remain true enough in its secret counsel. The fidelity
to a special tradition may last through the events of an unrelated
existence, following faithfully, too, the traced way of an inexplicable
impulse.

It would take too long to explain the intimate alliance of
contradictions in human nature which makes love itself wear at times
the desperate shape of betrayal. And perhaps there is no possible
explanation. Indulgence--as somebody said--is the most intelligent of
all the virtues. I venture to think that it is one of the least common,
if not the most uncommon of all. I would not imply by this that men
are foolish--or even most men. Far from it. The barber and the priest,
backed by the whole opinion of the village, condemned justly the conduct
of the ingenious hidalgo, who, sallying forth from his native place,
broke the head of the muleteer, put to death a flock of inoffensive
sheep, and went through very doleful experiences in a certain stable.
God forbid that an unworthy churl should escape merited censure by
hanging on to the stirrup-leather of the sublime caballero. His was a
very noble, a very unselfish fantasy, fit for nothing except to raise
the envy of baser mortals. But there is more than one aspect to the
charm of that exalted and dangerous figure. He, too, had his frailties.
After reading so many romances he desired naively to escape with his
very body from the intolerable reality of things. He wished to meet, eye
to eye, the valorous giant Brandabarbaran, Lord of Arabia, whose armour
is made of the skin of a dragon, and whose shield, strapped to his arm,
is the gate of a fortified city. Oh, amiable and natural weakness!
Oh, blessed simplicity of a gentle heart without guile! Who would not
succumb to such a consoling temptation? Nevertheless, it was a form of
self-indulgence, and the ingenious hidalgo of La Mancha was not a
good citizen. The priest and the barber were not unreasonable in their
strictures. Without going so far as the old King Louis-Philippe, who
used to say in his exile, "The people are never in fault"--one may admit
that there must be some righteousness in the assent of a whole village.
Mad! Mad! He who kept in pious meditation the ritual vigil-of-arms by
the well of an inn and knelt reverently to be knighted at daybreak by
the fat, sly rogue of a landlord has come very near perfection. He
rides forth, his head encircled by a halo--the patron saint of all lives
spoiled or saved by the irresistible grace of imagination. But he was
not a good citizen.

Perhaps that and nothing else was meant by the well-remembered
exclamation of my tutor.

It was in the jolly year 1873, the very last year in which I have had a
jolly holiday. There have been idle years afterward, jolly enough in a
way and not altogether without their lesson, but this year of which
I speak was the year of my last school-boy holiday. There are other
reasons why I should remember that year, but they are too long to state
formally in this place. Moreover, they have nothing to do with that
holiday. What has to do with the holiday is that before the day on which
the remark was made we had seen Vienna, the Upper Danube, Munich, the
Falls of the Rhine, the Lake of Constance,--in fact, it was a memorable
holiday of travel. Of late we had been tramping slowly up the Valley of
the Reuss. It was a delightful time. It was much more like a stroll than
a tramp. Landing from a Lake of Lucerne steamer in Fluelen, we found
ourselves at the end of the second day, with the dusk overtaking our
leisurely footsteps, a little way beyond Hospenthal. This is not the day
on which the remark was made: in the shadows of the deep valley and with
the habitations of men left some way behind, our thoughts ran not upon
the ethics of conduct, but upon the simpler human problem of shelter
and food. There did not seem anything of the kind in sight, and we were
thinking of turning back when suddenly, at a bend of the road, we came
upon a building, ghostly in the twilight.

At that time the work on the St. Gothard Tunnel was going on, and that
magnificent enterprise of burrowing was directly responsible for the
unexpected building, standing all alone upon the very roots of the
mountains. It was long, though not big at all; it was low; it was built
of boards, without ornamentation, in barrack-hut style, with the white
window-frames quite flush with the yellow face of its plain front. And
yet it was a hotel; it had even a name, which I have forgotten. But
there was no gold laced doorkeeper at its humble door. A plain but
vigorous servant-girl answered our inquiries, then a man and woman who
owned the place appeared. It was clear that no travellers were expected,
or perhaps even desired, in this strange hostelry, which in its severe
style resembled the house which sur mounts the unseaworthy-looking hulls
of the toy Noah's Arks, the universal possession of European childhood.
However, its roof was not hinged and it was not full to the brim of
slab-sided and painted animals of wood. Even the live tourist animal was
nowhere in evidence. We had something to eat in a long, narrow room at
one end of a long, narrow table, which, to my tired perception and to my
sleepy eyes, seemed as if it would tilt up like a see saw plank, since
there was no one at the other end to balance it against our two dusty
and travel-stained figures. Then we hastened up stairs to bed in a room
smelling of pine planks, and I was fast asleep before my head touched
the pillow.

In the morning my tutor (he was a student of the Cracow University) woke
me up early, and as we were dressing remarked: "There seems to be a lot
of people staying in this hotel. I have heard a noise of talking up
till eleven o'clock." This statement surprised me; I had heard no noise
whatever, having slept like a top.

We went down-stairs into the long and narrow dining-room with its long
and narrow table. There were two rows of plates on it. At one of the
many curtained windows stood a tall, bony man with a bald head set off
by a bunch of black hair above each ear, and with a long, black beard.
He glanced up from the paper he was reading and seemed genuinely
astonished at our intrusion. By and by more men came in. Not one of them
looked like a tourist. Not a single woman appeared. These men seemed to
know each other with some intimacy, but I cannot say they were a very
talkative lot. The bald-headed man sat down gravely at the head of the
table. It all had the air of a family party. By and by, from one of the
vigorous servant-girls in national costume, we discovered that the place
was really a boarding house for some English engineers engaged at the
works of the St. Gothard Tunnel; and I could listen my fill to
the sounds of the English language, as far as it is used at a
breakfast-table by men who do not believe in wasting many words on the
mere amenities of life.

This was my first contact with British mankind apart from the tourist
kind seen in the hotels of Zurich and Lucerne--the kind which has no
real existence in a workaday world. I know now that the bald-headed man
spoke with a strong Scotch accent. I have met many of his kind ashore
and afloat. The second engineer of the steamer Mavis, for instance,
ought to have been his twin brother. I cannot help thinking that he
really was, though for some reason of his own he assured me that he
never had a twin brother. Anyway, the deliberate, bald-headed Scot with
the coal-black beard appeared to my boyish eyes a very romantic and
mysterious person.

We slipped out unnoticed. Our mapped-out route led over the Furca Pass
toward the Rhone Glacier, with the further intention of following down
the trend of the Hasli Valley. The sun was already declining when we
found ourselves on the top of the pass, and the remark alluded to was
presently uttered.

We sat down by the side of the road to continue the argument begun half
a mile or so before. I am certain it was an argument, because I remember
perfectly how my tutor argued and how without the power of reply I
listened, with my eyes fixed obstinately on the ground. A stir on the
road made me look up--and then I saw my unforgettable Englishman. There
are acquaintances of later years, familiars, shipmates, whom I remember
less clearly. He marched rapidly toward the east (attended by a hang-dog
Swiss guide), with the mien of an ardent and fearless traveller. He
was clad in a knickerbocker suit, but as at the same time he wore short
socks under his laced boots, for reasons which, whether hygienic or
conscientious, were surely imaginative, his calves, exposed to the
public gaze and to the tonic air of high altitudes, dazzled the beholder
by the splendour of their marble-like condition and their rich tone
of young ivory. He was the leader of a small caravan. The light of a
headlong, exalted satisfaction with the world of men and the scenery
of mountains illumined his clean-cut, very red face, his short,
silver-white whiskers, his innocently eager and triumphant eyes. In
passing he cast a glance of kindly curiosity and a friendly gleam of
big, sound, shiny teeth toward the man and the boy sitting like dusty
tramps by the roadside, with a modest knapsack lying at their feet. His
white calves twinkled sturdily, the uncouth Swiss guide with a surly
mouth stalked like an unwilling bear at his elbow; a small train
of three mules followed in single file the lead of this inspiring
enthusiast. Two ladies rode past, one behind the other, but from the way
they sat I saw only their calm, uniform backs, and the long ends of blue
veils hanging behind far down over their identical hat-brims. His two
daughters, surely. An industrious luggage-mule, with unstarched ears and
guarded by a slouching, sallow driver, brought up the rear. My tutor,
after pausing for a look and a faint smile, resumed his earnest
argument.

I tell you it was a memorable year! One does not meet such an Englishman
twice in a lifetime. Was he in the mystic ordering of common events the
ambassador of my future, sent out to turn the scale at a critical moment
on the top of an Alpine pass, with the peaks of the Bernese Oberland for
mute and solemn witnesses? His glance, his smile, the unextinguishable
and comic ardour of his striving-forward appearance, helped me to
pull myself together. It must be stated that on that day and in the
exhilarating atmosphere of that elevated spot I had been feeling utterly
crushed. It was the year in which I had first spoken aloud of my desire
to go to sea. At first like those sounds that, ranging outside the
scale to which men's ears are attuned, remain inaudible to our sense of
hearing, this declaration passed unperceived. It was as if it had not
been. Later on, by trying various tones, I managed to arouse here
and there a surprised momentary attention--the "What was that funny
noise?"--sort of inquiry. Later on it was: "Did you hear what that boy
said? What an extraordinary outbreak!" Presently a wave of scandalized
astonishment (it could not have been greater if I had announced
the intention of entering a Carthusian monastery) ebbing out of the
educational and academical town of Cracow spread itself over several
provinces. It spread itself shallow but far-reaching. It stirred up a
mass of remonstrance, indignation, pitying wonder, bitter irony, and
downright chaff. I could hardly breathe under its weight, and certainly
had no words for an answer. People wondered what Mr. T. B. would do now
with his worrying nephew and, I dare say, hoped kindly that he would
make short work of my nonsense.

What he did was to come down all the way from Ukraine to have it out
with me and to judge by himself, unprejudiced, impartial, and just,
taking his stand on the ground of wisdom and affection. As far as is
possible for a boy whose power of expression is still unformed I opened
the secret of my thoughts to him, and he in return allowed me a glimpse
into his mind and heart; the first glimpse of an inexhaustible and noble
treasure of clear thought and warm feeling, which through life was to
be mine to draw upon with a never-deceived love and confidence.
Practically, after several exhaustive conversations, he concluded that
he would not have me later on reproach him for having spoiled my life
by an unconditional opposition. But I must take time for serious
reflection. And I must think not only of myself but of others; weigh the
claims of affection and conscience against my own sincerity of purpose.
"Think well what it all means in the larger issues--my boy," he exhorted
me, finally, with special friendliness. "And meantime try to get the
best place you can at the yearly examinations."

The scholastic year came to an end. I took a fairly good place at
the exams, which for me (for certain reasons) happened to be a more
difficult task than for other boys. In that respect I could enter with
a good conscience upon that holiday which was like a long visit _pour
prendre conge_ of the mainland of old Europe I was to see so little of
for the next four-and-twenty years. Such, however, was not the avowed
purpose of that tour. It was rather, I suspect, planned in order to
distract and occupy my thoughts in other directions. Nothing had been
said for months of my going to sea. But my attachment to my young tutor
and his influence over me were so well known that he must have received
a confidential mission to talk me out of my romantic folly. It was an
excellently appropriate arrangement, as neither he nor I had ever had a
single glimpse of the sea in our lives. That was to come by and by for
both of us in Venice, from the outer shore of Lido. Meantime he had
taken his mission to heart so well that I began to feel crushed before
we reached Zurich. He argued in railway trains, in lake steamboats, he
had argued away for me the obligatory sunrise on the Righi, by Jove! Of
his devotion to his unworthy pupil there can be no doubt. He had proved
it already by two years of unremitting and arduous care. I could not
hate him. But he had been crushing me slowly, and when he started to
argue on the top of the Furca Pass he was perhaps nearer a success
than either he or I imagined. I listened to him in despairing silence,
feeling that ghostly, unrealized, and desired sea of my dreams escape
from the unnerved grip of my will.

The enthusiastic old Englishman had passed--and the argument went on.
What reward could I expect from such a life at the end of my years,
either in ambition, honour, or conscience? An unanswerable question. But
I felt no longer crushed. Then our eyes met and a genuine emotion was
visible in his as well as in mine. The end came all at once. He picked
up the knapsack suddenly and got onto his feet.

"You are an incorrigible, hopeless Don Quixote. That's what you are."

I was surprised. I was only fifteen and did not know what he meant
exactly. But I felt vaguely flattered at the name of the immortal knight
turning up in connection with my own folly, as some people would call it
to my face. Alas! I don't think there was anything to be proud of. Mine
was not the stuff of protectors of forlorn damsels, the redressers of
this world's wrong are made of; and my tutor was the man to know that
best. Therein, in his indignation, he was superior to the barber and the
priest when he flung at me an honoured name like a reproach.

I walked behind him for full five minutes; then without looking back he
stopped. The shadows of distant peaks were lengthening over the Furca
Pass. When I came up to him he turned to me and in full view of the
Finster Aarhorn, with his band of giant brothers rearing their
monstrous heads against a brilliant sky, put his hand on my shoulder
affectionately.

"Well! That's enough. We will have no more of it."

And indeed there was no more question of my mysterious vocation between
us. There was to be no more question of it at all, no where or with any
one. We began the descent of the Furca Pass conversing merrily.

Eleven years later, month for month, I stood on Tower Hill on the steps
of the St. Katherine's Dockhouse, a master in the British Merchant
Service. But the man who put his hand on my shoulder at the top of the
Furca Pass was no longer living.

That very year of our travels he took his degree of the Philosophical
Faculty--and only then his true vocation declared itself. Obedient to
the call, he entered at once upon the four-year course of the Medical
Schools. A day came when, on the deck of a ship moored in Calcutta, I
opened a letter telling me of the end of an enviable existence. He had
made for himself a practice in some obscure little town of Austrian
Galicia. And the letter went on to tell me how all the bereaved poor of
the district, Christians and Jews alike, had mobbed the good doctor's
coffin with sobs and lamentations at the very gate of the cemetery.

How short his years and how clear his vision! What greater reward in
ambition, honour, and conscience could he have hoped to win for himself
when, on the top of the Furca Pass, he bade me look well to the end of
my opening life?


III

The devouring in a dismal forest of a luckless Lithuanian dog by my
granduncle Nicholas B. in company of two other military and famished
scarecrows, symbolized, to my childish imagination, the whole horror of
the retreat from Moscow, and the immorality of a conqueror's ambition.
An extreme distaste for that objectionable episode has tinged the views
I hold as to the character and achievements of Napoleon the Great. I
need not say that these are unfavourable. It was morally reprehensible
for that great captain to induce a simple-minded Polish gentleman to eat
dog by raising in his breast a false hope of national independence. It
has been the fate of that credulous nation to starve for upward of a
hundred years on a diet of false hopes and--well--dog. It is, when one
thinks of it, a singularly poisonous regimen. Some pride in the national
constitution which has survived a long course of such dishes is really
excusable.

But enough of generalizing. Returning to particulars, Mr. Nicholas B.
confided to his sister-in-law (my grandmother) in his misanthropically
laconic manner that this supper in the woods had been nearly "the death
of him." This is not surprising. What surprises me is that the story
was ever heard of; for granduncle Nicholas differed in this from the
generality of military men of Napoleon's time (and perhaps of all time)
that he did not like to talk of his campaigns, which began at Friedland
and ended some where in the neighbourhood of Bar-le-Duc. His admiration
of the great Emperor was unreserved in everything but expression. Like
the religion of earnest men, it was too profound a sentiment to be
displayed before a world of little faith. Apart from that he seemed as
completely devoid of military anecdotes as though he had hardly ever
seen a soldier in his life. Proud of his decorations earned before he
was twenty-five, he refused to wear the ribbons at the buttonhole in the
manner practised to this day in Europe and even was unwilling to display
the insignia on festive occasions, as though he wished to conceal them
in the fear of appearing boastful.

"It is enough that I have them," he used to mutter. In the course of
thirty years they were seen on his breast only twice--at an auspicious
marriage in the family and at the funeral of an old friend. That the
wedding which was thus honoured was not the wedding of my mother
I learned only late in life, too late to bear a grudge against
Mr. Nicholas B., who made amends at my birth by a long letter of
congratulation containing the following prophecy: "He will see better
times." Even in his embittered heart there lived a hope. But he was not
a true prophet.

He was a man of strange contradictions. Living for many years in his
brother's house, the home of many children, a house full of life, of
animation, noisy with a constant coming and going of many guests, he
kept his habits of solitude and silence. Considered as obstinately
secretive in all his purposes, he was in reality the victim of a most
painful irresolution in all matters of civil life. Under his taciturn,
phlegmatic behaviour was hidden a faculty of short-lived passionate
anger. I suspect he had no talent for narrative; but it seemed to afford
him sombre satisfaction to declare that he was the last man to ride over
the bridge of the river Elster after the battle of Leipsic. Lest some
construction favourable to his valour should be put on the fact he
condescended to explain how it came to pass. It seems that shortly after
the retreat began he was sent back to the town where some divisions
of the French army (and among them the Polish corps of Prince Joseph
Poniatowski), jammed hopelessly in the streets, were being simply
exterminated by the troops of the Allied Powers. When asked what it was
like in there, Mr. Nicholas B. muttered only the word "Shambles." Having
delivered his message to the Prince he hastened away at once to render
an account of his mission to the superior who had sent him. By that time
the advance of the enemy had enveloped the town, and he was shot at from
houses and chased all the way to the river-bank by a disorderly mob of
Austrian Dragoons and Prussian Hussars. The bridge had been mined early
in the morning, and his opinion was that the sight of the horsemen
converging from many sides in the pursuit of his person alarmed the
officer in command of the sappers and caused the premature firing of the
charges. He had not gone more than two hundred yards on the other
side when he heard the sound of the fatal explosions. Mr. Nicholas B.
concluded his bald narrative with the word "Imbecile," uttered with the
utmost deliberation. It testified to his indignation at the loss of so
many thousands of lives. But his phlegmatic physiognomy lighted up when
he spoke of his only wound, with something resembling satisfaction. You
will see that there was some reason for it when you learn that he was
wounded in the heel. "Like his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon himself," he
reminded his hearers, with assumed indifference. There can be no
doubt that the indifference was assumed, if one thinks what a very
distinguished sort of wound it was. In all the history of warfare there
are, I believe, only three warriors publicly known to have been wounded
in the heel--Achilles and Napoleon--demigods indeed--to whom the
familial piety of an unworthy descendant adds the name of the simple
mortal, Nicholas B.

