Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Some Reminiscences by Joseph Conrad

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

SOME REMINISCENCES 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 command 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 amongst 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. Amongst
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
either amongst 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, friendships
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, amongst 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 recommended. 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 towards 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 onwards 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 either of 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
recognised with smiling compassion 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 own 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 myself 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 you can 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 upwards 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. An historian of hearts is not an 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, amongst 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 anger
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 defence 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 defence 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.

Chapter 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
(amongst other things) a descendant of Vikings--might have
hovered with amused interest over the decks of a 2000-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 moustaches 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 grey 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 nightcap 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 sort 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
main-mast 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 because 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
organised 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 amongst 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 piety 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 forbade 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 towards the centre of the town, and, all the street corners
being placarded with the tricolour 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 quarter-
masters 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 realisation 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" amongst 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
for ever 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 another 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 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 bringing 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 tomorrow," 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 furthest, the top-gallant 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 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, whilst 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 each 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 cross-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
railway station (that's in Berlin, you know), on my way to
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 a 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 patronised 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 south-
east direction towards 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 major-domo, 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 sheep-skin
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 moustachioed 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 bear-skin 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 amongst
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 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
affectedly 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 schoolfellows 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 turn-out, 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,
tail-less 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
three 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 grey 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 for ever 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
towards all things human which sanctions the conceptions of a
writer of tales, and the emotions of the man reviewing his own
experience.

Chapter 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
snowtrack; 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 moustaches 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 bels, 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 our 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
everybody. 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 realised 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 round 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
attending 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 Potochka, where our invalid mother was staying
then to be near a doctor, they lost the road and got stuck in a
snowdrift. 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 great-coats and used all their own
rugs to wrap her up against the cold, notwithstanding her
protests, positive orders and even struggles, as Valery
afterwards 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 afterwards 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 brusquely, 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
ante-room 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; afterwards Captain in the 2nd 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, a 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 grand-uncle 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 overborne
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 country-side 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 amongst 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 Cossack's 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 his 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
grand-uncle Nicholas, of the Polish landed gentry, Chevalier de
la Legion d'Honneur, &c. &c., 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 ploughshares and bedewed with their blood,
undertake the pursuit of fantastic meals of salt junk and hard
tack 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 allowed 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. O
amiable and natural weakness! O 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 afterwards,
jolly enough in a way and not altogether without their lesson,
but this year of which I speak was the year of my last schoolboy
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 Fluellen, 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 an hotel; it
had even a name which I have forgotten. But there was no gold-
laced door-keeper 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 surmounts 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 slabsided 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 upstairs 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 11 o'clock?" This statement
surprised me; I had heard no noise whatever, having slept like a
top.

We went downstairs 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 uncurtained 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 since, both 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 reasons 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 towards 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 towards 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 towards 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 scandalised
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 not only think 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,
unrealised 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 on
to 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 the
protectors of forlorn damsels, the redressers of this world's
wrongs 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,
nowhere 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.

Chapter III.

The devouring in a dismal forest of a luckless Lithuanian dog by
my grand-uncle Nicholas B. in company of two other military and
famished scarecrows, symbolised, 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 upwards
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
generalising. 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 grand-uncle 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
somewhere 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 amongst
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 the only 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 200 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 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--demi-
gods 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 amongst
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
unschreckbar (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
grandfather--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 turn-out 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 something 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 heart-broken 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
burnt 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 their best 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 these 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 battlefield 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 organisation, it
took no part in the wars of the Russian Empire against 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 amongst 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. Astrakhan 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

Book of the day: