Joseph Conrad.

The arrow of gold : a story between two notes online

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JosepACmrcms*



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V 1



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romance cfflicerned mainly with the love-
cory of a Jpung sea captain and a beautiful
Spanish ^M^ at the time when Don Carlos
made h^Mistoric attempt for the throne of Spain.
Gi^MBne theme, the characters, the romantic
set^M^^d Mr. Conrad's handling, this story
m^ perhaps be regarded as a landmark in the
work of one of our great contemporary writers.



POEMS

OF

Robert W.
Service



Cloth, 4/6 Net each

1. SONGS OF A

SOURDOUGH

2. RHYMES OF A

RED CROSS

MAN

3. BALLADS OF A

CHEECHAKO

4. RHYMES OF A
ROLLING STONE



T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD.
LONDON



I






THE ARROW OF GOLD



NOVELS BY JOSEPH CONRAD



ALMAYER'S FOLLY

" This is decidedly a powerful story of an uncommon
type, and breaks fresh ground in fiction." — Spectator.

" ' Almayer's Folly ' is a very powerful story indeed,
with effects that will certainly capture the imagination
and haunt the memory of the reader."

Saturday Review.

AN OUTCAST OF
THE ISLANDS

" Surely this is real romance — the romance that is
real. . . . Mr. Ccxirad imagines his scenes like a
master ; he knows his individualities and their hearts ;
he has a new and wonderful field in this East Indian
novel of his." — Saturday Review.

TALES OF UNREST

" This volume is a work of real imagination ; in these
stories a piece of life has be«n digested, generalised,
and maturely reproduced." — Manchester Guardian.

"These 'Tales of Unrest' are all ably told and
fascinatingly interesting."— Z'azVy Chronicle.



T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD.



LONDON



THE

ARROW OF GOLD

A STORY BETWEEN TWO NOTES



JOSEPH CONRAD



Celui qui n'a connu que des hommes
polis et raisonnables, ou ne connait pas
rhomine, ou ne le connait qu'a demi.
Cabagtbbes.



LONDON : T. FISHER UNWIN, LTD.
ADELPHI TERRACE



Mnt pibblUhed in 1919



ALL BIGHTS BB8BRVHD



TO

RICHARD CURLE



THE ARROW OF GOLD



FIRST NOTE

The pages which follow have been extracted from a
pile of manuscript which was apparently meant for the
eye of one woman only. She seems to have been the
writer's childhood's friend. They had parted as children,
or very little more than children. Years passed. Then
something recalled to the woman the companion of her
yoimg days and she wrote to him : "I have been hearing
of you lately. I know where life has brought you. You
certainly selected your own road. But to us, left behind,
it always looked as if you had struck out into a pathless
desert. We always regarded you as a person that must
be given up for lost. But you have turned up again;
and though we may never see each other, my memory
welcomes you and I confess to you I should like to know
the incidents on the road which has led you to where you
are now."

And he answers her : "I believe you are the only one
now alive who remembers me as a child. I have heard
of you from time to time, but I wonder what sort of per-
son you are now. Perhaps if I did know I wouldn't dare
put pen to paper. But I don't know. I only remember
that we were great chums. In fact, I chummed with you
even more than with your brothers. But I am like the
pigeon that went away in the fable of the Two Pigeons.
If I once start to tell you I would want you to feel that

vii



viii FIRST NOTE

you have been there yourself. I may overtax your
patience with the story of my life so different from yours,
not only in all the facts but altogether in spirit. You
may not understand. You may even be shocked. I say
all this to myself ; but I know I shall succiunb ! I have a
distinct recollection that in the old days, when you were
about fifteen, you always could make me do whatever
you Hked."

He succumbed. He begins his story for her with the
minute narration of this adventure which took about
twelve months to develop. In the form in which it is
presented here it has been pruned of all allusions to their
common past, of all asides, disquisitions, and explana-
tions addressed directly to the friend of his childhood.
And even as it is the whole thing is of considerable length.
It seems that he had not only a memory but that he also
knew how to remember. But as to that opinions may
differ.

This, his first great adventure, as he calls it, begins in
Marseilles. It ends there, too. Yet it might have hap-
pened anywhere. This does not mean that the people
concerned could have come together in pure space. The
locality had a definite importance. As to the time, it is
easily fixed by the events at about the middle years of the
seventies, when Don Carlos de Bourbon, encouraged by
the general reaction of all Europe against the excesses of
communistic Republicanism, made his attempt for the
throne of Spain, arms in hand, amongst the hills and
gorges of Guipuzcoa. It is perhaps the last instance of
a Pretender's adventure for a Crown that History will
have to record with the usual grave moral disapproval
tinged by a shamefaced regret for the departing romance.
Historians are very much like other people.

However, History has nothing to do with this tale.
Neither is the moral justification or condemnation of



FIRST NOTE ix

conduct aimed at here. If anything it is perhaps a httle
sympathy that the writer expects for his buried youth,
as he hves it over again at the end of his insignificant
course on this earth. Strange person — yet perhaps not
so very different from ourselves.

A few words as to certain facts may be added.

It may seem that he was plunged very abruptly into
this long adventure. But from certain passages (sup-
pressed here because mixed up with irrelevant matter) it
appears clearly that at the time of the meeting in the
cafe, Mills had already gathered, in various quarters, a
definite view of the eager youth who had been intro-
duced to him in that ultra-legitimist salon. What Mills
had learned represented him as a young gentleman who
had arrived furnished with proper credentials and who
apparently was doing his best to waste his life in an eccentric
fashion, with a bohemian set (one poet, at least, emerged
out of it later) on one side, and on the other making
friends with the people of the Old Town, pilots, coasters,
sailors, workers of all sorts. He pretended rather ab-
surdly to be a seaman himself and was already credited
with an ill-defined and vaguely illegal enterprise in the
Gulf of Mexico. At once it occiirred to Mills that this
eccentric youngster was the very person for what the legi-
timist sympathizers had very much at heart just then :
to organize a supply by sea of arms and ammunition to
the Carlist detachments in the South. It was precisely
to confer on that matter with Dona Rita that Captain
Blimt had been despatched from Headquarters.

Mills got in touch with Blunt at once and put the sug-
gestion before him. The Captain thought this the very
thing. As a matter of fact, on that evening of Carnival,
those two, Mills and Blunt, had been actually looking
everywhere for our man. They had decided that he
should be drawn into the affair if it could be done. Blimt



X FIRST NOTE

naturally wanted to see him first. He must have esti-
mated him a promising person, but, from another point
of view, not dangerous. Thus lightly was the notorious
(and at the same time mysterious) Monsieur George brought
into the world ; out of the contact of two minds which
did not give a single thought to his flesh and blood.

Their purpose explains the intimate tone given to their
first conversation and the sudden introduction of Dona
Rita's history. Mills, of course, wanted to hear all about
it. As to Captain Blunt I suspect that, at the time, he
was thinking of nothing else. In addition it was Dona
Rita who would have to do the persuading ; for, after all,
such an enterprise with its ugly and desperate risks was not
a trifle to put before a man — however young.

It cannot be denied that Mills seems to have acted some-
what imscrupulously. He himself appears to have had
some doubt about it, at a given moment, as they were
driving to the Prado. But perhaps Mills, with his penetra-
tion, understood very well the nature he was dealing with.
He might even have envied it. But it's not my business
to excuse Mills. As to him whom we may regard as Mills'
victim it is obvious that he has never harboured a single
reproachful thought. For him Mills is not to be criticized.
A remarkable instance of the great power of mere individu-
ality over the young.



PART ONE



Certain streets have an atmosphere of their own, a sort
of universal fame and the particular afiection of their
citizens. One of such streets is the Cannebi^re, and the
jest: "If Paris had a Cannebi^re it would be a little
Marseilles " is the jocular expression of municipal pride.
I, too, I have been under the spell. For me it has been a
street leading into the unknown.

There was a part of it where one could see as many as
five big cafes in a resplendent row. That evening I
strolled into one of them. It was by no means full. It
looked deserted, in fact, festal and overlighted, but cheer-
ful. The wonderful street was distinctly cold (it was an
evening of carnival), I was very idle, and I was feeling a
little lonely. So I went in and sat down.

The carnival time was drawing to an end. Everybody,
high and low, was anxious to have the last fling. Com-
panies of masks with linked arms and whooping like red
Indians swept the streets in crazy rushes while gusts of
cold mistral swayed the gas lights as far as the eye could
reach. There was a touch of bedlam in all this.