The Hundred Days found Mr. Nicholas B. staying with a distant relative
of ours, owner of a small estate in Galicia. How he got there across the
breadth of an armed Europe, and after what adventures, I am afraid will
never be known now. All his papers were destroyed shortly before his
death; but if there was among them, as he affirmed, a concise record
of his life, then I am pretty sure it did not take up more than a
half sheet of foolscap or so. This relative of ours happened to be
an Austrian officer who had left the service after the battle of
Austerlitz. Unlike Mr. Nicholas B., who concealed his decorations, he
liked to display his honourable discharge in which he was mentioned as
un schreckbar (fearless) before the enemy. No conjunction could seem
more unpromising, yet it stands in the family tradition that these two
got on very well together in their rural solitude.

When asked whether he had not been sorely tempted during the Hundred
Days to make his way again to France and join the service of his beloved
Emperor, Mr. Nicholas B. used to mutter: "No money. No horse. Too far to
walk."

The fall of Napoleon and the ruin of national hopes affected adversely
the character of Mr. Nicholas B. He shrank from returning to his
province. But for that there was also another reason. Mr. Nicholas B.
and his brother--my maternal grand father--had lost their father early,
while they were quite children. Their mother, young still and left
very well off, married again a man of great charm and of an amiable
disposition, but without a penny. He turned out an affectionate and
careful stepfather; it was unfortunate, though, that while directing the
boys' education and forming their character by wise counsel, he did his
best to get hold of the fortune by buying and selling land in his own
name and investing capital in such a manner as to cover up the traces
of the real ownership. It seems that such practices can be successful if
one is charming enough to dazzle one's own wife permanently, and brave
enough to defy the vain terrors of public opinion. The critical time
came when the elder of the boys on attaining his majority, in the year
1811, asked for the accounts and some part at least of the inheritance
to begin life upon. It was then that the stepfather declared with
calm finality that there were no accounts to render and no property to
inherit. The whole fortune was his very own. He was very good-natured
about the young man's misapprehension of the true state of affairs, but,
of course, felt obliged to maintain his position firmly. Old friends
came and went busily, voluntary mediators appeared travelling on most
horrible roads from the most distant corners of the three provinces;
and the Marshal of the Nobility (ex-officio guardian of all well-born
orphans) called a meeting of landowners to "ascertain in a friendly
way how the misunderstanding between X and his stepsons had arisen and
devise proper measures to remove the same." A deputation to that effect
visited X, who treated them to excellent wines, but absolutely refused
his ear to their remonstrances. As to the proposals for arbitration he
simply laughed at them; yet the whole province must have been aware
that fourteen years before, when he married the widow, all his
visible fortune consisted (apart from his social qualities) in a smart
four-horse turnout with two servants, with whom he went about visiting
from house to house; and as to any funds he might have possessed at that
time their existence could only be inferred from the fact that he was
very punctual in settling his modest losses at cards. But by the magic
power of stubborn and constant assertion, there were found presently,
here and there, people who mumbled that surely "there must be some thing
in it." However, on his next name-day (which he used to celebrate by
a great three days' shooting party), of all the invited crowd only two
guests turned up, distant neighbours of no importance; one notoriously
a fool, and the other a very pious and honest person, but such a
passionate lover of the gun that on his own confession he could not have
refused an invitation to a shooting party from the devil himself. X met
this manifestation of public opinion with the serenity of an unstained
conscience. He refused to be crushed. Yet he must have been a man
of deep feeling, because, when his wife took openly the part of her
children, he lost his beautiful tranquillity, proclaimed himself
heartbroken, and drove her out of the house, neglecting in his grief to
give her enough time to pack her trunks.

This was the beginning of a lawsuit, an abominable marvel of chicane,
which by the use of every legal subterfuge was made to last for many
years. It was also the occasion for a display of much kindness and
sympathy. All the neighbouring houses flew open for the reception of the
homeless. Neither legal aid nor material assistance in the prosecution
of the suit was ever wanting. X, on his side, went about shedding
tears publicly over his stepchildren's ingratitude and his wife's blind
infatuation; but as at the same time he displayed great cleverness
in the art of concealing material documents (he was even suspected of
having burned a lot of historically interesting family papers) this
scandalous litigation had to be ended by a compromise lest worse should
befall. It was settled finally by a surrender, out of the disputed
estate, in full satisfaction of all claims, of two villages with the
names of which I do not intend to trouble my readers. After this lame
and impotent conclusion neither the wife nor the stepsons had anything
to say to the man who had presented the world with such a successful
example of self-help based on character, determination, and industry;
and my great-grandmother, her health completely broken down, died a
couple of years later in Carlsbad. Legally secured by a decree in the
possession of his plunder, X regained his wonted serenity, and went on
living in the neighbourhood in a comfortable style and in apparent peace
of mind. His big shoots were fairly well attended again. He was never
tired of assuring people that he bore no grudge for what was past;
he protested loudly of his constant affection for his wife and
stepchildren. It was true, he said, that they had tried to strip him as
naked as a Turkish saint in the decline of his days; and because he had
defended himself from spoliation, as anybody else in his place would
have done, they had abandoned him now to the horrors of a solitary old
age. Nevertheless, his love for them survived these cruel blows.

And there might have been some truth in his protestations. Very soon he
began to make overtures of friendship to his eldest stepson, my maternal
grandfather; and when these were peremptorily rejected he went on
renewing them again and again with characteristic obstinacy. For years
he persisted in his efforts at reconciliation, promising my grandfather
to execute a will in his favour if he only would be friends again to the
extent of calling now and then (it was fairly close neighbourhood for
these parts, forty miles or so), or even of putting in an appearance for
the great shoot on the name-day. My grandfather was an ardent lover of
every sport. His temperament was as free from hardness and animosity as
can be imagined. Pupil of the liberal-minded Benedictines who directed
the only public school of some standing then in the south, he had also
read deeply the authors of the eighteenth century. In him Christian
charity was joined to a philosophical indulgence for the failings of
human nature. But the memory of those miserably anxious early years, his
young man's years robbed of all generous illusions by the cynicism of
the sordid lawsuit, stood in the way of forgiveness. He never succumbed
to the fascination of the great shoot; and X, his heart set to the last
on reconciliation, with the draft of the will ready for signature kept
by his bedside, died intestate.

The fortune thus acquired and augmented by a wise and careful management
passed to some distant relatives whom he had never seen and who even did
not bear his name.

Meantime the blessing of general peace descended upon Europe. Mr.
Nicholas B., bidding good-bye to his hospitable relative, the "fearless"
Austrian officer, departed from Galicia, and without going near his
native place, where the odious lawsuit was still going on, proceeded
straight to Warsaw and entered the army of the newly constituted Polish
kingdom under the sceptre of Alexander I, Autocrat of all the Russias.

This kingdom, created by the Vienna Congress as an acknowledgment to a
nation of its former independent existence, included only the central
provinces of the old Polish patrimony. A brother of the Emperor, the
Grand Duke Constantine (Pavlovitch), its Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief,
married morganatically to a Polish lady to whom he was fiercely
attached, extended this affection to what he called "My Poles" in
a capricious and savage manner. Sallow in complexion, with a Tartar
physiognomy and fierce little eyes, he walked with his fists clenched,
his body bent forward, darting suspicious glances from under an enormous
cocked hat. His intelligence was limited, and his sanity itself was
doubtful. The hereditary taint expressed itself, in his case, not by
mystic leanings as in his two brothers, Alexander and Nicholas (in their
various ways, for one was mystically liberal and the other mystically
autocratic), but by the fury of an uncontrollable temper which generally
broke out in disgusting abuse on the parade ground. He was a passionate
militarist and an amazing drill-master. He treated his Polish army as a
spoiled child treats a favourite toy, except that he did not take it to
bed with him at night. It was not small enough for that. But he played
with it all day and every day, delighting in the variety of pretty
uniforms and in the fun of incessant drilling. This childish passion,
not for war, but for mere militarism, achieved a desirable result. The
Polish army, in its equipment, in its armament, and in its battle-field
efficiency, as then understood, became, by the end of the year 1830, a
first-rate tactical instrument. Polish peasantry (not serfs) served in
the ranks by enlistment, and the officers belonged mainly to the smaller
nobility. Mr. Nicholas B., with his Napoleonic record, had no difficulty
in obtaining a lieutenancy, but the promotion in the Polish army was
slow, because, being a separate organization, it took no part in the
wars of the Russian Empire against either Persia or Turkey. Its first
campaign, against Russia itself, was to be its last. In 1831, on the
outbreak of the Revolution, Mr. Nicholas B. was the senior captain of
his regiment. Some time before he had been made head of the remount
establishment quartered outside the kingdom in our southern provinces,
whence almost all the horses for the Polish cavalry were drawn. For the
first time since he went away from home at the age of eighteen to begin
his military life by the battle of Friedland, Mr. Nicholas B. breathed
the air of the "Border," his native air. Unkind fate was lying in wait
for him among the scenes of his youth. At the first news of the rising
in Warsaw all the remount establishment, officers, "vets.," and the
very troopers, were put promptly under arrest and hurried off in a body
beyond the Dnieper to the nearest town in Russia proper. From there they
were dispersed to the distant parts of the empire. On this occasion poor
Mr. Nicholas B. penetrated into Russia much farther than he ever did in
the times of Napoleonic invasion, if much less willingly. Astrakan was
his destination. He remained there three years, allowed to live at
large in the town, but having to report himself every day at noon to the
military commandant, who used to detain him frequently for a pipe and
a chat. It is difficult to form a just idea of what a chat with Mr.
Nicholas B. could have been like. There must have been much compressed
rage under his taciturnity, for the commandant communicated to him
the news from the theatre of war, and this news was such as it could
be--that is, very bad for the Poles. Mr. Nicholas B. received these
communications with outward phlegm, but the Russian showed a warm
sympathy for his prisoner. "As a soldier myself I understand your
feelings. You, of course, would like to be in the thick of it. By
heavens! I am fond of you. If it were not for the terms of the military
oath I would let you go on my own responsibility. What difference could
it make to us, one more or less of you?"

At other times he wondered with simplicity.

"Tell me, Nicholas Stepanovitch" (my great-grandfather's name
was Stephen, and the commandant used the Russian form of polite
address)--"tell me why is it that you Poles are always looking for
trouble? What else could you expect from running up against Russia?"

He was capable, too, of philosophical reflections.

"Look at your Napoleon now. A great man. There is no denying it that he
was a great man as long as he was content to thrash those Germans and
Austrians and all those nations. But no! He must go to Russia looking
for trouble, and what's the consequence? Such as you see me; I have
rattled this sabre of mine on the pavements of Paris."

After his return to Poland Mr. Nicholas B. described him as a "worthy
man but stupid," whenever he could be induced to speak of the conditions
of his exile. Declining the option offered him to enter the Russian
army, he was retired with only half the pension of his rank. His nephew
(my uncle and guardian) told me that the first lasting impression on
his memory as a child of four was the glad excitement reigning in his
parents' house on the day when Mr. Nicholas B. arrived home from his
detention in Russia.

Every generation has its memories. The first memories of Mr. Nicholas
B. might have been shaped by the events of the last partition of Poland,
and he lived long enough to suffer from the last armed rising in 1863,
an event which affected the future of all my generation and has coloured
my earliest impressions. His brother, in whose house he had sheltered
for some seventeen years his misanthropical timidity before the
commonest problems of life, having died in the early fifties, Mr.
Nicholas B. had to screw his courage up to the sticking-point and come
to some decision as to the future. After a long and agonizing hesitation
he was persuaded at last to become the tenant of some fifteen hundred
acres out of the estate of a friend in the neighbourhood.

The terms of the lease were very advantageous, but the retired situation
of the village and a plain, comfortable house in good repair were, I
fancy, the greatest inducements. He lived there quietly for about ten
years, seeing very few people and taking no part in the public life
of the province, such as it could be under an arbitrary bureaucratic
tyranny. His character and his patriotism were above suspicion; but
the organizers of the rising in their frequent journeys up and down the
province scrupulously avoided coming near his house. It was generally
felt that the repose of the old man's last years ought not to
be disturbed. Even such intimates as my paternal grandfather,
comrade-in-arms during Napoleon's Moscow campaign, and later on a fellow
officer in the Polish army, refrained from visiting his crony as the
date of the outbreak approached. My paternal grandfather's two sons and
his only daughter were all deeply involved in the revolutionary work; he
himself was of that type of Polish squire whose only ideal of patriotic
action was to "get into the saddle and drive them out." But even he
agreed that "dear Nicholas must not be worried." All this considerate
caution on the part of friends, both conspirators and others, did not
prevent Mr. Nicholas B. being made to feel the misfortunes of that
ill-omened year.

Less than forty-eight hours after the beginning of the rebellion in that
part of the country, a squadron of scouting Cossacks passed through the
village and invaded the homestead. Most of them remained, formed between
the house and the stables, while several, dismounting, ransacked the
various outbuildings. The officer in command, accompanied by two men,
walked up to the front door. All the blinds on that side were down.
The officer told the servant who received him that he wanted to see his
master. He was answered that the master was away from home, which was
perfectly true.

I follow here the tale as told afterward by the servant to my
granduncle's friends and relatives, and as I have heard it repeated.

On receiving this answer the Cossack officer, who had been standing in
the porch, stepped into the house.

"Where is the master gone, then?"

"Our master went to J----" (the government town some fifty miles off)
"the day before yesterday."

"There are only two horses in the stables. Where are the others?"

"Our master always travels with his own horses" (meaning: not by post).
"He will be away a week or more. He was pleased to mention to me that he
had to attend to some business in the Civil Court."

While the servant was speaking the officer looked about the hall.

There was a door facing him, a door to the right, and a door to the
left. The officer chose to enter the room on the left, and ordered the
blinds to be pulled up. It was Mr. Nicholas B.'s study, with a couple of
tall bookcases, some pictures on the walls, and so on. Besides the
big centre-table, with books and papers, there was a quite small
writing-table, with several drawers, standing between the door and the
window in a good light; and at this table my granduncle usually sat
either to read or write.

On pulling up the blind the servant was startled by the discovery that
the whole male population of the village was massed in front, trampling
down the flower-beds. There were also a few women among them. He was
glad to observe the village priest (of the Orthodox Church) coming up
the drive. The good man in his haste had tucked up his cassock as high
as the top of his boots.

The officer had been looking at the backs of the books in the bookcases.
Then he perched himself on the edge of the centre table and remarked
easily:

"Your master did not take you to town with him, then?"

"I am the head servant, and he leaves me in charge of the house. It's a
strong, young chap that travels with our master. If--God forbid--there
was some accident on the road, he would be of much more use than I."

Glancing through the window, he saw the priest arguing vehemently in the
thick of the crowd, which seemed subdued by his interference. Three or
four men, however, were talking with the Cossacks at the door.

"And you don't think your master has gone to join the rebels maybe--eh?"
asked the officer.

"Our master would be too old for that, surely. He's well over seventy,
and he's getting feeble, too. It's some years now since he's been on
horseback, and he can't walk much, either, now."

The officer sat there swinging his leg, very quiet and indifferent. By
that time the peasants who had been talking with the Cossack troopers at
the door had been permitted to get into the hall. One or two more left
the crowd and followed them in. They were seven in all, and among them
the blacksmith, an ex-soldier. The servant appealed deferentially to the
officer.

"Won't your honour be pleased to tell the people to go back to their
homes? What do they want to push themselves into the house like this
for? It's not proper for them to behave like this while our master's
away and I am responsible for everything here."

The officer only laughed a little, and after a while inquired:

"Have you any arms in the house?"

"Yes. We have. Some old things."

"Bring them all here, onto this table."

The servant made another attempt to obtain protection.

"Won't your honour tell these chaps. . . ?"

But the officer looked at him in silence, in such a way that he gave it
up at once and hurried off to call the pantry-boy to help him collect
the arms. Meantime, the officer walked slowly through all the rooms in
the house, examining them attentively but touching nothing. The peasants
in the hall fell back and took off their caps when he passed through.
He said nothing whatever to them. When he came back to the study all the
arms to be found in the house were lying on the table. There was a pair
of big, flint-lock holster pistols from Napoleonic times, two cavalry
swords, one of the French, the other of the Polish army pattern, with a
fowling-piece or two.

The officer, opening the window, flung out pistols, swords, and guns,
one after another, and his troopers ran to pick them up. The peasants in
the hall, encouraged by his manner, had stolen after him into the study.
He gave not the slightest sign of being conscious of their existence,
and, his business being apparently concluded, strode out of the house
without a word. Directly he left, the peasants in the study put on their
caps and began to smile at each other.

The Cossacks rode away, passing through the yards of the home farm
straight into the fields. The priest, still arguing with the peasants,
moved gradually down the drive and his earnest eloquence was drawing the
silent mob after him, away from the house. This justice must be rendered
to the parish priests of the Greek Church that, strangers to the country
as they were (being all drawn from the interior of Russia), the majority
of them used such influence as they had over their flocks in the cause
of peace and humanity. True to the spirit of their calling, they tried
to soothe the passions of the excited peasantry, and opposed rapine and
violence, whenever they could, with all their might. And this conduct
they pursued against the express wishes of the authorities. Later on
some of them were made to suffer for this disobedience by being removed
abruptly to the far north or sent away to Siberian parishes.

The servant was anxious to get rid of the few peasants who had got into
the house. What sort of conduct was that, he asked them, toward a man
who was only a tenant, had been invariably good and considerate to the
villagers for years, and only the other day had agreed to give up two
meadows for the use of the village herd? He reminded them, too, of Mr.
Nicholas B.'s devotion to the sick in time of cholera. Every word of
this was true, and so far effective that the fellows began to scratch
their heads and look irresolute. The speaker then pointed at the window,
exclaiming: "Look! there's all your crowd going away quietly, and you
silly chaps had better go after them and pray God to forgive you your
evil thoughts."

