Joseph Conrad.

The arrow of gold; a story between two notes online

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G c r ey McWilliams




Celui qui n'a connu que des hommes
pohs et raisonnables, ou ne connait pas
1* homme, ou ne le connait qu'a demi.




COPYRIGHT, 1919. 1921, BY









HAVING named all the short prefaces written for my
books, Author's Notes, this one too must have the same
heading for the sake of uniformity if at the risk of some
confusion. " The Arrow of Gold," as its sub-title states,
is a story between two Notes. But these Notes are
embodied in its very frame, belong to its texture, and
their mission is to prepare and close the story. They
are material to the comprehension of the experience
related in the narrative and are meant to determine
the time and place together with certain historical
circumstances conditioning the existence of the people
concerned in the transactions of the twelve months
covered by the narrative. It was the shortest way of
getting over the preliminaries of a piece of work which
could not have been of the nature of a chronicle.

"The Arrow of Gold" is my first aft er-the- war publi-
cation. The writing of it was begun in the autumn of
1917 and finished in the summer of 1918. Its memory
is associated with that of the darkest hour of the war,
which, in accordance with the well known proverb,
preceded the dawn the dawn of peace.

As I look at them now, these pages, written in the
days of stress and dread, wear a look of strange serenity.
They were written calmly, yet not in cold blood, and
are perhaps the only kind of pages I could have written
at that time full of menace, but also full of faith.

The subject of this book I have been carrying about
with me for many years, not so much a possession of my



memory as an inherent part of myself. It was ever
present to my mind and ready to my hand, but I was
loth to touch it from a feeling of what I imagined to be
mere shyness but which in reality was a very compre-
hensible mistrust of myself.

In plucking the fruit of memory one runs the risk of
spoiling its bloom, especially if it has got to be carried
into the market-place. This being the product of my
private garden my reluctance can be easily understood ;
and though some critics have expressed their regret that
I had not written this book fifteen years earlier I do
not share that opinion. If I took it up so late in life
it is because the right moment had not arrived till then.
I mean the positive feeling of it, which is a thing that
cannot be discussed. Neither will I discuss here the
regrets of those critics, which seem to me the most
irrelevant thing that could have been said in connection
with literary criticism.

I never tried to conceal the origins of the subject mat-
ter of this book which I have hesitated so long to write;
but some reviewers indulged themselves with a sense
of triumph in discovering in it my Dominic of "The
Mirror of the Sea" under his own name (a truly wonder-
ful disco very) and in recognising the balancelle Tremolino
in the unnamed little craft in which Mr. George plied
his fantastic trade and sought to allay the pain of his in-
curable wound. I am not in the least disconcerted by
this display of perspicacity. It is the same man and
the same balancelle. But for the purposes of a book
like "The Mirror of the Sea" all I could make use of was
the personal history of the little Tremolino. The pres-
ent work is not in any sense an attempt to develop a
subject lightly touched upon in former years and in
connection with quite another kind of love, \\hat the
story of the Tremolino in its anecdotic character has in


common with the story of "The Arrow of Gold" is the
quality of initiation (through an ordeal which required
some resolution to face) into the life of passion. In the
few pages at the end of "The Mirror of the Sea" and in
the whole volume of "The Arrow of Gold," that and
no other is the subject offered to the public. The pages
and the book form together a complete record; and
the only assurance I can give my readers is, that as it
stands here with all its imperfections it is given to
them complete.

I venture this explicit statement because, amidst
much sympathetic appreciation, I have detected here
and there a note, as it were, of suspicion. Suspicion of
facts concealed, of explanations held back, of inadequate
motives. But what is lacking in the facts is simply
what I did not know, and what is not explained is what
I did not understand myself, and what seems inadequate
is the fault of my imperfect insight. And all that I
could not help. In the case of this book I was unable
to supplement these deficiencies by the exercise of my
inventive faculty. It was never very strong; and on
this occasion its use would have seemed exceptionally
dishonest. It is from that ethical motive and not from
timidity that I elected to keep strictly within the limits
of unadorned sincerity and to try to enlist the sym-
pathies of my readers without assuming lofty omnis-
cience or descending to the subterfuge of exaggerated

1920. J. C.



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 chil-
dren, or very little more than children. Years passed.
Then something recalled to the woman the companion
of her young 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 person 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 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 succumb ! I have a distinct recollection
that in the old days, when you were about fifteen, you
always could make me do whatever you liked."

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 ex-
planations addressed directly to the friend of his child-
hood. And even as it is the whole thing is of consider-
able 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, encour-
aged 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
conduct aimed at here. If anything it is perhaps a
little sympathy that the writer expects for his buried
youth, as he lives it over again at the end of his insigni-


ficant course on this earth. Strange person yet per-
haps 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 ec-
centric 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 pre-
tended rather absurdly 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
occurred to Mills that this eccentric youngster was
the very person for what the legitimist sympathizers
had very much at heart just then : to organize a supply
by sea of arms and ammunition to the Carlist detach-
ments in the South. It was precisely to confer on
that matter with Dona Rita that Captain Blunt 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.
Blunt naturally wanted to see him first. He must have
estimated 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
somewhat unscrupulously. 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 penetration, 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 in-
dividuality over the young.



CERTAIN streets have an atmosphere of their own, a
sort of universal fame and the particular affection of
their citizens. One of such streets is the Cannebiere,
and the jest: "If Paris had a Cannebiere 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
cheerful. 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. Every-
body, high and low, was anxious to have the last fling.
Companies 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

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 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 responsibility which I had
acquired they had not matured me. I was as young
as before. Inconceivably young still beautifully un-
thinking 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 inter-
ested. 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.
The 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

Just then some masks from outside invaded the


cafe, 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 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 cafe didn't even
look up from their games or papers. 1, being alone
and idle, stared abstractedly. The girl costumed as
Night wore a small black velvet mask, what is called
in French a "loup." What made her daintiness join
that obviously rough lot I can't imagine. Her un-
covered mouth and chin suggested 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 " Tresjoli," 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
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 account of the
parentage but marvelling at his air of ease in that cum-
brous body and in such tight clothes, too. But pres-
ently the same lady informed me further: "He has
come here amongst us un nan f rage"

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 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 Cannebiere to be sure.
Everybody 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. The fear that he
might have departed suddenly for England (or for
Spain) caused me a sort of ridiculous depression 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 neighbourhood 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 de-
grees of excellence. As to Mills, 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 remem-
bered 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 person-
ality. 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 in-
teresting, too.

You may think that I am subtilizing 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
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
absolutely first thing I learned of Captain Blunt was the
fact that he was a sufferer from insomnia. In his im-
movable way Mills began charging his pipe. I felt
extremely embarrassed all at once, but became posi-
tively 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 Doree upstai^. With ex-


postulatory 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 disco very,
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 prop-
erty dagger at his belt.

Meantime the well-connected but rustic Mills had
been busy lighting his briar and the distinguished Cap-

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