Perhaps it was that which made me feel lonely, since I
was neither masked, nor disguised, nor yelling, nor in
any other way in harmony with the bedlam element of
life. But I was not sad. I was merely in a state of so-
briety. I had just returned from my second West Indies
1



^ THE ARROW OF GOLD

voyage. My eyes were still full of tropical splendour,
my memory of my experiences, lawful and lawless, which
had their charm and their thrill ; for they had startled
me a little and had amused me considerably. But they
had left me untouched. Indeed they were other men's
adventures, not mine. Except for a little habit of respon-
sibility which I had acquired they had not matured me.
I was as young as before. Inconceivably young — still
beautifully unthinking — infinitely receptive.

You may believe that I was not thinking of Don Carlos
and his fight for a kingdom. Why should I ? You don't
want to think of things which you meet every day in
the newspapers and in conversation. I had paid some
calls since my return and most of my acquaintance were
legitimists and intensely interested in the events of the
frontier of Spain, for political, religious, or romantic
reasons. But I was not interested. Apparently I was
not romantic enough. Or was it that I was even more
romantic than all those good people ? The affair seemed
to me commonplace. That man was attending to his
business of a Pretender.

On the front page of the illustrated paper I saw lying
on a table near me, he looked picturesque enough, seated
on a boulder, a big strong man with a square-cut beard,
his hands resting on the hilt of a cavalry sabre — and all
around him a landscape of savage mountains. He caught
my eye on that spiritedly composed woodcut. (There
were no inane snapshot-reproductions in those days.) It
was the obvious romance for the use of royalists but it
arrested my attention.

Just then some masks from outside invaded the caf^,
dancing hand in hand in a single file led by a burly man
with a cardboard nose. He gambolled in wildly and
behind him twenty others perhaps, mostly Pierrots and
Pierrettes holding each other by the hand and winding in



THE ARROW OF GOLD 8

and out between the chairs and tables : eyes shining in
the holes of cardboard faces, breasts panting; but all
preserving a mysterious silence.

They were people of the poorer sort (white calico with
red spots, costumes), but amongst them there was a girl
in a black dress sewn over with gold half moons, very
high in the neck and very short in the skirt. Most of
the ordinary clients of the caf6 didn't even look up from
their games or papers. I, being alone and idle, stared
abstractedly. The girl costumed as Night wore a small
black velvet mask, what is called in French a " Zowp."
What made her daintiness join that obviously rough lot
I can't imagine. Her uncovered mouth and chin sug-
gested refined prettiness.

They filed past my table ; the Night noticed perhaps
my fixed gaze and throwing her body forward out of the
wriggling chain shot out at me a slender tongue like a
pink dart. I was not prepared for this, not even to the
extent of an appreciative " Tres joli,'' before she wriggled
and hopped away. But having been thus distinguished
I could do no less than follow her with my eyes to the
door where the chain of hands being broken all the masks
were trying to get out at once. Two gentlemen coming
in out of the street stood arrested in the crush. The
Night (it must have been her idiosyncrasy) put her tongue
out at them, too. The taller of the two (he was in evening
clothes under a light wide-open overcoat) with great
presence of mind chucked her under the chin, giving me
the view at the same time of a flash of white teeth in his
dark, lean face. The other man was very different ; fair,
with smooth, ruddy cheeks and burly shoulders. He
was wearing a grey suit, obviously bought ready-made,
for it seemed too tight for his powerful frame.

That man was not altogether a stranger to me. For
the last week or so I had been rather on the look-out for



4 THE ARROW OF GOLD

him in all the public places where in a provincial town
men may expect to meet each other. I saw him for the
first time (wearing that same grey ready-made suit) in a
legitimist drawing-room where, clearly, he was an object
of interest, especially to the women. I had caught his
name as Monsieur Mills. The lady who had introduced
me took the earliest opportunity to murmur into my ear :
" A relation of Lord X." (Un proche parent de Lord X.)
And then she added, casting up her eyes : " A good friend
of the King." Meaning Don Carlos of course.

I looked at the proche parent ; not on accoimt of the
parentage but marvelling at his air of ease in that cum-
brous body and in such tight clothes, too. But presently
the same lady informed me further : " He has come here
amongst us un naufragS."

I became then really interested. I had never seen a
shipwrecked person before. All the boyishness in me
was aroused. I considered a shipwreck as an unavoid-
able event sooner or later in my future.