This appeal was an unlucky inspiration.

In crowding clumsily to the window to see whether he was speaking the
truth, the fellows overturned the little writing-table. As it fell over
a chink of loose coin was heard. "There's money in that thing," cried
the blacksmith. In a moment the top of the delicate piece of furniture
was smashed and there lay exposed in a drawer eighty half imperials.
Gold coin was a rare sight in Russia even at that time; it put the
peasants beside themselves. "There must be more of that in the house,
and we shall have it," yelled the ex-soldier blacksmith. "This is
war-time." The others were already shouting out of the window, urging
the crowd to come back and help. The priest, abandoned suddenly at the
gate, flung his arms up and hurried away so as not to see what was going
to happen.

In their search for money that bucolic mob smashed everything in the
house, ripping with knives, splitting with hatchets, so that, as the
servant said, there were no two pieces of wood holding together left in
the whole house. They broke some very fine mirrors, all the windows, and
every piece of glass and china. They threw the books and papers out
on the lawn and set fire to the heap for the mere fun of the thing,
apparently. Absolutely the only one solitary thing which they left whole
was a small ivory crucifix, which remained hanging on the wall in
the wrecked bedroom above a wild heap of rags, broken mahogany, and
splintered boards which had been Mr. Nicholas B.'s bedstead. Detecting
the servant in the act of stealing away with a japanned tin box, they
tore it from him, and because he resisted they threw him out of the
dining-room window. The house was on one floor, but raised well above
the ground, and the fall was so serious that the man remained lying
stunned till the cook and a stable-boy ventured forth at dusk from their
hiding-places and picked him up. But by that time the mob had departed,
carrying off the tin box, which they supposed to be full of paper money.
Some distance from the house, in the middle of a field, they broke it
open. They found in side documents engrossed on parchment and the two
crosses of the Legion of Honour and For Valour. At the sight of these
objects, which, the blacksmith explained, were marks of honour given
only by the Tsar, they became extremely frightened at what they had
done. They threw the whole lot away into a ditch and dispersed hastily.

On learning of this particular loss Mr. Nicholas B. broke down
completely. The mere sacking of his house did not seem to affect him
much. While he was still in bed from the shock, the two crosses were
found and returned to him. It helped somewhat his slow convalescence,
but the tin box and the parchments, though searched for in all the
ditches around, never turned up again. He could not get over the loss of
his Legion of Honour Patent, whose preamble, setting forth his services,
he knew by heart to the very letter, and after this blow volunteered
sometimes to recite, tears standing in his eyes the while. Its terms
haunted him apparently during the last two years of his life to such an
extent that he used to repeat them to himself. This is confirmed by
the remark made more than once by his old servant to the more intimate
friends. "What makes my heart heavy is to hear our master in his room at
night walking up and down and praying aloud in the French language."

It must have been somewhat over a year afterward that I saw Mr. Nicholas
B.--or, more correctly, that he saw me--for the last time. It was, as I
have already said, at the time when my mother had a three months' leave
from exile, which she was spending in the house of her brother, and
friends and relations were coming from far and near to do her honour.
It is inconceivable that Mr. Nicholas B. should not have been of the
number. The little child a few months old he had taken up in his arms on
the day of his home-coming, after years of war and exile, was confessing
her faith in national salvation by suffering exile in her turn. I do not
know whether he was present on the very day of our departure.

I have already admitted that for me he is more especially the man who
in his youth had eaten roast dog in the depths of a gloomy forest of
snow-loaded pines. My memory cannot place him in any remembered scene.
A hooked nose, some sleek white hair, an unrelated evanescent impression
of a meagre, slight, rigid figure militarily buttoned up to the throat,
is all that now exists on earth of Mr. Nicholas B.; only this vague
shadow pursued by the memory of his grandnephew, the last surviving
human being, I suppose, of all those he had seen in the course of his
taciturn life.

But I remember well the day of our departure back to exile. The
elongated, bizarre, shabby travelling-carriage with four post-horses,
standing before the long front of the house with its eight columns,
four on each side of the broad flight of stairs. On the steps, groups
of servants, a few relations, one or two friends from the nearest
neighbourhood, a perfect silence; on all the faces an air of sober
concentration; my grandmother, all in black, gazing stoically; my uncle
giving his arm to my mother down to the carriage in which I had been
placed already; at the top of the flight my little cousin in a short
skirt of a tartan pattern with a deal of red in it, and like a
small princess attended by the women of her own household; the head
gouvernante, our dear, corpulent Francesca (who had been for thirty
years in the service of the B. family), the former nurse, now outdoor
attendant, a handsome peasant face wearing a compassionate expression,
and the good, ugly Mlle. Durand, the governess, with her black eyebrows
meeting over a short, thick nose, and a complexion like pale-brown
paper. Of all the eyes turned toward the carriage, her good-natured eyes
only were dropping tears, and it was her sobbing voice alone that
broke the silence with an appeal to me: "_N'oublie pas ton francais, mon
cheri_." In three months, simply by playing with us, she had taught me
not only to speak French, but to read it as well. She was indeed an
excellent playmate. In the distance, half-way down to the great gates, a
light, open trap, harnessed with three horses in Russian fashion, stood
drawn up on one side, with the police captain of the district sitting in
it, the vizor of his flat cap with a red band pulled down over his eyes.

It seems strange that he should have been there to watch our going so
carefully. Without wishing to treat with levity the just timidites of
Imperialists all the world over, I may allow myself the reflection that
a woman, practically condemned by the doctors, and a small boy not quite
six years old, could not be regarded as seriously dangerous, even for
the largest of conceivable empires saddled with the most sacred of
responsibilities. And this good man I believe did not think so, either.

I learned afterward why he was present on that day. I don't remember any
outward signs; but it seems that, about a month before, my mother became
so unwell that there was a doubt whether she could be made fit to
travel in the time. In this uncertainty the Governor-General in Kiev was
petitioned to grant her a fortnight's extension of stay in her brother's
house. No answer whatever was returned to this prayer, but one day at
dusk the police captain of the district drove up to the house and told
my uncle's valet, who ran out to meet him, that he wanted to speak with
the master in private, at once. Very much impressed (he thought it was
going to be an arrest), the servant, "more dead than alive with fright,"
as he related afterward, smuggled him through the big drawing-room,
which was dark (that room was not lighted every evening), on tiptoe, so
as not to attract the attention of the ladies in the house, and led him
by way of the orangery to my uncle's private apartments.

The policeman, without any preliminaries, thrust a paper into my uncle's
hands.

"There. Pray read this. I have no business to show this paper to you. It
is wrong of me. But I can't either eat or sleep with such a job hanging
over me."

That police captain, a native of Great Russia, had been for many years
serving in the district.

My uncle unfolded and read the document. It was a service order issued
from the Governor-General's secretariat, dealing with the matter of the
petition and directing the police captain to disregard all remonstrances
and explanations in regard to that illness either from medical men or
others, "and if she has not left her brother's house"--it went on to
say--"on the morning of the day specified on her permit, you are
to despatch her at once under escort, direct" (underlined) "to the
prison-hospital in Kiev, where she will be treated as her case demands."

"For God's sake, Mr. B., see that your sister goes away punctually on
that day. Don't give me this work to do with a woman--and with one of
your family, too. I simply cannot bear to think of it."

He was absolutely wringing his hands. My uncle looked at him in silence.

"Thank you for this warning. I assure you that even if she were dying
she would be carried out to the carriage."

"Yes--indeed--and what difference would it make--travel to Kiev or back
to her husband? For she would have to go--death or no death. And mind,
Mr. B., I will be here on the day, not that I doubt your promise, but
because I must. I have got to. Duty. All the same my trade is not fit
for a dog since some of you Poles will persist in rebelling, and all of
you have got to suffer for it."

This is the reason why he was there in an open three-horse trap pulled
up between the house and the great gates. I regret not being able to
give up his name to the scorn of all believers in the right of conquest,
as a reprehensibly sensitive guardian of Imperial greatness. On the
other hand, I am in a position to state the name of the Governor-General
who signed the order with the marginal note "to be carried out to the
letter" in his own handwriting. The gentleman's name was Bezak. A high
dignitary, an energetic official, the idol for a time of the Russian
patriotic press.

Each generation has its memories.


IV

It must not be supposed that, in setting forth the memories of this
half-hour between the moment my uncle left my room till we met again at
dinner, I am losing sight of "Almayer's Folly." Having confessed that my
first novel was begun in idleness--a holiday task--I think I have also
given the impression that it was a much-delayed book. It was never
dismissed from my mind, even when the hope of ever finishing it was very
faint. Many things came in its way: daily duties, new impressions,
old memories. It was not the outcome of a need--the famous need of
self-expression which artists find in their search for motives.
The necessity which impelled me was a hidden, obscure necessity, a
completely masked and unaccountable phenomenon. Or perhaps some idle and
frivolous magician (there must be magicians in London) had cast a spell
over me through his parlour window as I explored the maze of streets
east and west in solitary leisurely walks without chart and compass.
Till I began to write that novel I had written nothing but letters, and
not very many of these. I never made a note of a fact, of an impression,
or of an anecdote in my life. The conception of a planned book was
entirely outside my mental range when I sat down to write; the ambition
of being an author had never turned up among those gracious imaginary
existences one creates fondly for oneself at times in the stillness and
immobility of a day-dream: yet it stands clear as the sun at noonday
that from the moment I had done blackening over the first manuscript
page of "Almayer's Folly" (it contained about two hundred words and this
proportion of words to a page has remained with me through the fifteen
years of my writing life), from the moment I had, in the simplicity of
my heart and the amazing ignorance of my mind, written that page the die
was cast. Never had Rubicon been more blindly forded without invocation
to the gods, without fear of men.

That morning I got up from my breakfast, pushing the chair back, and
rang the bell violently, or perhaps I should say resolutely, or perhaps
I should say eagerly--I do not know. But manifestly it must have been
a special ring of the bell, a common sound made impressive, like the
ringing of a bell for the raising of the curtain upon a new scene.
It was an unusual thing for me to do. Generally, I dawdled over my
breakfast and I seldom took the trouble to ring the bell for the table
to be cleared away; but on that morning, for some reason hidden in the
general mysteriousness of the event, I did not dawdle. And yet I was
not in a hurry. I pulled the cord casually, and while the faint tinkling
somewhere down in the basement went on, I charged my pipe in the usual
way and I looked for the match-box with glances distraught indeed,
but exhibiting, I am ready to swear, no signs of a fine frenzy. I was
composed enough to perceive after some considerable time the match-box
lying there on the mantelpiece right under my nose. And all this was
beautifully and safely usual. Before I had thrown down the match my
landlady's daughter appeared with her calm, pale face and an inquisitive
look, in the doorway. Of late it was the landlady's daughter who
answered my bell. I mention this little fact with pride, because it
proves that during the thirty or forty days of my tenancy I had produced
a favourable impression. For a fortnight past I had been spared the
unattractive sight of the domestic slave. The girls in that Bessborough
Gardens house were often changed, but whether short or long, fair or
dark, they were always untidy and particularly bedraggled, as if in a
sordid version of the fairy tale the ash-bin cat had been changed into
a maid. I was infinitely sensible of the privilege of being waited on by
my landlady's daughter. She was neat if anemic.

"Will you please clear away all this at once?" I addressed her in
convulsive accents, being at the same time engaged in getting my pipe
to draw. This, I admit, was an unusual request. Generally, on getting up
from breakfast I would sit down in the window with a book and let them
clear the table when they liked; but if you think that on that morning
I was in the least impatient, you are mistaken. I remember that I was
perfectly calm. As a matter of fact I was not at all certain that I
wanted to write, or that I meant to write, or that I had anything to
write about. No, I was not impatient. I lounged between the mantelpiece
and the window, not even consciously waiting for the table to be
cleared. It was ten to one that before my landlady's daughter was done I
would pick up a book and sit down with it all the morning in a spirit of
enjoyable indolence. I affirm it with assurance, and I don't even know
now what were the books then lying about the room. What ever they were,
they were not the works of great masters, where the secret of clear
thought and exact expression can be found. Since the age of five I have
been a great reader, as is not perhaps wonderful in a child who was
never aware of learning to read. At ten years of age I had read much
of Victor Hugo and other romantics. I had read in Polish and in French,
history, voyages, novels; I knew "Gil Blas" and "Don Quixote" in
abridged editions; I had read in early boyhood Polish poets and some
French poets, but I cannot say what I read on the evening before I began
to write myself. I believe it was a novel, and it is quite possible
that it was one of Anthony Trollope's novels. It is very likely. My
acquaintance with him was then very recent. He is one of the English
novelists whose works I read for the first time in English. With men of
European reputation, with Dickens and Walter Scott and Thackeray, it was
otherwise. My first introduction to English imaginative literature was
"Nicholas Nickleby." It is extraordinary how well Mrs. Nickleby could
chatter disconnectedly in Polish and the sinister Ralph rage in that
language. As to the Crummles family and the family of the learned
Squeers it seemed as natural to them as their native speech. It was, I
have no doubt, an excellent translation. This must have been in the year
'70. But I really believe that I am wrong. That book was not my first
introduction to English literature. My first acquaintance was (or were)
the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and that in the very MS. of my father's
translation. It was during our exile in Russia, and it must have been
less than a year after my mother's death, because I remember myself
in the black blouse with a white border of my heavy mourning. We were
living together, quite alone, in a small house on the outskirts of the
town of T----. That afternoon, instead of going out to play in the large
yard which we shared with our landlord, I had lingered in the room in
which my father generally wrote. What emboldened me to clamber into
his chair I am sure I don't know, but a couple of hours afterward he
discovered me kneeling in it with my elbows on the table and my head
held in both hands over the MS. of loose pages. I was greatly confused,
expecting to get into trouble. He stood in the doorway looking at me
with some surprise, but the only thing he said after a moment of silence
was:

"Read the page aloud."

Luckily the page lying before me was not overblotted with erasures
and corrections, and my father's handwriting was otherwise extremely
legible. When I got to the end he nodded, and I flew out-of-doors,
thinking myself lucky to have escaped reproof for that piece of
impulsive audacity. I have tried to discover since the reason for this
mildness, and I imagine that all unknown to myself I had earned, in
my father's mind, the right to some latitude in my relations with his
writing-table. It was only a month before--or perhaps it was only a week
before--that I had read to him aloud from beginning to end, and to his
perfect satisfaction, as he lay on his bed, not being very well at the
time, the proofs of his translation of Victor Hugo's "Toilers of the
Sea." Such was my title to consideration, I believe, and also my first
introduction to the sea in literature.

If I do not remember where, how, and when I learned to read, I am not
likely to forget the process of being trained in the art of reading
aloud. My poor father, an admirable reader himself, was the most
exacting of masters. I reflect proudly that I must have read that page
of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" tolerably well at the age of eight. The
next time I met them was in a 5s. one-volume edition of the dramatic
works of William Shakespeare, read in Falmouth, at odd moments of the
day, to the noisy accompaniment of calkers' mallets driving oakum
into the deck-seams of a ship in dry-dock. We had run in, in a sinking
condition and with the crew refusing duty after a month of weary
battling with the gales of the North Atlantic. Books are an integral
part of one's life, and my Shakespearian associations are with that
first year of our bereavement, the last I spent with my father in exile
(he sent me away to Poland to my mother's brother directly he could
brace himself up for the separation), and with the year of hard gales,
the year in which I came nearest to death at sea, first by water and
then by fire.

Those things I remember, but what I was reading the day before my
writing life began I have forgotten. I have only a vague notion that it
might have been one of Trollope's political novels. And I remember,
too, the character of the day. It was an autumn day with an opaline
atmosphere, a veiled, semi-opaque, lustrous day, with fiery points and
flashes of red sunlight on the roofs and windows opposite, while the
trees of the square, with all their leaves gone, were like the tracings
of India ink on a sheet of tissue-paper. It was one of those London days
that have the charm of mysterious amenity, of fascinating softness.
The effect of opaline mist was often repeated at Bessborough Gardens on
account of the nearness to the river.

There is no reason why I should remember that effect more on that day
than on any other day, except that I stood for a long time looking out
of the window after the landlady's daughter was gone with her spoil
of cups and saucers. I heard her put the tray down in the passage and
finally shut the door; and still I remained smoking, with my back to the
room. It is very clear that I was in no haste to take the plunge into my
writing life, if as plunge this first attempt may be described. My whole
being was steeped deep in the indolence of a sailor away from the
sea, the scene of never-ending labour and of unceasing duty. For utter
surrender to in indolence you cannot beat a sailor ashore when that mood
is on him--the mood of absolute irresponsibility tasted to the full.
It seems to me that I thought of nothing whatever, but this is an
impression which is hardly to be believed at this distance of years.
What I am certain of is that I was very far from thinking of writing a
story, though it is possible and even likely that I was thinking of the
man Almayer.

I had seen him for the first time, some four years before, from the
bridge of a steamer moored to a rickety little wharf forty miles up,
more or less, a Bornean river. It was very early morning, and a slight
mist--an opaline mist as in Bessborough Gardens, only without the
fiery flicks on roof and chimney-pot from the rays of the red London
sun--promised to turn presently into a woolly fog. Barring a small
dug-out canoe on the river there was nothing moving within sight. I had
just come up yawning from my cabin. The serang and the Malay crew
were overhauling the cargo chains and trying the winches; their voices
sounded subdued on the deck below, and their movements were languid.
That tropical daybreak was chilly. The Malay quartermaster, coming up
to get something from the lockers on the bridge, shivered visibly. The
forests above and below and on the opposite bank looked black and dank;
wet dripped from the rigging upon the tightly stretched deck awnings,
and it was in the middle of a shuddering yawn that I caught sight
of Almayer. He was moving across a patch of burned grass, a blurred,
shadowy shape with the blurred bulk of a house behind him, a low house
of mats, bamboos, and palm leaves, with a high-pitched roof of grass.

