"I have known its fascination since: I have seen the mysterious shores, the still water, the lands of brown nations, where a stealthy Nemesis lies in wait, pursues, overtakes so many of the conquering race, who are proud of their wisdom, of their knowledge, of their strength. But for me all the East is contained in that vision of my youth. It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea--and I was young--and I saw it looking at me. And this is all that is left of it! Only a moment; a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour--of youth! . . . A flick of sunshine upon a strange shore, the time to remember, the time for a sigh, and--good-bye!--Night--Good-bye . . .!"
"Ah! The good old time--the good old time. Youth and the sea. Glamour and the sea! The good, strong sea, the salt, bitter sea, that could whisper to you and roar at you and knock your breath out of you."
He drank again.
"By all that's wonderful, it is the sea, I believe, the sea itself--or is it youth alone? Who can tell? But you here--you all had something out of life: money, love--whatever one gets on shore--and, tell me, wasn't that the best time, that time when we were young at sea; young and had nothing, on the sea that gives nothing, except hard knocks--and sometimes a chance to feel your strength--that only--what you all regret?"
And we all nodded at him: the man of finance, the man of accounts, the man of law, we all nodded at him over the polished table that like a still sheet of brown water reflected our faces, lined, wrinkled; our faces marked by toil, by deceptions, by success, by love; our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone--has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash--together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusions.
(*) The title is from a word by T. E. Lawrence, speaking about Conrad style.