Meantime the man thus distinguished in my eyes glanced
quietly about and never spoke unless addressed directly
by one of the ladies present. There were more than a
dozen people in that drawing-room, mostly women eating
fine pastry and talking passionately. It might have been
a Carlist committee meeting of a particularly fatuous
character. Even my youth and inexperience were aware
of that. And I was by a long way the youngest person in
the room. That quiet Monsieur Mills intimidated me a
little by his age (I suppose he was thirty-five), his massive
tranquillity, his clear, watchful eyes. But the temptation
was too great — and I addressed him impulsively on the
subject of that shipwreck.

He turned his big fair face towards me with surprise in
his keen glance, which (as though he had seen through
me in an instant and found nothing objectionable) changed



THE ARROW OF GOLD 5

subtly into friendliness. On the matter of the shipwreck
he did not say much. He only told me that it had not
occurred in the Mediterranean, but on the other side of
Southern France — in the Bay of Biscay. " But this is
hardly the place to enter on a story of that kind," he
observed, looking round at the room with a faint smile as
attractive as the rest of his rustic but well-bred personality.

I expressed my regret. I should have liked to hear all
about it. To this he said that it was not a secret and
that perhaps next time we met. . . .

" But where can we meet ? " I cried. " I don't come
often to this house, you know."

" Where ? Why on the Cannebi^re to be sure. Every-
body meets everybody else at least once a day on the
pavement opposite the Bourse.^'

This was absolutely true. But though I looked for
him on each succeeding day he was nowhere to be seen
at the usual times. The companions of my idle hours
(and all my hours were idle just then) noticed my preoc-
cupation and chaffed me about it in a rather obvious
way. They wanted to know whether she, whom I ex-
pected to see, was dark or fair ; whether that fascination
which kept me on tenterhooks of expectation was one of
my aristocrats or one of my marine beauties : for they
knew I had a footing in both these — shall we say circles ?
As to themselves they were the bohemian circle, not very
wide — half a dozen of us led by a sculptor whom we called
Prax for short. My own nick-name was " Young Ulysses."
I liked it.

But chaff or no chaff they would have been surprised to
see me leave them for the burly and sympathetic Mills.
I was ready to drop any easy company of equals to approach
that interesting man with every mental deference. It
was not precisely because of that shipwreck. He attracted
and interested me the more because he was not to be seen.



6 THE ARROW OF GOLD

The fear that he might have departed suddenly for Eng-
land — (or for Spain) — caused me a sort of ridiculous depres-
sion as though I had missed a unique opportunity. And
it was a joyful reaction which emboldened me to signal to
him with a raised arm across that cafe.

I was abashed immediately afterwards, when I saw
him advance towards my table with his friend. The latter
was eminently elegant. He was exactly like one of those
figures one can see of a fine May evening in the neighbour-
hood of the Opera-house in Paris. Very Parisian indeed.
And yet he struck me as not so perfectly French as he
ought to have been, as if one's nationality were an
accomplishment with varying degrees of excellence. As
to JMills, he was perfectly insular. There could be no
doubt about him. They were both smiling faintly at me.
The burly Mills attended to the introduction : " Captain
Blunt."

We shook hands. The name didn't tell me much. What
surprised me was that Mills should have remembered
mine so well. I don't want to boast of my modesty but it
seemed to me that two or three days was more than enough
for a man like Mills to forget my very existence. As to
the Captain, I was struck on closer view by the perfect
correctness of his personality. Clothes, slight figure, clear-
cut, thin, sun-tanned face, pose, all this was so good that
it was saved from the danger of banality only by the
mobile black eyes of a keenness that one doesn't meet every
day in the south of France and still less in Italy. Another
thing was that, viewed as an officer in mufti, he did not
look sufficiently professional. That imperfection was
interesting, too.

You may think that I am subtihzing my impressions
on purpose, but you may take it from a man who has
lived a rough, a very rough life, that it is the subtleties of
personalities, and contacts, and events, that count for



THE ARROW OF GOLD T

interest and memory — and pretty well nothing else.
This — you see — is the last evening of that part of my
life in which I did not know that woman. These are
like the last hours of a previous existence. It isn't my
fault that they are associated with nothing better at the
decisive moment than the banal splendours of a gilded
cafe and the bedlamite yells of carnival in the street.

