The Project Gutenberg eBook of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
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Title: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Release Date: February, 1995 [eBook #219]
[Most recently updated: January 20, 2021]
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Judith Boss and David Widger
*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK HEART OF DARKNESS ***
by Joseph Conrad
The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of thesails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and beingbound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for theturn of the tide.
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of aninterminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded togetherwithout a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the bargesdrifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvassharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the lowshores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark aboveGravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom,brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four affectionatelywatched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole riverthere was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which toa seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his workwas not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the broodinggloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea.Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it hadthe effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and evenconvictions. The Lawyer—the best of old fellows—had, because of hismany years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on theonly rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and wastoying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft,leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, astraight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms ofhands outwards, resembled an idol. The director, satisfied the anchor had goodhold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few wordslazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason orother we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit fornothing but placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity of still andexquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck,was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marsh waslike a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and drapingthe low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding overthe upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by theapproach of the sun.
And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and fromglowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if aboutto go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding overa crowd of men.
Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became less brilliantbut more profound. The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at thedecline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled itsbanks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to theuttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not in the vividflush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august lightof abiding memories. And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as thephrase goes, “followed the sea” with reverence and affection, thanto evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames. Thetidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memoriesof men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea.It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud, from SirFrancis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled—thegreat knights-errant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names arelike jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hindreturning with her rotund flanks full of treasure, to be visited by theQueen’s Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to theErebus and Terror, bound on other conquests—and that neverreturned. It had known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford,from Greenwich, from Erith—the adventurers and the settlers; kings’ships and the ships of men on ’Change; captains, admirals, the dark“interlopers” of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned“generals” of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or pursuers offame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often thetorch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from thesacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into themystery of an unknown earth!... The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths,the germs of empires.
The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along theshore. The Chapman light-house, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shonestrongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lightsgoing up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of themonstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom insunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.
“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of thedark places of the earth.”
He was the only man of us who still “followed the sea.” The worstthat could be said of him was that he did not represent his class. He was aseaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may soexpress it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, andtheir home is always with them—the ship; and so is theircountry—the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea isalways the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores,the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by asense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothingmysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress ofhis existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest, after his hours ofwork, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him thesecret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worthknowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning ofwhich lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (ifhis propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episodewas not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought itout only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these mistyhalos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination ofmoonshine.
His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was just like Marlow. It wasaccepted in silence. No one took the trouble to grunt even; and presently hesaid, very slow—“I was thinking of very old times, when the Romansfirst came here, nineteen hundred years ago—the other day .... Light cameout of this river since—you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a runningblaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in theflicker—may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darknesswas here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine—whatd’ye call ’em?—trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenlyto the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one ofthese craft the legionaries—a wonderful lot of handy men they must havebeen, too—used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, ifwe may believe what we read. Imagine him here—the very end of the world,a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about asrigid as a concertina—and going up this river with stores, or orders, orwhat you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages,—precious little toeat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernianwine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in awilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests,disease, exile, and death—death skulking in the air, in the water, in thebush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh, yes—he did it. Didit very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, exceptafterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They weremen enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eyeon a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by and by, if he had goodfriends in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of a decent youngcitizen in a toga—perhaps too much dice, you know—coming out herein the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend hisfortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland postfeel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him—all thatmysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, inthe hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries.He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable.And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination ofthe abomination—you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing toescape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.”
“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm ofthe hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose ofa Buddha preaching in European clothes and without alotus-flower—“Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. Whatsaves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps werenot much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration wasmerely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and forthat you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it,since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It wasjust robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men goingat it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. Theconquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those whohave a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not apretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only.An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and anunselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow downbefore, and offer a sacrifice to....”
He broke off. Flames glided in the river, small green flames, red flames, whiteflames, pursuing, overtaking, joining, crossing each other—thenseparating slowly or hastily. The traffic of the great city went on in thedeepening night upon the sleepless river. We looked on, waitingpatiently—there was nothing else to do till the end of the flood; but itwas only after a long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, “Isuppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for abit,” that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hearabout one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.
“I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to mepersonally,” he began, showing in this remark the weakness of manytellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would likebest to hear; “yet to understand the effect of it on me you ought to knowhow I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place where Ifirst met the poor chap. It was the farthest point of navigation and theculminating point of my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of lighton everything about me—and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough,too—and pitiful—not extraordinary in any way—not very cleareither. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light.
