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Arrow of Gold


FIRST NOTE


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

And he answers her: "I believe you are the only one now alive who
remembers me as a child. I have heard of you from time to time, but I
wonder what sort of person you are now. Perhaps if I did know I wouldn't
dare put pen to paper. But I don't know. I only remember that we were
great chums. In fact, I chummed with you even more than with your
brothers. But I am like the pigeon that went away in the fable of the
Two Pigeons. If I once start to tell you I would want you to feel that
you have been there yourself. I may overtax your patience with the story
of my life so different from yours, not only in all the facts but
altogether in spirit. You may not understand. You may even be shocked. I
say all this to myself; but I know I shall succumb! I have a distinct
recollection that in the old days, when you were about fifteen, you
always could make me do whatever you liked."

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

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

However, History has nothing to do with this tale. Neither is the moral
justification or condemnation of conduct aimed at here. If anything it
is perhaps a little sympathy that the writer expects for his buried
youth, as he lives it over again at the end of his insignificant course
on this earth. Strange person--yet perhaps not so very different from
ourselves.

A few words as to certain facts may be added.

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

Mills got in touch with Blunt at once and put the suggestion before him.
The Captain thought this the very thing. As a matter of fact, on that
evening of Carnival, those two, Mills and Blunt, had been actually
looking everywhere for our man. They had decided that he should be drawn
into the affair if it could be done. Blunt naturally wanted to see him
first. He must have estimated him a promising person, but, from another
point of view, not dangerous. Thus lightly was the notorious (and at the
same time mysterious) Monsieur George brought into the world; out of the
contact of two minds which did not give a single thought to his flesh
and blood.

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

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


* * * * *

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

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

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

The subject of this book I have been carrying about with me for many
years, not so much a possession of my memory as an inherent part of
myself. It was ever present to my mind and ready to my hand, but I was
loth to touch it from a feeling of what I imagined to be mere shyness
but which in reality was a very comprehensible mistrust of myself.

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

I never tried to conceal the origins of the subject matter of this book
which I have hesitated so long to write; but some reviewers indulged
themselves with a sense of triumph in discovering in it my Dominic of
"The Mirror of the Sea" under his own name (a truly wonderful
discovery) and in recognizing the balancelle _Tremolino_ in the unnamed
little craft in which Mr. George plied his fantastic trade and sought to
allay the pain of his incurable wound. I am not in the least
disconcerted by this display of perspicacity. It is the same man and the
same balancelle. But for the purposes of a book like "The Mirror of the
Sea" all I could make use of was the personal history of the little
_Tremolino_. The present work is not in any sense an attempt to develop
a subject lightly touched upon in former years and in connection with
quite another kind of love. What the story of the _Tremolino_ in its
anecdotic character has in common with the story of "The Arrow of Gold"
is the quality of initiation (through an ordeal which required some
resolution to face) into the life of passion. In the few pages at the
end of "The Mirror of the Sea" and in the whole volume of "The Arrow of
Gold," _that_ and no other is the subject offered to the public. The
pages and the book form together a complete record; and the only
assurance I can give my readers is, that as it stands here with all its
imperfections it is given to them complete.

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

J. C.

1920.


Joseph Conrad

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