He stepped upon the jetty. He was clad simply in flapping pajamas of
cretonne pattern (enormous flowers with yellow petals on a disagreeable
blue ground) and a thin cotton singlet with short sleeves. His arms,
bare to the elbow, were crossed on his chest. His black hair looked
as if it had not been cut for a very long time, and a curly wisp of
it strayed across his forehead. I had heard of him at Singapore; I had
heard of him on board; I had heard of him early in the morning and late
at night; I had heard of him at tiffin and at dinner; I had heard of
him in a place called Pulo Laut from a half-caste gentleman there, who
described himself as the manager of a coal-mine; which sounded civilized
and progressive till you heard that the mine could not be worked at
present because it was haunted by some particularly atrocious ghosts.
I had heard of him in a place called Dongola, in the Island of Celebes,
when the Rajah of that little-known seaport (you can get no anchorage
there in less than fifteen fathom, which is extremely inconvenient) came
on board in a friendly way, with only two attendants, and drank bottle
after bottle of soda-water on the after-sky light with my good friend
and commander, Captain C----. At least I heard his name distinctly
pronounced several times in a lot of talk in Malay language. Oh, yes,
I heard it quite distinctly--Almayer, Almayer--and saw Captain C----
smile, while the fat, dingy Rajah laughed audibly. To hear a Malay Rajah
laugh outright is a rare experience, I can as sure you. And I overheard
more of Almayer's name among our deck passengers (mostly wandering
traders of good repute) as they sat all over the ship--each man fenced
round with bundles and boxes--on mats, on pillows, on quilts, on billets
of wood, conversing of Island affairs. Upon my word, I heard the mutter
of Almayer's name faintly at midnight, while making my way aft from the
bridge to look at the patent taffrail-log tinkling its quarter miles in
the great silence of the sea. I don't mean to say that our passengers
dreamed aloud of Almayer, but it is indubitable that two of them at
least, who could not sleep, apparently, and were trying to charm away
the trouble of insomnia by a little whispered talk at that ghostly hour,
were referring in some way or other to Almayer. It was really impossible
on board that ship to get away definitely from Almayer; and a very small
pony tied up forward and whisking its tail inside the galley, to the
great embarrassment of our Chinaman cook, was destined for Almayer. What
he wanted with a pony goodness only knows, since I am perfectly certain
he could not ride it; but here you have the man, ambitious, aiming at
the grandiose, importing a pony, whereas in the whole settlement at
which he used to shake daily his impotent fist there was only one path
that was practicable for a pony: a quarter of a mile at most, hedged
in by hundreds of square leagues of virgin forest. But who knows? The
importation of that Bali pony might have been part of some deep scheme,
of some diplomatic plan, of some hopeful intrigue. With Almayer one
could never tell. He governed his conduct by considerations removed
from the obvious, by incredible assumptions, which rendered his logic
impenetrable to any reasonable person. I learned all this later. That
morning, seeing the figure in pajamas moving in the mist, I said to
myself, "That's the man."

He came quite close to the ship's side and raised a harassed
countenance, round and flat, with that curl of black hair over the
forehead and a heavy, pained glance.

"Good morning."

"Good morning."

He looked hard at me: I was a new face, having just replaced the chief
mate he was accustomed to see; and I think that this novelty inspired
him, as things generally did, with deep-seated mistrust.

"Didn't expect you till this evening," he remarked, suspiciously.

I didn't know why he should have been aggrieved, but he seemed to be.
I took pains to explain to him that, having picked up the beacon at the
mouth of the river just before dark and the tide serving, Captain C----
was enabled to cross the bar and there was nothing to prevent him going
up the river at night.

"Captain C---- knows this river like his own pocket," I concluded,
discursively, trying to get on terms.

"Better," said Almayer.

Leaning over the rail of the bridge, I looked at Almayer, who looked
down at the wharf in aggrieved thought. He shuffled his feet a little;
he wore straw slippers with thick soles. The morning fog had thickened
considerably. Everything round us dripped--the derricks, the rails,
every single rope in the ship--as if a fit of crying had come upon the
universe.

Almayer again raised his head and, in the accents of a man accustomed to
the buffets of evil fortune, asked, hardly audibly:

"I suppose you haven't got such a thing as a pony on board?"

I told him, almost in a whisper, for he attuned my communications to his
minor key, that we had such a thing as a pony, and I hinted, as gently
as I could, that he was confoundedly in the way, too. I was very anxious
to have him landed before I began to handle the cargo. Almayer remained
looking up at me for a long while, with incredulous and melancholy eyes,
as though it were not a safe thing to believe in my statement. This
pathetic mistrust in the favourable issue of any sort of affair touched
me deeply, and I added:

"He doesn't seem a bit the worse for the passage. He's a nice pony,
too."

Almayer was not to be cheered up; for all answer he cleared his throat
and looked down again at his feet. I tried to close with him on another
tack.

"By Jove!" I said. "Aren't you afraid of catching pneumonia or
bronchitis or some thing, walking about in a singlet in such a wet fog?"

He was not to be propitiated by a show of interest in his health.

His answer was a sinister "No fear," as much as to say that even that
way of escape from inclement fortune was closed to him.

"I just came down . . ." he mumbled after a while.

"Well, then, now you're here I will land that pony for you at once,
and you can lead him home. I really don't want him on deck. He's in the
way."

Almayer seemed doubtful. I insisted:

"Why, I will just swing him out and land him on the wharf right in front
of you. I'd much rather do it before the hatches are off. The little
devil may jump down the hold or do some other deadly thing."

"There's a halter?" postulated Almayer.

"Yes, of course there's a halter." And without waiting any more I leaned
over the bridge rail.

"Serang, land Tuan Almayer's pony."

The cook hastened to shut the door of the galley, and a moment later a
great scuffle began on deck. The pony kicked with extreme energy, the
kalashes skipped out of the way, the serang issued many orders in a
cracked voice. Suddenly the pony leaped upon the fore-hatch. His little
hoofs thundered tremendously; he plunged and reared. He had tossed his
mane and his forelock into a state of amazing wildness, he dilated his
nostrils, bits of foam flecked his broad little chest, his eyes blazed.
He was something under eleven hands; he was fierce, terrible, angry,
warlike; he said ha! ha! distinctly; he raged and thumped--and sixteen
able-bodied kalashes stood round him like disconcerted nurses round a
spoiled and passionate child. He whisked his tail incessantly; he arched
his pretty neck; he was perfectly delightful; he was charmingly naughty.
There was not an atom of vice in that performance; no savage baring of
teeth and laying back of ears. On the contrary, he pricked them forward
in a comically aggressive manner. He was totally unmoral and lovable; I
would have liked to give him bread, sugar, carrots. But life is a stern
thing and the sense of duty the only safe guide. So I steeled my heart,
and from my elevated position on the bridge I ordered the men to fling
themselves upon him in a body.

The elderly serang, emitting a strange, inarticulate cry, gave the
example. He was an excellent petty officer--very competent, indeed, and
a moderate opium-smoker. The rest of them in one great rush smothered
that pony. They hung on to his ears, to his mane, to his tail; they lay
in piles across his back, seventeen in all. The carpenter, seizing
the hook of the cargo-chain, flung himself on the top of them. A very
satisfactory petty officer, too, but he stuttered. Have you ever heard
a light-yellow, lean, sad, earnest Chinaman stutter in Pidgin-English?
It's very weird, indeed. He made the eighteenth. I could not see the
pony at all; but from the swaying and heaving of that heap of men I knew
that there was something alive inside.

From the wharf Almayer hailed, in quavering tones:

"Oh, I say!"

Where he stood he could not see what was going on on deck, unless,
perhaps, the tops of the men's heads; he could only hear the scuffle,
the mighty thuds, as if the ship were being knocked to pieces. I looked
over: "What is it?"

"Don't let them break his legs," he entreated me, plaintively.

"Oh, nonsense! He's all right now. He can't move."

By that time the cargo-chain had been hooked to the broad canvas belt
round the pony's body; the kalashes sprang off simultaneously in all
directions, rolling over each other; and the worthy serang, making a
dash behind the winch, turned the steam on.

"Steady!" I yelled, in great apprehension of seeing the animal snatched
up to the very head of the derrick.

On the wharf Almayer shuffled his straw slippers uneasily. The rattle of
the winch stopped, and in a tense, impressive silence that pony began to
swing across the deck.

How limp he was! Directly he felt himself in the air he relaxed every
muscle in a most wonderful manner. His four hoofs knocked together in a
bunch, his head hung down, and his tail remained pendent in a nerveless
and absolute immobility. He reminded me vividly of the pathetic little
sheep which hangs on the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece. I had
no idea that anything in the shape of a horse could be so limp as that,
either living or dead. His wild mane hung down lumpily, a mere mass of
inanimate horsehair; his aggressive ears had collapsed, but as he went
swaying slowly across the front of the bridge I noticed an astute gleam
in his dreamy, half-closed eye. A trustworthy quartermaster, his glance
anxious and his mouth on the broad grin, was easing over the derrick
watchfully. I superintended, greatly interested.

"So! That will do."

The derrick-head stopped. The kalashes lined the rail. The rope of the
halter hung perpendicular and motionless like a bell-pull in front of
Almayer. Everything was very still. I suggested amicably that he
should catch hold of the rope and mind what he was about. He extended a
provokingly casual and superior hand.

"Look out, then! Lower away!"

Almayer gathered in the rope intelligently enough, but when the pony's
hoofs touched the wharf he gave way all at once to a most foolish
optimism. Without pausing, without thinking, almost without looking, he
disengaged the hook suddenly from the sling, and the cargo-chain, after
hitting the pony's quarters, swung back against the ship's side with
a noisy, rattling slap. I suppose I must have blinked. I know I missed
something, because the next thing I saw was Almayer lying flat on his
back on the jetty. He was alone.

Astonishment deprived me of speech long enough to give Almayer time to
pick himself up in a leisurely and painful manner. The kalashes lining
the rail all had their mouths open. The mist flew in the light breeze,
and it had come over quite thick enough to hide the shore completely.

"How on earth did you manage to let him get away?" I asked, scandalized.

Almayer looked into the smarting palm of his right hand, but did not
answer my inquiry.

"Where do you think he will get to?" I cried. "Are there any fences
anywhere in this fog? Can he bolt into the forest? What's to be done
now?"

Almayer shrugged his shoulders.

"Some of my men are sure to be about. They will get hold of him sooner
or later."

"Sooner or later! That's all very fine, but what about my canvas
sling?--he's carried it off. I want it now, at once, to land two Celebes
cows."

Since Dongola we had on board a pair of the pretty little island cattle
in addition to the pony. Tied up on the other side of the fore-deck they
had been whisking their tails into the other door of the galley. These
cows were not for Almayer, however; they were invoiced to Abdullah bin
Selim, his enemy. Almayer's disregard of my requirements was complete.

"If I were you I would try to find out where he's gone," I insisted.
"Hadn't you better call your men together or something? He will throw
himself down and cut his knees. He may even break a leg, you know."

But Almayer, plunged in abstracted thought, did not seem to want that
pony any more. Amazed at this sudden indifference, I turned all hands
out on shore to hunt for him on my own account, or, at any rate, to hunt
for the canvas sling which he had round his body. The whole crew of
the steamer, with the exception of firemen and engineers, rushed up
the jetty, past the thoughtful Almayer, and vanished from my sight. The
white fog swallowed them up; and again there was a deep silence that
seemed to extend for miles up and down the stream. Still taciturn,
Almayer started to climb on board, and I went down from the bridge to
meet him on the after-deck.

"Would you mind telling the captain that I want to see him very
particularly?" he asked me, in a low tone, letting his eyes stray all
over the place.

"Very well. I will go and see."

With the door of his cabin wide open, Captain C----, just back from
the bath-room, big and broad-chested, was brushing his thick, damp,
iron-gray hair with two large brushes.

"Mr. Almayer told me he wanted to see you very particularly, sir."

Saying these words, I smiled. I don't know why I smiled, except that it
seemed absolutely impossible to mention Almayer's name without a smile
of a sort. It had not to be necessarily a mirthful smile. Turning his
head toward me, Captain C---- smiled, too, rather joylessly.

"The pony got away from him--eh?"

"Yes, sir. He did."

"Where is he?"

"Goodness only knows."

"No. I mean Almayer. Let him come along."

The captain's stateroom opening straight on deck under the bridge, I had
only to beckon from the doorway to Almayer, who had remained aft, with
downcast eyes, on the very spot where I had left him. He strolled up
moodily, shook hands, and at once asked permission to shut the cabin
door.

"I have a pretty story to tell you," were the last words I heard.

The bitterness of tone was remarkable.

I went away from the door, of course. For the moment I had no crew on
board; only the Chinaman carpenter, with a canvas bag hung round his
neck and a hammer in his hand, roamed about the empty decks,
knocking out the wedges of the hatches and dropping them into the bag
conscientiously. Having nothing to do I joined our two engineers at the
door of the engine-room. It was near breakfast-time.

"He's turned up early, hasn't he?" commented the second engineer, and
smiled indifferently. He was an abstemious man, with a good digestion
and a placid, reasonable view of life even when hungry.

"Yes," I said. "Shut up with the old man. Some very particular
business."

"He will spin him a damned endless yarn," observed the chief engineer.

He smiled rather sourly. He was dyspeptic, and suffered from gnawing
hunger in the morning. The second smiled broadly, a smile that made two
vertical folds on his shaven cheeks. And I smiled, too, but I was not
exactly amused. In that man, whose name apparently could not be uttered
anywhere in the Malay Archipelago without a smile, there was nothing
amusing whatever. That morning he breakfasted with us silently, looking
mostly into his cup. I informed him that my men came upon his pony
capering in the fog on the very brink of the eight-foot-deep well in
which he kept his store of guttah. The cover was off, with no one near
by, and the whole of my crew just missed going heels over head into
that beastly hole. Jurumudi Itam, our best quartermaster, deft at fine
needlework, he who mended the ship's flags and sewed buttons on our
coats, was disabled by a kick on the shoulder.

Both remorse and gratitude seemed foreign to Almayer's character.

He mumbled:

"Do you mean that pirate fellow?"

"What pirate fellow? The man has been in the ship eleven years," I said,
indignantly.

"It's his looks," Almayer muttered, for all apology.

The sun had eaten up the fog. From where we sat under the after-awning
we could see in the distance the pony tied up, in front of Almayer's
house, to a post of the veranda. We were silent for a long time. All at
once Almayer, alluding evidently to the subject of his conversation in
the captain's cabin, exclaimed anxiously across the table:

"I really don't know what I can do now!"

Captain C---- only raised his eyebrows at him, and got up from his
chair. We dispersed to our duties, but Almayer, half dressed as he was
in his cretonne pajamas and the thin cotton singlet, remained on board,
lingering near the gangway, as though he could not make up his mind
whether to go home or stay with us for good.

Our Chinamen boys gave him side glances as they went to and fro; and
Ah Sing, our chief steward, the handsomest and most sympathetic of
Chinamen, catching my eye, nodded knowingly at his burly back. In the
course of the morning I approached him for a moment.

"Well, Mr. Almayer," I addressed him, easily, "you haven't started on
your letters yet."

We had brought him his mail, and he had held the bundle in his hand ever
since we got up from breakfast. He glanced at it when I spoke, and for
a moment it looked as if he were on the point of opening his fingers and
letting the whole lot fall overboard. I believe he was tempted to do so.
I shall never forget that man afraid of his letters.

"Have you been long out from Europe?" he asked me.

"Not very. Not quite eight months," I told him. "I left a ship in
Samarang with a hurt back, and have been in the hospital in Singapore
some weeks."

He sighed.

"Trade is very bad here."

"Indeed!"

"Hopeless! . . . See these geese?"

With the hand holding the letters he pointed out to me what resembled
a patch of snow creeping and swaying across the distant part of his
compound. It disappeared behind some bushes.

"The only geese on the East Coast," Almayer informed me, in a
perfunctory mutter without a spark of faith, hope, or pride. Thereupon,
with the same absence of any sort of sustaining spirit, he declared his
intention to select a fat bird and send him on board for us not later
than next day.

I had heard of these largesses before. He conferred a goose as if it
were a sort of court decoration given only to the tried friends of the
house. I had expected more pomp in the ceremony. The gift had surely
its special quality, multiple and rare. From the only flock on the East
Coast! He did not make half enough of it. That man did not understand
his opportunities. However, I thanked him at some length.

"You see," he interrupted, abruptly, in a very peculiar tone, "the worst
of this country is that one is not able to realize . . . it's impossible
to realize. . . ." His voice sank into a languid mutter. "And when
one has very large interests . . . very important interests . . ." he
finished, faintly . . . "up the river."

We looked at each other. He astonished me by giving a start and making a
very queer grimace.

"Well, I must be off," he burst out, hurriedly. "So long!"

At the moment of stepping over the gang way he checked himself, though,
to give me a mumbled invitation to dine at his house that evening with
my captain, an invitation which I accepted. I don't think it could have
been possible for me to refuse.

I like the worthy folk who will talk to you of the exercise of
free-will, "at any rate for practical purposes." Free, is it? For
practical purposes! Bosh! How could I have refused to dine with that
man? I did not refuse, simply because I could not refuse. Curiosity, a
healthy desire for a change of cooking, common civility, the talk and
the smiles of the previous twenty days, every condition of my existence
at that moment and place made irresistibly for acceptance; and, crowning
all that, there was the ignorance--the ignorance, I say--the fatal want
of fore knowledge to counterbalance these imperative conditions of the
problem. A refusal would have appeared perverse and insane. Nobody,
unless a surly lunatic, would have refused. But if I had not got to know
Almayer pretty well it is almost certain there would never have been a
line of mine in print.

I accepted then--and I am paying yet the price of my sanity. The
possessor of the only flock of geese on the East Coast is responsible
for the existence of some fourteen volumes, so far. The number of
geese he had called into being under adverse climatic conditions was
considerably more than fourteen. The tale of volumes will never overtake
the counting of heads, I am safe to say; but my ambitions point not
exactly that way, and whatever the pangs the toil of writing has cost me
I have always thought kindly of Almayer.

I wonder, had he known anything of it, what his attitude would have
been? This is something not to be discovered in this world.

But if we ever meet in the Elysian Fields--where I cannot depict him
to myself otherwise than attended in the distance by his flock of geese
(birds sacred to Jupiter)--and he addresses me in the stillness of
that passionless region, neither light nor darkness, neither sound nor
silence, and heaving endlessly with billowy mists from the impalpable
multitudes of the swarming dead, I think I know what answer to make.

I would say, after listening courteously to the unvibrating tone of his
measured remonstrances, which should not disturb, of course, the solemn
eternity of stillness in the least--I would say something like this:

"It is true, Almayer, that in the world below I have converted your name
to my own uses. But that is a very small larceny. What's in a name, O
Shade? If so much of your old mortal weakness clings to you yet as
to make you feel aggrieved (it was the note of your earthly voice,
Almayer), then, I entreat you, seek speech without delay with our
sublime fellow-Shade--with him who, in his transient existence as a
poet, commented upon the smell of the rose. He will comfort you. You
came to me stripped of all prestige by men's queer smiles and the
disrespectful chatter of every vagrant trader in the Islands. Your name
was the common property of the winds; it, as it were, floated naked over
the waters about the equator. I wrapped round its unhonoured form the
royal mantle of the tropics, and have essayed to put into the hollow
sound the very anguish of paternity--feats which you did not demand from
me--but remember that all the toil and all the pain were mine. In your
earthly life you haunted me, Almayer. Consider that this was taking a
great liberty. Since you were always complaining of being lost to the
world, you should remember that if I had not believed enough in your
existence to let you haunt my rooms in Bessborough Gardens, you would
have been much more lost. You affirm that had I been capable of looking
at you with a more perfect detachment and a greater simplicity, I might
have perceived better the inward marvellousness which, you insist,
attended your career upon that tiny pin-point of light, hardly visible
far, far below us, where both our graves lie. No doubt! But reflect, O
complaining Shade! that this was not so much my fault as your crowning
misfortune. I believed in you in the only way it was possible for me to
believe. It was not worthy of your merits? So be it. But you were always
an unlucky man, Almayer. Nothing was ever quite worthy of you. What made
you so real to me was that you held this lofty theory with some force of
conviction and with an admirable consistency."

It is with some such words translated into the proper shadowy
expressions that I am prepared to placate Almayer in the Elysian Abode
of Shades, since it has come to pass that, having parted many years ago,
we are never to meet again in this world.


V

In the career of the most unliterary of writers, in the sense that
literary ambition had never entered the world of his imagination, the
coming into existence of the first book is quite an inexplicable event.
In my own case I cannot trace it back to any mental or psychological
cause which one could point out and hold to. The greatest of my gifts
being a consummate capacity for doing nothing, I cannot even point to
boredom as a rational stimulus for taking up a pen. The pen, at any
rate, was there, and there is nothing wonderful in that. Everybody keeps
a pen (the cold steel of our days) in his rooms, in this enlightened age
of penny stamps and halfpenny post-cards. In fact, this was the epoch
when by means of postcard and pen Mr. Gladstone had made the reputation
of a novel or two. And I, too, had a pen rolling about somewhere--the
seldom-used, the reluctantly taken-up pen of a sailor ashore, the pen
rugged with the dried ink of abandoned attempts, of answers delayed
longer than decency permitted, of letters begun with infinite
reluctance, and put off suddenly till next day--till next week, as like
as not! The neglected, uncared-for pen, flung away at the slightest
provocation, and under the stress of dire necessity hunted for without
enthusiasm, in a perfunctory, grumpy worry, in the "Where the devil _is_
the beastly thing gone to?" ungracious spirit. Where, indeed! It might
have been reposing behind the sofa for a day or so. My landlady's anemic
daughter (as Ollendorff would have expressed it), though commendably
neat, had a lordly, careless manner of approaching her domestic duties.
Or it might even be resting delicately poised on its point by the side
of the table-leg, and when picked up show a gaping, inefficient beak
which would have discouraged any man of literary instincts. But not me!
"Never mind. This will do."

O days without guile! If anybody had told me then that a devoted
household, having a generally exaggerated idea of my talents and
importance, would be put into a state of tremor and flurry by the fuss
I would make because of a suspicion that somebody had touched my
sacrosanct pen of authorship, I would have never deigned as much as the
contemptuous smile of unbelief. There are imaginings too unlikely for
any kind of notice, too wild for indulgence itself, too absurd for a
smile. Perhaps, had that seer of the future been a friend, I should have
been secretly saddened. "Alas!" I would have thought, looking at him
with an unmoved face, "the poor fellow is going mad."

I would have been, without doubt, saddened; for in this world where the
journalists read the signs of the sky, and the wind of heaven itself,
blowing where it listeth, does so under the prophetical management of
the meteorological office, but where the secret of human hearts cannot
be captured by prying or praying, it was infinitely more likely that
the sanest of my friends should nurse the germ of incipient madness than
that I should turn into a writer of tales.

To survey with wonder the changes of one's own self is a fascinating
pursuit for idle hours. The field is so wide, the surprises so varied,
the subject so full of unprofitable but curious hints as to the work of
unseen forces, that one does not weary easily of it. I am not speaking
here of megalomaniacs who rest uneasy under the crown of their unbounded
conceit--who really never rest in this world, and when out of it go
on fretting and fuming on the straitened circumstances of their last
habitation, where all men must lie in obscure equality. Neither am I
thinking of those ambitious minds who, always looking forward to some
aim of aggrandizement, can spare no time for a detached, impersonal
glance upon them selves.

And that's a pity. They are unlucky. These two kinds, together with
the much larger band of the totally unimaginative, of those unfortunate
beings in whose empty and unseeing gaze (as a great French writer has
put it) "the whole universe vanishes into blank nothingness," miss,
perhaps, the true task of us men whose day is short on this earth, the
abode of conflicting opinions. The ethical view of the universe involves
us at last in so many cruel and absurd contradictions, where the last
vestiges of faith, hope, charity, and even of reason itself, seem ready
to perish, that I have come to suspect that the aim of creation cannot
be ethical at all. I would fondly believe that its object is purely
spectacular: a spectacle for awe, love, adoration, or hate, if you
like, but in this view--and in this view alone--never for despair! Those
visions, delicious or poignant, are a moral end in themselves. The rest
is our affair--the laughter, the tears, the tenderness, the indignation,
the high tranquillity of a steeled heart, the detached curiosity of
a subtle mind--that's our affair! And the unwearied self-forgetful
attention to every phase of the living universe reflected in our
consciousness may be our appointed task on this earth--a task in which
fate has perhaps engaged nothing of us except our conscience, gifted
with a voice in order to bear true testimony to the visible wonder, the
haunting terror, the infinite passion, and the illimitable serenity; to
the supreme law and the abiding mystery of the sublime spectacle.

Chi lo sa? It may be true. In this view there is room for every religion
except for the inverted creed of impiety, the mask and cloak of arid
despair; for every joy and every sorrow, for every fair dream, for every
charitable hope. The great aim is to remain true to the emotions called
out of the deep encircled by the firmament of stars, whose infinite
numbers and awful distances may move us to laughter or tears (was it the
Walrus or the Carpenter, in the poem, who "wept to see such quantities
of sand"?), or, again, to a properly steeled heart, may matter nothing
at all.

The casual quotation, which had suggested itself out of a poem full of
merit, leads me to remark that in the conception of a purely spectacular
universe, where inspiration of every sort has a rational existence, the
artist of every kind finds a natural place; and among them the poet as
the seer par excellence. Even the writer of prose, who in his less noble
and more toilsome task should be a man with the steeled heart, is worthy
of a place, providing he looks on with undimmed eyes and keeps laughter
out of his voice, let who will laugh or cry. Yes! Even he, the prose
artist of fiction, which after all is but truth often dragged out of a
well and clothed in the painted robe of imagined phrases--even he has
his place among kings, demagogues, priests, charlatans, dukes, giraffes,
cabinet ministers, Fabians, bricklayers, apostles, ants, scientists,
Kafirs, soldiers, sailors, elephants, lawyers, dandies, microbes, and
constellations of a universe whose amazing spectacle is a moral end in
itself.

Here I perceive (without speaking offense) the reader assuming a subtle
expression, as if the cat were out of the bag. I take the novelist's
freedom to observe the reader's mind formulating the exclamation:
"That's it! The fellow talks pro domo."

Indeed it was not the intention! When I shouldered the bag I was not
aware of the cat inside. But, after all, why not? The fair courtyards of
the House of Art are thronged by many humble retainers. And there is
no retainer so devoted as he who is allowed to sit on the doorstep. The
fellows who have got inside are apt to think too much of themselves.
This last remark, I beg to state, is not malicious within the definition
of the law of libel. It's fair comment on a matter of public interest.
But never mind. _Pro domo_. So be it. For his house _tant que vous
voudrez_. And yet in truth I was by no means anxious to justify my
existence. The attempt would have been not only needless and absurd, but
almost inconceivable, in a purely spectacular universe, where no such
disagreeable necessity can possibly arise. It is sufficient for me to
say (and I am saying it at some length in these pages): _J'ai vecu_. I
have existed, obscure among the wonders and terrors of my time, as the
Abbe Sieyes, the original utterer of the quoted words, had managed to
exist through the violences, the crimes, and the enthusiasms of the
French Revolution. _J'ai vecu_, as I apprehend most of us manage to
exist, missing all along the varied forms of destruction by a
hair's-breadth, saving my body, that's clear, and perhaps my soul also,
but not without some damage here and there to the fine edge of my
conscience, that heirloom of the ages, of the race, of the group, of the
family, colourable and plastic, fashioned by the words, the looks, the
acts, and even by the silences and abstentions surrounding one's
childhood; tinged in a complete scheme of delicate shades
and crude colours by the inherited traditions, beliefs, or
prejudices--unaccountable, despotic, persuasive, and often,
in its texture, romantic.

And often romantic! . . . The matter in hand, however, is to keep these
reminiscences from turning into confessions, a form of literary
activity discredited by Jean Jacques Rousseau on account of the extreme
thoroughness he brought to the work of justifying his own existence;
for that such was his purpose is palpably, even grossly, visible to
an unprejudiced eye. But then, you see, the man was not a writer of
fiction. He was an artless moralist, as is clearly demonstrated by his
anniversaries being celebrated with marked emphasis by the heirs of
the French Revolution, which was not a political movement at all, but
a great outburst of morality. He had no imagination, as the most casual
perusal of "Emile" will prove. He was no novelist, whose first virtue is
the exact understanding of the limits traced by the reality of his time
to the play of his invention. Inspiration comes from the earth, which
has a past, a history, a future, not from the cold and immutable heaven.
A writer of imaginative prose (even more than any other sort of artist)
stands confessed in his works. His conscience, his deeper sense of
things, lawful and unlawful, gives him his attitude before the world.
Indeed, everyone who puts pen to paper for the reading of strangers
(unless a moralist, who, generally speaking, has no conscience except
the one he is at pains to produce for the use of others) can speak of
nothing else. It is M. Anatole France, the most eloquent and just of
French prose-writers, who says that we must recognize at last that,
"failing the resolution to hold our peace, we can only talk of
ourselves."

This remark, if I remember rightly, was made in the course of a sparring
match with the late Ferdinand Brunetiere over the principles and rules
of literary criticism. As was fitting for a man to whom we owe the
memorable saying, "The good critic is he who relates the adventures of
his soul among masterpieces," M. Anatole France maintained that there
were no rules and no principles. And that may be very true. Rules,
principles, and standards die and vanish every day. Perhaps they are all
dead and vanished by this time. These, if ever, are the brave, free days
of destroyed landmarks, while the ingenious minds are busy inventing the
forms of the new beacons which, it is consoling to think, will be set up
presently in the old places. But what is interesting to a writer is the
possession of an inward certitude that literary criticism will never
die, for man (so variously defined) is, before everything else, a
critical animal. And as long as distinguished minds are ready to treat
it in the spirit of high adventure literary criticism shall appeal to
us with all the charm and wisdom of a well-told tale of personal
experience.

For Englishmen especially, of all the races of the earth, a task, any
task, undertaken in an adventurous spirit acquires the merit of romance.
But the critics as a rule exhibit but little of an adventurous spirit.
They take risks, of course--one can hardly live with out that. The daily
bread is served out to us (however sparingly) with a pinch of salt.
Otherwise one would get sick of the diet one prays for, and that would
be not only improper, but impious. From impiety of that or any other
kind--save us! An ideal of reserved manner, adhered to from a sense
of proprieties, from shyness, perhaps, or caution, or simply from
weariness, induces, I suspect, some writers of criticism to conceal the
adventurous side of their calling, and then the criticism becomes a mere
"notice," as it were, the relation of a journey where nothing but the
distances and the geology of a new country should be set down; the
glimpses of strange beasts, the dangers of flood and field, the
hairbreadth escapes, and the sufferings (oh, the sufferings, too! I have
no doubt of the sufferings) of the traveller being carefully kept out;
no shady spot, no fruitful plant being ever mentioned either; so that
the whole performance looks like a mere feat of agility on the part of
a trained pen running in a desert. A cruel spectacle--a most deplorable
adventure! "Life," in the words of an immortal thinker of, I should
say, bucolic origin, but whose perishable name is lost to the worship of
posterity--"life is not all beer and skittles." Neither is the writing
of novels. It isn't, really. Je vous donne ma parole d'honneur that
it--is--not. Not _all_. I am thus emphatic because some years ago, I
remember, the daughter of a general. . . .

Sudden revelations of the profane world must have come now and then
to hermits in their cells, to the cloistered monks of middle ages, to
lonely sages, men of science, reformers; the revelations of the world's
superficial judgment, shocking to the souls concentrated upon their
own bitter labour in the cause of sanctity, or of knowledge, or of
temperance, let us say, or of art, if only the art of cracking jokes
or playing the flute. And thus this general's daughter came to me--or I
should say one of the general's daughters did. There were three of
these bachelor ladies, of nicely graduated ages, who held a neighbouring
farm-house in a united and more or less military occupation. The
eldest warred against the decay of manners in the village children, and
executed frontal attacks upon the village mothers for the conquest of
courtesies. It sounds futile, but it was really a war for an idea. The
second skirmished and scouted all over the country; and it was that one
who pushed a reconnaissance right to my very table--I mean the one who
wore stand-up collars.

She was really calling upon my wife in the soft spirit of afternoon
friendliness, but with her usual martial determination. She marched into
my room swinging her stick . . . but no--I mustn't exaggerate. It is not
my specialty. I am not a humoristic writer. In all soberness, then, all
I am certain of is that she had a stick to swing.

No ditch or wall encompassed my abode. The window was open; the door,
too, stood open to that best friend of my work, the warm, still sunshine
of the wide fields. They lay around me infinitely helpful, but, truth to
say, I had not known for weeks whether the sun shone upon the earth and
whether the stars above still moved on their appointed courses. I was
just then giving up some days of my allotted span to the last chapters
of the novel "Nostromo," a tale of an imaginary (but true) seaboard,
which is still mentioned now and again, and indeed kindly, sometimes in
connection with the word "failure" and sometimes in conjunction with the
word "astonishing." I have no opinion on this discrepancy. It's the sort
of difference that can never be settled. All I know is that, for twenty
months, neglecting the common joys of life that fall to the lot of the
humblest on this earth, I had, like the prophet of old, "wrestled with
the Lord" for my creation, for the headlands of the coast, for the
darkness of the Placid Gulf, the light on the snows, the clouds in the
sky, and for the breath of life that had to be blown into the shapes
of men and women, of Latin and Saxon, of Jew and Gentile. These are,
perhaps, strong words, but it is difficult to characterize other wise
the intimacy and the strain of a creative effort in which mind and will
and conscience are engaged to the full, hour after hour, day after day,
away from the world, and to the exclusion of all that makes life really
lovable and gentle--something for which a material parallel can only be
found in the everlasting sombre stress of the westward winter passage
round Cape Horn. For that, too, is the wrestling of men with the might
of their Creator, in a great isolation from the world, without the
amenities and consolations of life, a lonely struggle under a sense of
overmatched littleness, for no reward that could be adequate, but for
the mere winning of a longitude. Yet a certain longitude, once won,
cannot be disputed. The sun and the stars and the shape of your earth
are the witnesses of your gain; whereas a handful of pages, no matter
how much you have made them your own, are at best but an obscure and
questionable spoil. Here they are. "Failure"--"Astonishing": take your
choice; or perhaps both, or neither--a mere rustle and flutter of pieces
of paper settling down in the night, and undistinguishable, like the
snowflakes of a great drift destined to melt away in sunshine.

"How do you do?"

It was the greeting of the general's daughter. I had heard nothing--no
rustle, no footsteps. I had felt only a moment before a sort of
premonition of evil; I had the sense of an inauspicious presence--just
that much warning and no more; and then came the sound of the voice and
the jar as of a terrible fall from a great height--a fall, let us say,
from the highest of the clouds floating in gentle procession over the
fields in the faint westerly air of that July afternoon. I picked myself
up quickly, of course; in other words, I jumped up from my chair stunned
and dazed, every nerve quivering with the pain of being uprooted out of
one world and flung down into another--perfectly civil.

"Oh! How do you do? Won't you sit down?"

That's what I said. This horrible but, I assure you, perfectly true
reminiscence tells you more than a whole volume of confessions a la Jean
Jacques Rousseau would do. Observe! I didn't howl at her, or start
up setting furniture, or throw myself on the floor and kick, or allow
myself to hint in any other way at the appalling magnitude of the
disaster. The whole world of Costaguana (the country, you may remember,
of my seaboard tale), men, women, headlands, houses, mountains, town,
campo (there was not a single brick, stone, or grain of sand of its
soil I had not placed in position with my own hands); all the history,
geography, politics, finance; the wealth of Charles Gould's silver-mine,
and the splendour of the magnificent Capataz de Cargadores, whose name,
cried out in the night (Dr. Monygham heard it pass over his head--in
Linda Viola's voice), dominated even after death the dark gulf
containing his conquests of treasure and love--all that had come down
crashing about my ears.

I felt I could never pick up the pieces--and in that very moment I was
saying, "Won't you sit down?"

The sea is strong medicine. Behold what the quarter-deck training even
in a merchant ship will do! This episode should give you a new view of
the English and Scots seamen (a much-caricatured folk) who had the last
say in the formation of my character. One is nothing if not modest,
but in this disaster I think I have done some honour to their simple
teaching. "Won't you sit down?" Very fair; very fair, indeed. She sat
down. Her amused glance strayed all over the room.

There were pages of MS. on the table and under the table, a batch of
typed copy on a chair, single leaves had fluttered away into distant
corners; there were there living pages, pages scored and wounded, dead
pages that would be burned at the end of the day--the litter of a cruel
battle-field, of a long, long, and desperate fray. Long! I suppose
I went to bed sometimes, and got up the same number of times. Yes, I
suppose I slept, and ate the food put before me, and talked connectedly
to my household on suitable occasions. But I had never been aware of
the even flow of daily life, made easy and noiseless for me by a silent,
watchful, tireless affection. Indeed, it seemed to me that I had been
sitting at that table surrounded by the litter of a desperate fray for
days and nights on end. It seemed so, because of the intense weariness
of which that interruption had made me aware--the awful disenchantment
of a mind realizing suddenly the futility of an enormous task, joined
to a bodily fatigue such as no ordinary amount of fairly heavy physical
labour could ever account for. I have carried bags of wheat on my back,
bent almost double under a ship's deck-beams, from six in the morning
till six in the evening (with an hour and a half off for meals), so I
ought to know.

And I love letters. I am jealous of their honour and concerned for the
dignity and comeliness of their service. I was, most likely, the only
writer that neat lady had ever caught in the exercise of his craft, and
it distressed me not to be able to remember when it was that I dressed
myself last, and how. No doubt that would be all right in essentials.
The fortune of the house included a pair of gray-blue watchful eyes that
would see to that. But I felt, somehow, as grimy as a Costaguana lepero
after a day's fighting in the streets, rumpled all over and dishevelled
down to my very heels. And I am afraid I blinked stupidly. All this was
bad for the honour of letters and the dignity of their service. Seen
indistinctly through the dust of my collapsed universe, the good lady
glanced about the room with a slightly amused serenity. And she was
smiling. What on earth was she smiling at? She remarked casually:

"I am afraid I interrupted you."

"Not at all."

She accepted the denial in perfect good faith. And it was strictly true.
Interrupted--indeed! She had robbed me of at least twenty lives, each
infinitely more poignant and real than her own, because informed with
passion, possessed of convictions, involved in great affairs created out
of my own substance for an anxiously meditated end.

She remained silent for a while, then said, with a last glance all round
at the litter of the fray:

"And you sit like this here writing your--your . . ."

"I--what? Oh, yes! I sit here all day."

"It must be perfectly delightful."

I suppose that, being no longer very young, I might have been on the
verge of having a stroke; but she had left her dog in the porch, and my
boy's dog, patrolling the field in front, had espied him from afar.
He came on straight and swift like a cannon-ball, and the noise of the
fight, which burst suddenly upon our ears, was more than enough to scare
away a fit of apoplexy. We went out hastily and separated the gallant
animals. Afterward I told the lady where she would find my wife--just
round the corner, under the trees. She nodded and went off with her dog,
leaving me appalled before the death and devastation she had lightly
made--and with the awfully instructive sound of the word "delightful"
lingering in my ears.

Nevertheless, later on, I duly escorted her to the field gate. I wanted
to be civil, of course (what are twenty lives in a mere novel that one
should be rude to a lady on their account?), but mainly, to adopt the
good, sound Ollendorffian style, because I did not want the dog of the
general's daughter to fight again (encore) with the faithful dog of
my infant son (mon petit garcon).--Was I afraid that the dog of the
general's daughter would be able to overcome (_vaincre_) the dog of my
child?--No, I was not afraid. . . . But away with the Ollendorff
method. How ever appropriate and seemingly unavoidable when I touch upon
anything appertaining to the lady, it is most unsuitable to the origin,
character, and history of the dog; for the dog was the gift to the child
from a man for whom words had anything but an Ollendorffian value, a man
almost childlike in the impulsive movements of his untutored genius, the
most single-minded of verbal impressionists, using his great gifts of
straight feeling and right expression with a fine sincerity and a strong
if, perhaps, not fully conscious conviction. His art did not obtain,
I fear, all the credit its unsophisticated inspiration deserved. I am
alluding to the late Stephen Crane, the author of "The Red Badge
of Courage," a work of imagination which found its short moment of
celebrity in the last decade of the departed century. Other books
followed. Not many. He had not the time. It was an individual and
complete talent which obtained but a grudging, somewhat supercilious
recognition from the world at large. For himself one hesitates to regret
his early death. Like one of the men in his "Open Boat," one felt that
he was of those whom fate seldom allows to make a safe landing after
much toil and bitterness at the oar. I confess to an abiding affection
for that energetic, slight, fragile, intensely living and transient
figure. He liked me, even before we met, on the strength of a page or
two of my writing, and after we had met I am glad to think he liked me
still. He used to point out to me with great earnestness, and even with
some severity, that "a boy _ought_ to have a dog." I suspect that he was
shocked at my neglect of parental duties.

Ultimately it was he who provided the dog. Shortly afterward, one day,
after playing with the child on the rug for an hour or so with the most
intense absorption, he raised his head and declared firmly, "I shall
teach your boy to ride." That was not to be. He was not given the time.

But here is the dog--an old dog now. Broad and low on his bandy paws,
with a black head on a white body and a ridiculous black spot at
the other end of him, he provokes, when he walks abroad, smiles
not altogether unkind. Grotesque and engaging in the whole of his
appearance, his usual attitudes are meek, but his temperament discloses
itself unexpectedly pugnacious in the presence of his kind. As he lies
in the firelight, his head well up, and a fixed, far away gaze directed
at the shadows of the room, he achieves a striking nobility of pose in
the calm consciousness of an unstained life. He has brought up one baby,
and now, after seeing his first charge off to school, he is bringing up
another with the same conscientious devotion, but with a more deliberate
gravity of manner, the sign of greater wisdom and riper experience,
but also of rheumatism, I fear. From the morning bath to the evening
ceremonies of the cot, you attend the little two-legged creature of your
adoption, being yourself treated in the exercise of your duties with
every possible regard, with infinite consideration, by every person in
the house--even as I myself am treated; only you deserve it more.

The general's daughter would tell you that it must be "perfectly
delightful."

Aha! old dog. She never heard you yelp with acute pain (it's that poor
left ear) the while, with incredible self-command, you preserve a rigid
immobility for fear of overturning the little two-legged creature. She
has never seen your resigned smile when the little two-legged creature,
interrogated, sternly, "What are you doing to the good dog?" answers,
with a wide, innocent stare: "Nothing. Only loving him, mamma dear!"

The general's daughter does not know the secret terms of self-imposed
tasks, good dog, the pain that may lurk in the very rewards of rigid
self-command. But we have lived together many years. We have grown
older, too; and though our work is not quite done yet we may indulge now
and then in a little introspection before the fire--meditate on the art
of bringing up babies and on the perfect delight of writing tales where
so many lives come and go at the cost of one which slips imperceptibly
away.


VI

In the retrospect of a life which had, besides its preliminary stage
of childhood and early youth, two distinct developments, and even two
distinct elements, such as earth and water, for its successive scenes,
a certain amount of naiveness is unavoidable. I am conscious of it in
these pages. This remark is put forward in no apologetic spirit. As
years go by and the number of pages grows steadily, the feeling grows
upon one, too, that one can write only for friends. Then why should one
put them to the necessity of protesting (as a friend would do) that no
apology is necessary, or put, perchance, into their heads the doubt of
one's discretion? So much as to the care due to those friends whom a
word here, a line there, a fortunate page of just feeling in the right
place, some happy simplicity, or even some lucky subtlety, has drawn
from the great multitude of fellow beings even as a fish is drawn from
the depths of the sea. Fishing is notoriously (I am talking now of the
deep sea) a matter of luck. As to one's enemies, they will take care of
themselves.

There is a gentleman, for instance, who, metaphorically speaking, jumps
upon me with both feet. This image has no grace, but it is exceedingly
apt to the occasion--to the several occasions. I don't know precisely
how long he has been indulging in that intermittent exercise, whose
seasons are ruled by the custom of the publishing trade. Somebody
pointed him out (in printed shape, of course) to my attention some time
ago, and straightway I experienced a sort of reluctant affection for
that robust man. He leaves not a shred of my substance untrodden: for
the writer's substance is his writing; the rest of him is but a vain
shadow, cherished or hated on uncritical grounds. Not a shred! Yet the
sentiment owned to is not a freak of affectation or perversity. It has
a deeper, and, I venture to think, a more estimable origin than the
caprice of emotional lawlessness. It is, indeed, lawful, in so much
that it is given (reluctantly) for a consideration, for several
considerations. There is that robustness, for instance, so often the
sign of good moral balance. That's a consideration. It is not, indeed,
pleasant to be stamped upon, but the very thoroughness of the operation,
implying not only a careful reading, but some real insight into work
whose qualities and defects, whatever they may be, are not so much on
the surface, is something to be thankful for in view of the fact that it
may happen to one's work to be condemned without being read at all. This
is the most fatuous adventure that can well happen to a writer venturing
his soul among criticisms. It can do one no harm, of course, but it
is disagreeable. It is disagreeable in the same way as discovering
a three-card-trick man among a decent lot of folk in a third-class
compartment. The open impudence of the whole transaction, appealing
insidiously to the folly and credulity of man kind, the brazen,
shameless patter, proclaiming the fraud openly while insisting on the
fairness of the game, give one a feeling of sickening disgust. The
honest violence of a plain man playing a fair game fairly--even if he
means to knock you over--may appear shocking, but it remains within the
pale of decency. Damaging as it may be, it is in no sense offensive. One
may well feel some regard for honesty, even if practised upon one's own
vile body. But it is very obvious that an enemy of that sort will not be
stayed by explanations or placated by apologies. Were I to advance the
plea of youth in excuse of the naiveness to be found in these pages, he
would be likely to say "Bosh!" in a column and a half of fierce print.
Yet a writer is no older than his first published book, and, not
withstanding the vain appearances of decay which attend us in this
transitory life, I stand here with the wreath of only fifteen short
summers on my brow.

With the remark, then, that at such tender age some naiveness of feeling
and expression is excusable, I proceed to admit that, upon the whole,
my previous state of existence was not a good equipment for a literary
life. Perhaps I should not have used the word literary. That word
presupposes an intimacy of acquaintance with letters, a turn of mind,
and a manner of feeling to which I dare lay no claim. I only love
letters; but the love of letters does not make a literary man, any more
than the love of the sea makes a seaman. And it is very possible, too,
that I love the letters in the same way a literary man may love the
sea he looks at from the shore--a scene of great endeavour and of great
achievements changing the face of the world, the great open way to all
sorts of undiscovered countries. No, perhaps I had better say that the
life at sea--and I don't mean a mere taste of it, but a good broad span
of years, something that really counts as real service--is not, upon the
whole, a good equipment for a writing life. God forbid, though, that I
should be thought of as denying my masters of the quarter-deck. I am not
capable of that sort of apostasy. I have confessed my attitude of piety
toward their shades in three or four tales, and if any man on earth more
than another needs to be true to himself as he hopes to be saved, it is
certainly the writer of fiction.

What I meant to say, simply, is that the quarter-deck training does not
prepare one sufficiently for the reception of literary criticism. Only
that, and no more. But this defect is not without gravity. If it be
permissible to twist, invert, adapt (and spoil) Mr. Anatole France's
definition of a good critic, then let us say that the good author is he
who contemplates without marked joy or excessive sorrow the adventures
of his soul among criticisms. Far be from me the intention to mislead an
attentive public into the belief that there is no criticism at sea. That
would be dishonest, and even impolite. Ever thing can be found at
sea, according to the spirit of your quest--strife, peace, romance,
naturalism of the most pronounced kind, ideals, boredom, disgust,
inspiration--and every conceivable opportunity, including the
opportunity to make a fool of yourself, exactly as in the pursuit of
literature. But the quarter-deck criticism is somewhat different from
literary criticism. This much they have in common, that before the one
and the other the answering back, as a general rule, does not pay.

Yes, you find criticism at sea, and even appreciation--I tell you
everything is to be found on salt water--criticism generally impromptu,
and always _viva voce_, which is the outward, obvious difference from the
literary operation of that kind, with consequent freshness and vigour
which may be lacking in the printed word. With appreciation, which comes
at the end, when the critic and the criticised are about to part, it
is otherwise. The sea appreciation of one's humble talents has the
permanency of the written word, seldom the charm of variety, is formal
in its phrasing. There the literary master has the superiority, though
he, too, can in effect but say--and often says it in the very phrase--"I
can highly recommend." Only usually he uses the word "We," there being
some occult virtue in the first person plural which makes it specially
fit for critical and royal declarations. I have a small handful of these
sea appreciations, signed by various masters, yellowing slowly in my
writing-table's left hand drawer, rustling under my reverent touch, like
a handful of dry leaves plucked for a tender memento from the tree of
knowledge. Strange! It seems that it is for these few bits of paper,
headed by the names of a few Scots and English shipmasters, that I have
faced the astonished indignations, the mockeries, and the reproaches of
a sort hard to bear for a boy of fifteen; that I have been charged with
the want of patriotism, the want of sense, and the want of heart, too;
that I went through agonies of self-conflict and shed secret tears not
a few, and had the beauties of the Furca Pass spoiled for me, and have
been called an "incorrigible Don Quixote," in allusion to the book-born
madness of the knight. For that spoil! They rustle, those bits of
paper--some dozen of them in all. In that faint, ghostly sound there
live the memories of twenty years, the voices of rough men now no
more, the strong voice of the everlasting winds, and the whisper of a
mysterious spell, the murmur of the great sea, which must have somehow
reached my inland cradle and entered my unconscious ear, like that
formula of Mohammedan faith the Mussulman father whispers into the ear
of his new-born infant, making him one of the faithful almost with his
first breath. I do not know whether I have been a good seaman, but I
know I have been a very faithful one. And, after all, there is that
handful of "characters" from various ships to prove that all these years
have not been altogether a dream. There they are, brief, and monotonous
in tone, but as suggestive bits of writing to me as any inspired page to
be found in literature. But then, you see, I have been called romantic.
Well, that can't be helped. But stay. I seem to remember that I have
been called a realist, also. And as that charge, too, can be made out,
let us try to live up to it, at whatever cost, for a change. With this
end in view, I will confide to you coyly, and only because there is
no one about to see my blushes by the light of the midnight lamp, that
these suggestive bits of quarter-deck appreciation, one and all, contain
the words "strictly sober."

Did I overhear a civil murmur, "That's very gratifying, to be sure?"
Well, yes, it is gratifying--thank you. It is at least as gratifying to
be certified sober as to be certified romantic, though such certificates
would not qualify one for the secretaryship of a temperance association
or for the post of official troubadour to some lordly democratic
institution such as the London County Council, for instance. The above
prosaic reflection is put down here only in order to prove the general
sobriety of my judgment in mundane affairs. I make a point of it because
a couple of years ago, a certain short story of mine being published in
a French translation, a Parisian critic--I am almost certain it was M.
Gustave Kahn in the "Gil Blas"--giving me a short notice, summed up
his rapid impression of the writer's quality in the words _un puissant
reveur_. So be it! Who could cavil at the words of a friendly reader? Yet
perhaps not such an unconditional dreamer as all that. I will make bold
to say that neither at sea nor ashore have I ever lost the sense of
responsibility. There is more than one sort of intoxication. Even before
the most seductive reveries I have remained mindful of that sobriety of
interior life, that asceticism of sentiment, in which alone the naked
form of truth, such as one conceives it, such as one feels it, can be
rendered without shame. It is but a maudlin and indecent verity that
comes out through the strength of wine. I have tried to be a sober
worker all my life--all my two lives. I did so from taste, no doubt,
having an instinctive horror of losing my sense of full self-possession,
but also from artistic conviction. Yet there are so many pitfalls on
each side of the true path that, having gone some way, and feeling a
little battered and weary, as a middle-aged traveller will from the
mere daily difficulties of the march, I ask myself whether I have kept
always, always faithful to that sobriety where in there is power and
truth and peace.

As to my sea sobriety, that is quite properly certified under the
sign-manual of several trustworthy shipmasters of some standing in their
time. I seem to hear your polite murmur that "Surely this might have
been taken for granted." Well, no. It might not have been. That August
academical body, the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, takes
nothing for granted in the granting of its learned degrees. By its
regulations issued under the first Merchant Shipping Act, the very word
_sober_ must be written, or a whole sackful, a ton, a mountain of the
most enthusiastic appreciation will avail you nothing. The door of the
examination rooms shall remain closed to your tears and entreaties.
The most fanatical advocate of temperance could not be more pitilessly
fierce in his rectitude than the Marine Department of the Board of
Trade. As I have been face to face at various times with all the
examiners of the Port of London in my generation, there can be no doubt
as to the force and the continuity of my abstemiousness. Three of them
were examiners in seamanship, and it was my fate to be delivered into
the hands of each of them at proper intervals of sea service. The first
of all, tall, spare, with a perfectly white head and mustache, a quiet,
kindly manner, and an air of benign intelligence, must, I am forced
to conclude, have been unfavourably impressed by something in my
appearance. His old, thin hands loosely clasped resting on his crossed
legs, he began by an elementary question, in a mild voice, and went
on, went on. . . . It lasted for hours, for hours. Had I been a strange
microbe with potentialities of deadly mischief to the Merchant Service I
could not have been submitted to a more microscopic examination. Greatly
reassured by his apparent benevolence, I had been at first very alert in
my answers. But at length the feeling of my brain getting addled crept
upon me. And still the passionless process went on, with a sense of
untold ages having been spent already on mere preliminaries. Then I got
frightened. I was not frightened of being plucked; that eventuality did
not even present itself to my mind. It was something much more serious
and weird. "This ancient person," I said to myself, terrified, "is
so near his grave that he must have lost all notion of time. He is
considering this examination in terms of eternity. It is all very well
for him. His race is run. But I may find myself coming out of this
room into the world of men a stranger, friendless, forgotten by my very
landlady, even were I able after this endless experience to remember
the way to my hired home." This statement is not so much of a verbal
exaggeration as may be supposed. Some very queer thoughts passed through
my head while I was considering my answers; thoughts which had nothing
to do with seamanship, nor yet with anything reasonable known to this
earth. I verily believe that at times I was light-headed in a sort of
languid way. At last there fell a silence, and that, too, seemed to
last for ages, while, bending over his desk, the examiner wrote out my
pass-slip slowly with a noiseless pen. He extended the scrap of paper to
me without a word, inclined his white head gravely to my parting
bow. . . .

