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Some Reminiscences

Chapter 1
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
 
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