Literature Post > Conrad, Joseph > The Rescue > Chapter 1

The Rescue by Conrad, Joseph - Chapter 1




'Allas!' quod she, 'that ever this sholde happe!
For wende I never, by possibilitee,
That swich a monstre or merveille mighte be!'



Of the three long novels of mine which suffered an interruption,
"The Rescue" was the one that had to wait the longest for the
good pleasure of the Fates. I am betraying no secret when I state
here that it had to wait precisely for twenty years. I laid it
aside at the end of the summer of 1898 and it was about the end
of the summer of 1918 that I took it up again with the firm
determination to see the end of it and helped by the sudden
feeling that I might be equal to the task.

This does not mean that I turned to it with elation. I was well
aware and perhaps even too much aware of the dangers of such an
adventure. The amazingly sympathetic kindness which men of
various temperaments, diverse views and different literary tastes
have been for years displaying towards my work has done much for
me, has done all--except giving me that over-weening
self-confidence which may assist an adventurer sometimes but in
the long run ends by leading him to the gallows.

As the characteristic I want most to impress upon these short
Author's Notes prepared for my first Collected Edition is that of
absolute frankness, I hasten to declare that I founded my hopes
not on my supposed merits but on the continued goodwill of my
readers. I may say at once that my hopes have been justified out
of all proportion to my deserts. I met with the most considerate,
most delicately expressed criticism free from all antagonism and
in its conclusions showing an insight which in itself could not
fail to move me deeply, but was associated also with enough
commendation to make me feel rich beyond the dreams of avarice--I
mean an artist's avarice which seeks its treasure in the hearts
of men and women.

No! Whatever the preliminary anxieties might have been this
adventure was not to end in sorrow. Once more Fortune favoured
audacity; and yet I have never forgotten the jocular translation
of Audaces fortuna juvat offered to me by my tutor when I was a
small boy: "The Audacious get bitten." However he took care to
mention that there were various kinds of audacity. Oh, there are,
there are! . . . There is, for instance, the kind of audacity
almost indistinguishable from impudence. . . . I must believe
that in this case I have not been impudent for I am not conscious
of having been bitten.

The truth is that when "The Rescue" was laid aside it was not
laid aside in despair. Several reasons contributed to this
abandonment and, no doubt, the first of them was the growing
sense of general difficulty in the handling of the subject. The
contents and the course of the story I had clearly in my mind.
But as to the way of presenting the facts, and perhaps in a
certain measure as to the nature of the facts themselves, I had
many doubts. I mean the telling, representative facts, helpful to
carry on the idea, and, at the same time, of such a nature as not
to demand an elaborate creation of the atmosphere to the
detriment of the action. I did not see how I could avoid becoming
wearisome in the presentation of detail and in the pursuit of
clearness. I saw the action plainly enough. What I had lost for
the moment was the sense of the proper formula of expression, the
only formula that would suit. This, of course, weakened my
confidence in the intrinsic worth and in the possible interest of
the story--that is in my invention. But I suspect that all the
trouble was, in reality, the doubt of my prose, the doubt of its
adequacy, of its power to master both the colours and the shades.

It is difficult to describe, exactly as I remember it, the
complex state of my feelings; but those of my readers who take an
interest in artistic perplexities will understand me best when I
point out that I dropped "The Rescue" not to give myself up to
idleness, regrets, or dreaming, but to begin "The Nigger of the
'Narcissus'" and to go on with it without hesitation and without
a pause. A comparison of any page of "The Rescue" with any page
of "The Nigger" will furnish an ocular demonstration of the
nature and the inward meaning of this first crisis of my writing
life. For it was a crisis undoubtedly. The laying aside of a work
so far advanced was a very awful decision to take. It was wrung
from me by a sudden conviction that THERE only was the road of
salvation, the clear way out for an uneasy conscience. The
finishing of "The Nigger" brought to my troubled mind the
comforting sense of an accomplished task, and the first
consciousness of a certain sort of mastery which could accomplish
something with the aid of propitious stars. Why I did not return
to "The Rescue" at once then, was not for the reason that I had
grown afraid of it. Being able now to assume a firm attitude I
said to myself deliberately: "That thing can wait." At the same
time I was just as certain in my mind that "Youth," a story which
I had then, so to speak, on the tip of my pen, could NOT wait.
Neither could "Heart of Darkness" be put off; for the practical
reason that Mr. Wm. Blackwood having requested me to write
something for the No. M of his magazine I had to stir up at once
the subject of that tale which had been long lying quiescent in
my mind, because, obviously, the venerable Maga at her
patriarchal age of 1000 numbers could not be kept waiting. Then
"Lord Jim," with about seventeen pages already written at odd
times, put in his claim which was irresistible. Thus every stroke
of the pen was taking me further away from the abandoned
"Rescue," not without some compunction on my part but with a
gradually diminishing resistance; till at last I let myself go as
if recognising a superior influence against which it was useless
to contend.