When I got out of the room I felt limply flat, like a squeezed lemon,
and the doorkeeper in his glass cage, where I stopped to get my hat and
tip him a shilling, said:

"Well! I thought you were never coming out."

"How long have I been in there?" I asked, faintly.

He pulled out his watch.

"He kept you, sir, just under three hours. I don't think this ever
happened with any of the gentlemen before."

It was only when I got out of the building that I began to walk on
air. And the human animal being averse from change and timid before the
unknown, I said to myself that I really would not mind being examined
by the same man on a future occasion. But when the time of ordeal
came round again the doorkeeper let me into another room, with the
now familiar paraphernalia of models of ships and tackle, a board for
signals on the wall, a big, long table covered with official forms
and having an unrigged mast fixed to the edge. The solitary tenant
was unknown to me by sight, though not by reputation, which was simply
execrable. Short and sturdy, as far as I could judge, clad in an old
brown morning-suit, he sat leaning on his elbow, his hand shading his
eyes, and half averted from the chair I was to occupy on the other side
of the table. He was motionless, mysterious, remote, enigmatical, with
something mournful, too, in the pose, like that statue of Giugliano (I
think) de Medici shading his face on the tomb by Michael Angelo, though,
of course, he was far, far from being beautiful. He began by trying to
make me talk nonsense. But I had been warned of that fiendish trait, and
contradicted him with great assurance. After a while he left off. So
far good. But his immobility, the thick elbow on the table, the
abrupt, unhappy voice, the shaded and averted face grew more and more
impressive. He kept inscrutably silent for a moment, and then, placing
me in a ship of a certain size, at sea, under conditions of weather,
season, locality, etc.--all very clear and precise--ordered me to
execute a certain manoeuvre. Before I was half through with it he did
some material damage to the ship. Directly I had grappled with the
difficulty he caused another to present itself, and when that, too,
was met he stuck another ship before me, creating a very dangerous
situation. I felt slightly outraged by this ingenuity in piling trouble
upon a man.

"I wouldn't have got into that mess," I suggested, mildly. "I could have
seen that ship before."

He never stirred the least bit.

"No, you couldn't. The weather's thick."

"Oh! I didn't know," I apologized blankly.

I suppose that after all I managed to stave off the smash with
sufficient approach to verisimilitude, and the ghastly business went on.
You must understand that the scheme of the test he was applying to me
was, I gathered, a homeward passage--the sort of passage I would not
wish to my bitterest enemy. That imaginary ship seemed to labour under
a most comprehensive curse. It's no use enlarging on these never-ending
misfortunes; suffice it to say that long before the end I would have
welcomed with gratitude an opportunity to exchange into the Flying
Dutchman. Finally he shoved me into the North Sea (I suppose) and
provided me with a lee shore with outlying sand-banks--the Dutch coast,
presumably. Distance, eight miles. The evidence of such implacable
animosity deprived me of speech for quite half a minute.

"Well," he said--for our pace had been very smart, indeed, till then.

"I will have to think a little, sir."

"Doesn't look as if there were much time to think," he muttered,
sardonically, from under his hand.

"No, sir," I said, with some warmth. "Not on board a ship, I could see.
But so many accidents have happened that I really can't remember what
there's left for me to work with."

Still half averted, and with his eyes concealed, he made unexpectedly a
grunting remark.

"You've done very well."

"Have I the two anchors at the bow, sir?" I asked.

"Yes."

I prepared myself then, as a last hope for the ship, to let them both
go in the most effectual manner, when his infernal system of testing
resourcefulness came into play again.

"But there's only one cable. You've lost the other."

It was exasperating.

"Then I would back them, if I could, and tail the heaviest hawser on
board on the end of the chain before letting go, and if she parted from
that, which is quite likely, I would just do nothing. She would have to
go."

"Nothing more to do, eh?"

"No, sir. I could do no more."

He gave a bitter half-laugh.

"You could always say your prayers."

He got up, stretched himself, and yawned slightly. It was a sallow,
strong, unamiable face. He put me, in a surly, bored fashion, through
the usual questions as to lights and signals, and I escaped from the
room thank fully--passed! Forty minutes! And again I walked on air
along Tower Hill, where so many good men had lost their heads because, I
suppose, they were not resourceful enough to save them. And in my heart
of hearts I had no objection to meeting that examiner once more when the
third and last ordeal became due in another year or so. I even hoped
I should. I knew the worst of him now, and forty minutes is not an
unreasonable time. Yes, I distinctly hoped. . . .

But not a bit of it. When I presented my self to be examined for master
the examiner who received me was short, plump, with a round, soft face
in gray, fluffy whiskers, and fresh, loquacious lips.

He commenced operations with an easy going "Let's see. H'm. Suppose you
tell me all you know of charter-parties." He kept it up in that style
all through, wandering off in the shape of comment into bits out of his
own life, then pulling himself up short and returning to the business in
hand. It was very interesting. "What's your idea of a jury-rudder now?"
he queried, suddenly, at the end of an instructive anecdote bearing upon
a point of stowage.

I warned him that I had no experience of a lost rudder at sea, and gave
him two classical examples of makeshifts out of a text-book. In exchange
he described to me a jury-rudder he had invented himself years before,
when in command of a three-thousand-ton steamer. It was, I declare, the
cleverest contrivance imaginable. "May be of use to you some day,"
he concluded. "You will go into steam presently. Everybody goes into
steam."

There he was wrong. I never went into steam--not really. If I only live
long enough I shall become a bizarre relic of a dead barbarism, a sort
of monstrous antiquity, the only seaman of the dark ages who had never
gone into steam--not really.

Before the examination was over he imparted to me a few interesting
details of the transport service in the time of the Crimean War.

"The use of wire rigging became general about that time, too," he
observed. "I was a very young master then. That was before you were
born."

"Yes, sir. I am of the year of 1857."

"The Mutiny year," he commented, as if to himself, adding in a louder
tone that his ship happened then to be in the Gulf of Bengal, employed
under a government charter.

Clearly the transport service had been the making of this examiner, who
so unexpectedly had given me an insight into his existence, awakening in
me the sense of the continuity of that sea life into which I had stepped
from outside; giving a touch of human intimacy to the machinery of
official relations. I felt adopted. His experience was for me, too, as
though he had been an ancestor.

Writing my long name (it has twelve letters) with laborious care on the
slip of blue paper, he remarked:

"You are of Polish extraction."

"Born there, sir."

He laid down the pen and leaned back to look at me as it were for the
first time.

"Not many of your nationality in our service, I should think. I never
remember meeting one either before or after I left the sea. Don't
remember ever hearing of one. An inland people, aren't you?"

I said yes--very much so. We were remote from the sea not only by
situation, but also from a complete absence of indirect association, not
being a commercial nation at all, but purely agricultural. He made then
the quaint reflection that it was "a long way for me to come out to
begin a sea life"; as if sea life were not precisely a life in which one
goes a long way from home.

I told him, smiling, that no doubt I could have found a ship much nearer
my native place, but I had thought to myself that if I was to be a
seaman, then I would be a British seaman and no other. It was a matter
of deliberate choice.

He nodded slightly at that; and, as he kept on looking at me
interrogatively, I enlarged a little, confessing that I had spent a
little time on the way in the Mediterranean and in the West Indies. I
did not want to present myself to the British Merchant Service in an
altogether green state. It was no use telling him that my mysterious
vocation was so strong that my very wild oats had to be sown at sea.
It was the exact truth, but he would not have understood the somewhat
exceptional psychology of my sea-going, I fear.

"I suppose you've never come across one of your countrymen at sea. Have
you, now?"

I admitted I never had. The examiner had given himself up to the spirit
of gossiping idleness. For myself, I was in no haste to leave that room.
Not in the least. The era of examinations was over. I would never
again see that friendly man who was a professional ancestor, a sort of
grandfather in the craft. Moreover, I had to wait till he dismissed me,
and of that there was no sign. As he remained silent, looking at me, I
added:

"But I have heard of one, some years ago. He seems to have been a boy
serving his time on board a Liverpool ship, if I am not mistaken."

"What was his name?"

I told him.

"How did you say that?" he asked, puckering up his eyes at the uncouth
sound.

I repeated the name very distinctly.

"How do you spell it?"

I told him. He moved his head at the impracticable nature of that name,
and observed:

"It's quite as long as your own--isn't it?"

There was no hurry. I had passed for master, and I had all the rest of
my life before me to make the best of it. That seemed a long time. I
went leisurely through a small mental calculation, and said:

"Not quite. Shorter by two letters, sir."

"Is it?" The examiner pushed the signed blue slip across the table to
me, and rose from his chair. Somehow this seemed a very abrupt ending of
our relations, and I felt almost sorry to part from that excellent man,
who was master of a ship before the whisper of the sea had reached my
cradle. He offered me his hand and wished me well. He even made a few
steps toward the door with me, and ended with good-natured advice.

"I don't know what may be your plans, but you ought to go into steam.
When a man has got his master's certificate it's the proper time. If I
were you I would go into steam."

I thanked him, and shut the door behind me definitely on the era of
examinations. But that time I did not walk on air, as on the first two
occasions. I walked across the hill of many beheadings with measured
steps. It was a fact, I said to myself, that I was now a British master
mariner beyond a doubt. It was not that I had an exaggerated sense of
that very modest achievement, with which, however, luck, opportunity,
or any extraneous influence could have had nothing to do. That
fact, satisfactory and obscure in itself, had for me a certain ideal
significance. It was an answer to certain outspoken scepticism and even
to some not very kind aspersions. I had vindicated myself from what had
been cried upon as a stupid obstinacy or a fantastic caprice. I don't
mean to say that a whole country had been convulsed by my desire to go
to sea. But for a boy between fifteen and sixteen, sensitive enough,
in all conscience, the commotion of his little world had seemed a very
considerable thing indeed. So considerable that, absurdly enough, the
echoes of it linger to this day. I catch myself in hours of solitude and
retrospect meeting arguments and charges made thirty-five years ago by
voices now forever still; finding things to say that an assailed boy
could not have found, simply because of the mysteriousness of his
impulses to himself. I understood no more than the people who called
upon me to explain myself. There was no precedent. I verily believe mine
was the only case of a boy of my nationality and antecedents taking
a, so to speak, standing jump out of his racial surroundings and
associations. For you must understand that there was no idea of any sort
of "career" in my call. Of Russia or Germany there could be no question.
The nationality, the antecedents, made it impossible. The feeling
against the Austrian service was not so strong, and I dare say there
would have been no difficulty in finding my way into the Naval School at
Pola. It would have meant six months' extra grinding at German, perhaps;
but I was not past the age of admission, and in other respects I was
well qualified. This expedient to palliate my folly was thought of--but
not by me. I must admit that in that respect my negative was accepted
at once. That order of feeling was comprehensible enough to the most
inimical of my critics. I was not called upon to offer explanations;
but the truth is that what I had in view was not a naval career, but
the sea. There seemed no way open to it but through France. I had the
language, at any rate, and of all the countries in Europe it is with
France that Poland has most connection. There were some facilities for
having me a little looked after, at first. Letters were being written,
answers were being received, arrangements were being made for my
departure for Marseilles, where an excellent fellow called Solary,
got at in a round about fashion through various French channels, had
promised good-naturedly to put le jeune homme in the way of getting a
decent ship for his first start if he really wanted a taste of ce metier
de chien.

I watched all these preparations gratefully, and kept my own counsel.
But what I told the last of my examiners was perfectly true. Already
the determined resolve that "if a seaman, then an English seaman" was
formulated in my head, though, of course, in the Polish language. I did
not know six words of English, and I was astute enough to understand
that it was much better to say nothing of my purpose. As it was I was
already looked upon as partly insane, at least by the more distant
acquaintances. The principal thing was to get away. I put my trust in
the good-natured Solary's very civil letter to my uncle, though I was
shocked a little by the phrase about the metier de chien.

This Solary (Baptistin), when I beheld him in the flesh, turned out a
quite young man, very good-looking, with a fine black, short beard, a
fresh complexion, and soft, merry black eyes. He was as jovial and good
natured as any boy could desire. I was still asleep in my room in a
modest hotel near the quays of the old port, after the fatigues of
the journey via Vienna, Zurich, Lyons, when he burst in, flinging the
shutters open to the sun of Provence and chiding me boisterously for
lying abed. How pleasantly he startled me by his noisy objurgations to
be up and off instantly for a "three years' campaign in the South Seas!"
O magic words! "_Une campagne de trois ans dans les mers du sud_"--that
is the French for a three years' deep-water voyage.

He gave me a delightful waking, and his friendliness was unwearied;
but I fear he did not enter upon the quest for a ship for me in a very
solemn spirit. He had been at sea himself, but had left off at the age
of twenty-five, finding he could earn his living on shore in a much more
agreeable manner. He was related to an incredible number of Marseilles
well-to-do families of a certain class. One of his uncles was a
ship-broker of good standing, with a large connection among English
ships; other relatives of his dealt in ships' stores, owned sail-lofts,
sold chains and anchors, were master-stevedores, calkers, shipwrights.

His grandfather (I think) was a dignitary of a kind, the Syndic of the
Pilots. I made acquaintances among these people, but mainly among the
pilots. The very first whole day I ever spent on salt water was by
invitation, in a big half-decked pilot-boat, cruising under close reefs
on the lookout, in misty, blowing weather, for the sails of ships and
the smoke of steamers rising out there, beyond the slim and tall Planier
lighthouse cutting the line of the wind-swept horizon with a white
perpendicular stroke. They were hospitable souls, these sturdy Provencal
seamen. Under the general designation of le petit ami de Baptistin I
was made the guest of the corporation of pilots, and had the freedom of
their boats night or day. And many a day and a night, too, did I spend
cruising with these rough, kindly men, under whose auspices my intimacy
with the sea began. Many a time "the little friend of Baptistin" had the
hooded cloak of the Mediterranean sailor thrown over him by their honest
hands while dodging at night under the lee of Chateau daft on the watch
for the lights of ships. Their sea tanned faces, whiskered or shaved,
lean or full, with the intent, wrinkled sea eyes of the pilot breed, and
here and there a thin gold hoop at the lobe of a hairy ear, bent over my
sea infancy. The first operation of seamanship I had an opportunity of
observing was the boarding of ships at sea, at all times, in all states
of the weather. They gave it to me to the full. And I have been invited
to sit in more than one tall, dark house of the old town at their
hospitable board, had the bouillabaisse ladled out into a thick plate
by their high-voiced, broad-browed wives, talked to their
daughters--thick-set girls, with pure profiles, glorious masses of black
hair arranged with complicated art, dark eyes, and dazzlingly white
teeth.

I had also other acquaintances of quite a different sort. One of them,
Madame Delestang, an imperious, handsome lady in a statuesque style,
would carry me off now and then on the front seat of her carriage to the
Prado, at the hour of fashionable airing. She belonged to one of the old
aristocratic families in the south. In her haughty weariness she used to
make me think of Lady Dedlock in Dickens's "Bleak House," a work of the
master for which I have such an admiration, or rather such an intense
and unreasoning affection, dating from the days of my childhood, that
its very weaknesses are more precious to me than the strength of other
men's work. I have read it innumerable times, both in Polish and
in English; I have read it only the other day, and, by a not very
surprising inversion, the Lady Dedlock of the book reminded me strongly
of the "belle Madame Delestang."

Her husband (as I sat facing them both), with his thin, bony nose and a
perfectly bloodless, narrow physiognomy clamped together, as it were,
by short, formal side whiskers, had nothing of Sir Leicester Dedlock's
"grand air" and courtly solemnity. He belonged to the haute bourgeoisie
only, and was a banker, with whom a modest credit had been opened for my
needs. He was such an ardent--no, such a frozen-up, mummified Royalist
that he used in current conversation turns of speech contemporary,
I should say, with the good Henri Quatre; and when talking of money
matters, reckoned not in francs, like the common, godless herd of
post-Revolutionary Frenchmen, but in obsolete and forgotten ecus--ecus
of all money units in the world!--as though Louis Quatorze were still
promenading in royal splendour the gardens of Versailles, and Monsieur
de Colbert busy with the direction of maritime affairs. You must admit
that in a banker of the nineteenth century it was a quaint idiosyncrasy.
Luckily, in the counting-house (it occupied part of the ground floor of
the Delestang town residence, in a silent, shady street) the accounts
were kept in modern money, so that I never had any difficulty in
making my wants known to the grave, low-voiced, decorous, Legitimist
(I suppose) clerks, sitting in the perpetual gloom of heavily barred
windows behind the sombre, ancient counters, beneath lofty ceilings with
heavily molded cornices. I always felt, on going out, as though I
had been in the temple of some very dignified but completely temporal
religion. And it was generally on these occasions that under the great
carriage gateway Lady Ded--I mean Madame Delestang--catching sight of my
raised hat, would beckon me with an amiable imperiousness to the side of
the carriage, and suggest with an air of amused nonchalance, "_Venez donc
faire un tour avec nous_," to which the husband would add an encouraging
"_C'est ca. Allons, montez, jeune homme_." He questioned me some times,
significantly but with perfect tact and delicacy, as to the way I
employed my time, and never failed to express the hope that I wrote
regularly to my "honoured uncle." I made no secret of the way I employed
my time, and I rather fancy that my artless tales of the pilots and so
on entertained Madame Delestang so far as that ineffable woman could
be entertained by the prattle of a youngster very full of his new
experience among strange men and strange sensations. She expressed no
opinions, and talked to me very little; yet her portrait hangs in the
gallery of my intimate memories, fixed there by a short and fleeting
episode. One day, after putting me down at the corner of a street,
she offered me her hand, and detained me, by a slight pressure, for a
moment. While the husband sat motionless and looking straight before
him, she leaned forward in the carriage to say, with just a shade of
warning in her leisurely tone: "_Il faut, cependant, faire attention a
ne pas gater sa vie_." I had never seen her face so close to mine before.
She made my heart beat and caused me to remain thoughtful for a whole
evening. Certainly one must, after all, take care not to spoil one's
life. But she did not know--nobody could know--how impossible that
danger seemed to me.