We three, however (almost complete strangers to each
other), had assumed attitudes of serious amiability round
our table. A waiter approached for orders and it was
then, in relation to my order for coffee, that the abso-
lutely first thing I learned of Captain Blunt was the fact
that he was a sufferer from insomnia. In his immovable
way Mills began charging his pipe. I felt extremely em-
barrassed all at once, but became positively annoyed
when I saw our Prax enter the cafe in a sort of mediaeval
costume very much like what Faust wears in the third
act. I have no doubt it was meant for a purely operatic
Faust. A light mantle floated from his shoulders. He
strode theatrically up to our table and addressing me as
" Young Ulysses " proposed I should go outside on the
fields of asphalt and help him gather a few marguerites to
decorate a truly infernal supper which was being organized
across the road at the Maison Dor6e — upstairs. With
expostulatory shakes of the head and indignant glances
I called his attention to the fact that I was not alone.
He stepped back a pace as if astonished by the discovery,
took off his plumed velvet toque with a low obeisance so
that the feathers swept the floor, and swaggered off the
stage with his left hand resting on the hilt of the property
dagger at his belt.

Meantime the well-connected but rustic Mills had
been busy lighting his briar and the distinguished Captain
sat smiling to himself. I was horribly vexed and apolo-
gized for that intrusion, saying that the fellow was a future



8 THE ARROW OF GOLD

great sculptor and perfectly harmless ; but he had been
swallowing lots of night air which had got into his head
apparently.

Mills peered at me with his friendly but awfully search-
ing blue eyes through the cloud of smoke he had wreathed
about his big head. The slim, dark Captain's smile took
on an amiable expression. Might he know why I was
addressed as " Young Ulysses " by my friend ? and
immediately he added the remark with urbane playfulness
that Ulysses was an astute person. Mills did not give me
time for a reply. He struck in : " That old Greek was
famed as a wanderer — the first historical seaman." He
waved his pipe vaguely at me.

*' Ah ! V raiment ! " The pohte Captain seemed incred-
ulous and as if weary. " Are you a seaman ? In what
sense, pray ? " We were talking French and he used the
term homme de mer.

Again Mills interfered quietly. " In the same sense in
which you are a military man." (Homme de guerre.)

It was then that I heard Captain Blunt produce one
of his striking declarations. He had two of them, and
this was the first.

" I live by my sword."

It was said in an extraordinary dandified manner which
in conjunction with the matter made me forget my tongue
in my head. I could only stare at him. He added more
naturally : " 2nd Reg. Castille Cavalry." Then with
marked stress in Spanish, " En las filas legitimas.^^

Mills was heard, unmoved, like Jove in his cloud:
" He's on leave here."

" Of course I don't shout that fact on the housetops,"
the Captain addressed me pointedly, " any more than
our friend his shipwreck adventure. W^e must not strain
the toleration of the French authorities too much 1 It
wouldn't be correct — and not very safe either.'-



THE ARROW OF GOLD 9

I became suddenly extremely delighted with my com-
pany. A man who "lived by his sword," before my
eyes, close at my elbow ! So such people did exist in the
world yet ! I had not been born too late ! And across
the table with his air of watchful, unmoved benevolence,
enough in itself to arouse one's interest, there was the
man with the story of a shipwreck that mustn't be shouted
on housetops. Why ?

I understood very well why, when he told me that he
had joined in the Clyde a small steamer chartered by a
relative of his, " a very wealthy man," he observed (prob-
ably Lord X, I thought), to carry arms and other sup-
plies to the Carlist army. And it was not a shipwreck
in the ordinary sense. Everything went perfectly well
to the last moment when suddenly the Numancia (a
Republican ironclad) had appeared and chased them
ashore on the French coast below Bayonne. In a few
words, but with evident appreciation of the adventure,
Mills described to us how he swam to the beach clad simply
in a money belt and a pair of trousers. Shells were falling
all round till a tiny French gunboat came out of Bayonne
and shooed the Numancia away out of territorial waters.

He was very amusing and I was fascinated by the
mental picture of that tranquil man rolling in the surf
and emerging breathless, in the costume you know, on
the fair land of France, in the character of a smuggler of
war material. However, they had never arrested or ex-
pelled him, since he was there before my eyes. But how
and why did he get so far from the scene of his sea adven-
ture was an interesting question. And I put it to him with
most naive indiscretion which did not shock him visibly.



Online LibraryJoseph ConradThe arrow of gold : a story between two notes → online text (page 1 of 25)