The years passed and the pages grew in number, and the long
reveries of which they were the outcome stretched wide between me
and the deserted "Rescue" like the smooth hazy spaces of a dreamy
sea. Yet I never actually lost sight of that dark speck in the
misty distance. It had grown very small but it asserted itself
with the appeal of old associations. It seemed to me that it
would be a base thing for me to slip out of the world leaving it
out there all alone, waiting for its fate--that would never come?

Sentiment, pure sentiment as you see, prompted me in the last
instance to face the pains and hazards of that return. As I moved
slowly towards the abandoned body of the tale it loomed up big
amongst the glittering shallows of the coast, lonely but not
forbidding. There was nothing about it of a grim derelict. It had
an air of expectant life. One after another I made out the
familiar faces watching my approach with faint smiles of amused
recognition. They had known well enough that I was bound to come
back to them. But their eyes met mine seriously as was only to be
expected since I, myself, felt very serious as I stood amongst
them again after years of absence. At once, without wasting
words, we went to work together on our renewed life; and every
moment I felt more strongly that They Who had Waited bore no
grudge to the man who however widely he may have wandered at
times had played truant only once in his life.

1920. J. C.


The shallow sea that foams and murmurs on the shores of the
thousand islands, big and little, which make up the Malay
Archipelago has been for centuries the scene of adventurous
undertakings. The vices and the virtues of four nations have been
displayed in the conquest of that region that even to this day
has not been robbed of all the mystery and romance of its
past--and the race of men who had fought against the Portuguese,
the Spaniards, the Dutch and the English, has not been changed by
the unavoidable defeat. They have kept to this day their love of
liberty, their fanatical devotion to their chiefs, their blind
fidelity in friendship and hate--all their lawful and unlawful
instincts. Their country of land and water--for the sea was as
much their country as the earth of their islands--has fallen a
prey to the western race--the reward of superior strength if not
of superior virtue. To-morrow the advancing civilization will
obliterate the marks of a long struggle in the accomplishment of
its inevitable victory.

The adventurers who began that struggle have left no descendants.
The ideas of the world changed too quickly for that. But even far
into the present century they have had successors. Almost in our
own day we have seen one of them--a true adventurer in his
devotion to his impulse--a man of high mind and of pure heart,
lay the foundation of a flourishing state on the ideas of pity
and justice. He recognized chivalrously the claims of the
conquered; he was a disinterested adventurer, and the reward of
his noble instincts is in the veneration with which a strange and
faithful race cherish his memory.

Misunderstood and traduced in life, the glory of his achievement
has vindicated the purity of his motives. He belongs to history.
But there were others--obscure adventurers who had not his
advantages of birth, position, and intelligence; who had only his
sympathy with the people of forests and sea he understood and
loved so well. They can not be said to be forgotten since they
have not been known at all. They were lost in the common crowd of
seamen-traders of the Archipelago, and if they emerged from their
obscurity it was only to be condemned as law-breakers. Their
lives were thrown away for a cause that had no right to exist in
the face of an irresistible and orderly progress-- their
thoughtless lives guided by a simple feeling.

But the wasted lives, for the few who know, have tinged with
romance the region of shallow waters and forest-clad islands,
that lies far east, and still mysterious between the deep waters
of two oceans.