VII

Can the transports of first love be calmed, checked, turned to a cold
suspicion of the future by a grave quotation from a work on political
economy? I ask--is it conceivable? Is it possible? Would it be right?
With my feet on the very shores of the sea and about to embrace my
blue-eyed dream, what could a good-natured warning as to spoiling one's
life mean to my youthful passion? It was the most unexpected and the
last, too, of the many warnings I had received. It sounded to me very
bizarre--and, uttered as it was in the very presence of my enchantress,
like the voice of folly, the voice of ignorance. But I was not so
callous or so stupid as not to recognize there also the voice of
kindness. And then the vagueness of the warning--because what can be the
meaning of the phrase: to spoil one's life?--arrested one's attention
by its air of wise profundity. At any rate, as I have said before,
the words of la belle Madame Delestang made me thoughtful for a whole
evening. I tried to understand and tried in vain, not having any notion
of life as an enterprise that could be mi managed. But I left off being
thoughtful shortly before midnight, at which hour, haunted by no ghosts
of the past and by no visions of the future, I walked down the quay of
the Vieux Port to join the pilot-boat of my friends. I knew where she
would be waiting for her crew, in the little bit of a canal behind the
fort at the entrance of the harbour. The deserted quays looked very
white and dry in the moonlight, and as if frostbound in the sharp air
of that December night. A prowler or two slunk by noiselessly; a
custom-house guard, soldier-like, a sword by his side, paced close under
the bowsprits of the long row of ships moored bows on opposite the long,
slightly curved, continuous flat wall of the tall houses that seemed
to be one immense abandoned building with innumerable windows shuttered
closely. Only here and there a small, dingy cafe for sailors cast a
yellow gleam on the bluish sheen of the flagstones. Passing by, one
heard a deep murmur of voices inside--nothing more. How quiet everything
was at the end of the quays on the last night on which I went out for
a service cruise as a guest of the Marseilles pilots! Not a footstep,
except my own, not a sigh, not a whispering echo of the usual revelry
going on in the narrow, unspeakable lanes of the Old Town reached my
ear--and suddenly, with a terrific jingling rattle of iron and glass,
the omnibus of the Jolliette on its last journey swung around the corner
of the dead wall which faces across the paved road the characteristic
angular mass of the Fort St. Jean. Three horses trotted abreast, with
the clatter of hoofs on the granite setts, and the yellow, uproarious
machine jolted violently behind them, fantastic, lighted up, perfectly
empty, and with the driver apparently asleep on his swaying perch above
that amazing racket. I flattened myself against the wall and gasped. It
was a stunning experience. Then after staggering on a few paces in
the shadow of the fort, casting a darkness more intense than that of a
clouded night upon the canal, I saw the tiny light of a lantern standing
on the quay, and became aware of muffled figures making toward it from
various directions. Pilots of the Third Company hastening to embark.
Too sleepy to be talkative, they step on board in silence. But a few low
grunts and an enormous yawn are heard. Somebody even ejaculates: "_Ah!
Coquin de sort!_" and sighs wearily at his hard fate.

The patron of the Third Company (there were five companies of pilots
at that time, I believe) is the brother-in-law of my friend Solary
(Baptistin), a broad-shouldered, deep chested man of forty, with a keen,
frank glance which always seeks your eyes.

He greets me by a low, hearty "_He, l'ami. Comment va_?" With his clipped
mustache and massive open face, energetic and at the same time placid
in expression, he is a fine specimen of the southerner of the calm
type. For there is such a type in which the volatile southern passion
is transmuted into solid force. He is fair, but no one could mistake him
for a man of the north even by the dim gleam of the lantern standing on
the quay. He is worth a dozen of your ordinary Normans or Bretons, but
then, in the whole immense sweep of the Mediterranean shores, you could
not find half a dozen men of his stamp.

Standing by the tiller, he pulls out his watch from under a thick jacket
and bends his head over it in the light cast into the boat. Time's up.
His pleasant voice commands, in a quiet undertone, "_Larguez_." A suddenly
projected arm snatches the lantern off the quay--and, warped along by
a line at first, then with the regular tug of four heavy sweeps in
the bow, the big half-decked boat full of men glides out of the black,
breathless shadow of the fort. The open water of the avant-port glitters
under the moon as if sown over with millions of sequins, and the long
white break water shines like a thick bar of solid silver. With a quick
rattle of blocks and one single silky swish, the sail is filled by a
little breeze keen enough to have come straight down from the frozen
moon, and the boat, after the clatter of the hauled-in sweeps, seems
to stand at rest, surrounded by a mysterious whispering so faint and
unearthly that it may be the rustling of the brilliant, overpowering
moon rays breaking like a rain-shower upon the hard, smooth, shadowless
sea.

I may well remember that last night spent with the pilots of the Third
Company. I have known the spell of moonlight since, on various seas
and coasts--coasts of forests, of rocks, of sand dunes--but no magic so
perfect in its revelation of unsuspected character, as though one were
allowed to look upon the mystic nature of material things. For hours I
suppose no word was spoken in that boat. The pilots, seated in two rows
facing each other, dozed, with their arms folded and their chins resting
upon their breasts. They displayed a great variety of caps: cloth, wool,
leather, peaks, ear-flaps, tassels, with a picturesque round beret or
two pulled down over the brows; and one grandfather, with a shaved, bony
face and a great beak of a nose, had a cloak with a hood which made him
look in our midst like a cowled monk being carried off goodness knows
where by that silent company of seamen--quiet enough to be dead.

My fingers itched for the tiller, and in due course my friend, the
patron, surrendered it to me in the same spirit in which the family
coachman lets a boy hold the reins on an easy bit of road.

There was a great solitude around us; the islets ahead, Monte Cristo and
the Chateau daft in full light, seemed to float toward us--so steady, so
imperceptible was the progress of our boat. "Keep her in the furrow
of the moon," the patron directed me, in a quiet murmur, sitting down
ponderously in the stern-sheets and reaching for his pipe.

The pilot station in weather like this was only a mile or two to the
westward of the islets; and presently, as we approached the spot, the
boat we were going to relieve swam into our view suddenly, on her way
home, cutting black and sinister into the wake of the moon under a
sable wing, while to them our sail must have been a vision of white
and dazzling radiance. Without altering the course a hair's breadth we
slipped by each other within an oar's length. A drawling, sardonic hail
came out of her. Instantly, as if by magic, our dozing pilots got on
their feet in a body. An incredible babel of bantering shouts burst out,
a jocular, passionate, voluble chatter, which lasted till the boats were
stern to stern, theirs all bright now, and, with a shining sail to our
eyes, we turned all black to their vision, and drew away from them under
a sable wing. That extraordinary uproar died away almost as suddenly
as it had begun; first one had enough of it and sat down, then another,
then three or four together; and when all had left off with mutters
and growling half-laughs the sound of hearty chuckling became audible,
persistent, unnoticed. The cowled grandfather was very much entertained
somewhere within his hood.

He had not joined in the shouting of jokes, neither had he moved the
least bit. He had remained quietly in his place against the foot of the
mast. I had been given to understand long before that he had the rating
of a second-class able seaman (matelot leger) in the fleet which sailed
from Toulon for the conquest of Algeria in the year of grace 1830. And,
indeed, I had seen and examined one of the buttons of his old brown,
patched coat, the only brass button of the miscellaneous lot, flat and
thin, with the words Equipages de ligne engraved on it. That sort of
button, I believe, went out with the last of the French Bourbons.

"I preserved it from the time of my navy service," he explained, nodding
rapidly his frail, vulture-like head. It was not very likely that he had
picked up that relic in the street. He looked certainly old enough to
have fought at Trafalgar--or, at any rate, to have played his little
part there as a powder monkey. Shortly after we had been introduced he
had informed me in a Franco-Provencal jargon, mumbling tremulously with
his toothless jaws, that when he was a "shaver no higher than that" he
had seen the Emperor Napoleon returning from Elba. It was at night,
he narrated vaguely, without animation, at a spot between Frejus and
Antibes, in the open country. A big fire had been lit at the side of the
cross-roads. The population from several villages had collected there,
old and young--down to the very children in arms, because the women had
refused to stay at home. Tall soldiers wearing high, hairy caps stood
in a circle, facing the people silently, and their stern eyes and big
mustaches were enough to make everybody keep at a distance. He, "being
an impudent little shaver," wriggled out of the crowd, creeping on his
hands and knees as near as he dared to the grenadiers' legs, and peeping
through discovered, standing perfectly still in the light of the fire,
"a little fat fellow in a three-cornered hat, buttoned up in a long
straight coat, with a big, pale face inclined on one shoulder, looking
something like a priest. His hands were clasped behind his back. . . .
It appears that this was the Emperor," the ancient commented, with a
faint sigh. He was staring from the ground with all his might, when
"my poor father," who had been searching for his boy frantically every
where, pounced upon him and hauled him away by the ear.

The tale seems an authentic recollection. He related it to me many
times, using the very same words. The grandfather honoured me by a
special and somewhat embarrassing predilection. Extremes touch. He was
the oldest member by a long way in that company, and I was, if I may say
so, its temporarily adopted baby. He had been a pilot longer than any
man in the boat could remember; thirty--forty years. He did not seem
certain himself, but it could be found out, he suggested, in the
archives of the Pilot-office. He had been pensioned off years before,
but he went out from force of habit; and, as my friend the patron of the
company once confided to me in a whisper, "the old chap did no harm.
He was not in the way." They treated him with rough deference. One and
another would address some insignificant remark to him now and again,
but nobody really took any notice of what he had to say. He had survived
his strength, his usefulness, his very wisdom. He wore long, green,
worsted stockings pulled up above the knee over his trousers, a sort of
woollen nightcap on his hairless cranium, and wooden clogs on his feet.
Without his hooded cloak he looked like a peasant. Half a dozen hands
would be extended to help him on board, but afterward he was left pretty
much to his own thoughts. Of course he never did any work, except,
perhaps, to cast off some rope when hailed, "_He, l'Ancien!_ let go the
halyards there, at your hand"--or some such request of an easy kind.

No one took notice in any way of the chuckling within the shadow of the
hood. He kept it up for a long time with intense enjoyment. Obviously he
had preserved intact the innocence of mind which is easily amused. But
when his hilarity had exhausted itself, he made a professional remark in
a self-assertive but quavering voice:

"Can't expect much work on a night like this."

No one took it up. It was a mere truism. Nothing under canvas could be
expected to make a port on such an idle night of dreamy splendour and
spiritual stillness. We would have to glide idly to and fro, keeping our
station within the appointed bearings, and, unless a fresh breeze sprang
up with the dawn, we would land before sunrise on a small islet that,
within two miles of us, shone like a lump of frozen moonlight, to "break
a crust and take a pull at the wine bottle." I was familiar with the
procedure. The stout boat emptied of her crowd would nestle her buoyant,
capable side against the very rock--such is the perfectly smooth amenity
of the classic sea when in a gentle mood. The crust broken and the
mouthful of wine swallowed--it was literally no more than that with this
abstemious race--the pilots would pass the time stamping their feet on
the slabs of sea-salted stone and blowing into their nipped fingers. One
or two misanthropists would sit apart, perched on boulders like
manlike sea-fowl of solitary habits; the sociably disposed would
gossip scandalously in little gesticulating knots; and there would be
perpetually one or another of my hosts taking aim at the empty horizon
with the long, brass tube of the telescope, a heavy, murderous-looking
piece of collective property, everlastingly changing hands with
brandishing and levelling movements. Then about noon (it was a short
turn of duty--the long turn lasted twenty-four hours) another boatful
of pilots would relieve us--and we should steer for the old Phoenician
port, dominated, watched over from the ridge of a dust-gray, arid hill
by the red-and-white striped pile of the Notre Dame de la Garde.

All this came to pass as I had foreseen in the fullness of my very
recent experience. But also something not foreseen by me did happen,
something which causes me to remember my last outing with the pilots. It
was on this occasion that my hand touched, for the first time, the side
of an English ship.

No fresh breeze had come with the dawn, only the steady little draught
got a more keen edge on it as the eastern sky became bright and glassy
with a clean, colourless light. I t was while we were all ashore on the
islet that a steamer was picked up by the telescope, a black speck like
an insect posed on the hard edge of the offing. She emerged rapidly to
her water-line and came on steadily, a slim hull with a long streak of
smoke slanting away from the rising sun. We embarked in a hurry, and
headed the boat out for our prey, but we hardly moved three miles an
hour.

She was a big, high-class cargo-steamer of a type that is to be met on
the sea no more--black hull, with low, white superstructures, powerfully
rigged with three masts and a lot of yards on the fore; two hands at her
enormous wheel--steam steering-gear was not a matter of course in these
days--and with them on the bridge three others, bulky in thick blue
jackets, ruddy-faced, muffled up, with peak caps--I suppose all her
officers. There are ships I have met more than once and known well by
sight whose names I have forgotten; but the name of that ship seen once
so many years ago in the clear flush of a cold, pale sunrise I have not
forgotten. How could I--the first English ship on whose side I ever
laid my hand! The name--I read it letter by letter on the bow--was
James Westoll. Not very romantic, you will say. The name of a very
considerable, well-known, and universally respected North country
ship-owner, I believe. James Westoll! What better name could an
honourable hard-working ship have? To me the very grouping of the
letters is alive with the romantic feeling of her reality as I saw her
floating motionless and borrowing an ideal grace from the austere purity
of the light.

We were then very near her and, on a sudden impulse, I volunteered to
pull bow in the dinghy which shoved off at once to put the pilot on
board while our boat, fanned by the faint air which had attended us all
through the night, went on gliding gently past the black, glistening
length of the ship. A few strokes brought us alongside, and it was then
that, for the very first time in my life, I heard myself addressed
in English--the speech of my secret choice, of my future, of long
friendships, of the deepest affections, of hours of toil and hours of
ease, and of solitary hours, too, of books read, of thoughts pursued,
of remembered emotions--of my very dreams! And if (after being thus
fashioned by it in that part of me which cannot decay) I dare not claim
it aloud as my own, then, at any rate, the speech of my children. Thus
small events grow memorable by the passage of time. As to the quality
of the address itself I cannot say it was very striking. Too short for
eloquence and devoid of all charm of tone, it consisted precisely of the
three words "Look out there!" growled out huskily above my head.

It proceeded from a big fat fellow (he had an obtrusive, hairy double
chin) in a blue woollen shirt and roomy breeches pulled up very high,
even to the level of his breastbone, by a pair of braces quite exposed
to public view. As where he stood there was no bulwark, but only a
rail and stanchions, I was able to take in at a glance the whole of his
voluminous person from his feet to the high crown of his soft black hat,
which sat like an absurd flanged cone on his big head. The grotesque and
massive aspect of that deck hand (I suppose he was that--very likely the
lamp-trimmer) surprised me very much. My course of reading, of dreaming,
and longing for the sea had not prepared me for a sea brother of that
sort. I never met again a figure in the least like his except in the
illustrations to Mr. W. W. Jacobs's most entertaining tales of barges
and coasters; but the inspired talent of Mr. Jacobs for poking endless
fun at poor, innocent sailors in a prose which, however extravagant in
its felicitous invention, is always artistically adjusted to observed
truth, was not yet. Perhaps Mr. Jacobs himself was not yet. I fancy
that, at most, if he had made his nurse laugh it was about all he had
achieved at that early date.

Therefore, I repeat, other disabilities apart, I could not have been
prepared for the sight of that husky old porpoise. The object of
his concise address was to call my attention to a rope which he
incontinently flung down for me to catch. I caught it, though it was
not really necessary, the ship having no way on her by that time. Then
everything went on very swiftly. The dinghy came with a slight bump
against the steamer's side; the pilot, grabbing for the rope ladder, had
scrambled half-way up before I knew that our task of boarding was done;
the harsh, muffled clanging of the engine-room telegraph struck my ear
through the iron plate; my companion in the dinghy was urging me to
"shove off--push hard"; and when I bore against the smooth flank of
the first English ship I ever touched in my life, I felt it already
throbbing under my open palm.

Her head swung a little to the west, pointing toward the miniature
lighthouse of the Jolliette breakwater, far away there, hardly
distinguishable against the land. The dinghy danced a squashy, splashy
jig in the wash of the wake; and, turning in my seat, I followed the
James Westoll with my eyes. Before she had gone in a quarter of a mile
she hoisted her flag, as the harbour regulations prescribe for arriving
and departing ships. I saw it suddenly flicker and stream out on the
flag staff. The Red Ensign! In the pellucid, colourless atmosphere
bathing the drab and gray masses of that southern land, the livid
islets, the sea of pale, glassy blue under the pale, glassy sky of that
cold sunrise, it was, as far as the eye could reach, the only spot of
ardent colour--flame-like, intense, and presently as minute as the tiny
red spark the concentrated reflection of a great fire kindles in
the clear heart of a globe of crystal. The Red Ensign--the symbolic,
protecting, warm bit of bunting flung wide upon the seas, and destined
for so many years to be the only roof over my head.





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