“I had then, as you remember, just returned to London after a lot ofIndian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas—a regular dose of the East—sixyears or so, and I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your work andinvading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilizeyou. It was very fine for a time, but after a bit I did get tired of resting.Then I began to look for a ship—I should think the hardest work on earth.But the ships wouldn’t even look at me. And I got tired of that game,too.
“Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look forhours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all theglories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth,and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they alllook that) I would put my finger on it and say, ’When I grow up I will gothere.’ The North Pole was one of these places, I remember. Well, Ihaven’t been there yet, and shall not try now. The glamour’s off.Other places were scattered about the hemispheres. I have been in some of them,and... well, we won’t talk about that. But there was one yet—thebiggest, the most blank, so to speak—that I had a hankering after.
“True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filledsince my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blankspace of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriouslyover. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one riverespecially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling animmense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afarover a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as Ilooked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would abird—a silly little bird. Then I remembered there was a big concern, aCompany for trade on that river. Dash it all! I thought to myself, theycan’t trade without using some kind of craft on that lot of freshwater—steamboats! Why shouldn’t I try to get charge of one? I wenton along Fleet Street, but could not shake off the idea. The snake had charmedme.
“You understand it was a Continental concern, that Trading society; but Ihave a lot of relations living on the Continent, because it’s cheap andnot so nasty as it looks, they say.
“I am sorry to own I began to worry them. This was already a freshdeparture for me. I was not used to get things that way, you know. I alwayswent my own road and on my own legs where I had a mind to go. I wouldn’thave believed it of myself; but, then—you see—I felt somehow I mustget there by hook or by crook. So I worried them. The men said ‘My dearfellow,’ and did nothing. Then—would you believe it?—I triedthe women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work—to get a job.Heavens! Well, you see, the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiasticsoul. She wrote: ‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything,anything for you. It is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very highpersonage in the Administration, and also a man who has lots of influencewith,’ etc. She was determined to make no end of fuss to get me appointedskipper of a river steamboat, if such was my fancy.
“I got my appointment—of course; and I got it very quick. Itappears the Company had received news that one of their captains had beenkilled in a scuffle with the natives. This was my chance, and it made me themore anxious to go. It was only months and months afterwards, when I made theattempt to recover what was left of the body, that I heard the original quarrelarose from a misunderstanding about some hens. Yes, two black hens.Fresleven—that was the fellow’s name, a Dane—thought himselfwronged somehow in the bargain, so he went ashore and started to hammer thechief of the village with a stick. Oh, it didn’t surprise me in the leastto hear this, and at the same time to be told that Fresleven was the gentlest,quietest creature that ever walked on two legs. No doubt he was; but he hadbeen a couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause, you know,and he probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in someway. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of hispeople watched him, thunderstruck, till some man—I was told thechief’s son—in desperation at hearing the old chap yell, made atentative jab with a spear at the white man—and of course it went quiteeasy between the shoulder-blades. Then the whole population cleared into theforest, expecting all kinds of calamities to happen, while, on the other hand,the steamer Fresleven commanded left also in a bad panic, in charge of theengineer, I believe. Afterwards nobody seemed to trouble much aboutFresleven’s remains, till I got out and stepped into his shoes. Icouldn’t let it rest, though; but when an opportunity offered at last tomeet my predecessor, the grass growing through his ribs was tall enough to hidehis bones. They were all there. The supernatural being had not been touchedafter he fell. And the village was deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, allaskew within the fallen enclosures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough. Thepeople had vanished. Mad terror had scattered them, men, women, and children,through the bush, and they had never returned. What became of the hens Idon’t know either. I should think the cause of progress got them, anyhow.However, through this glorious affair I got my appointment, before I had fairlybegun to hope for it.
“I flew around like mad to get ready, and before forty-eight hours I wascrossing the Channel to show myself to my employers, and sign the contract. Ina very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whitedsepulchre. Prejudice no doubt. I had no difficulty in finding theCompany’s offices. It was the biggest thing in the town, and everybody Imet was full of it. They were going to run an over-sea empire, and make no endof coin by trade.
“A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high houses, innumerablewindows with venetian blinds, a dead silence, grass sprouting between thestones, imposing carriage archways right and left, immense double doorsstanding ponderously ajar. I slipped through one of these cracks, went up aswept and ungarnished staircase, as arid as a desert, and opened the first doorI came to. Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs,knitting black wool. The slim one got up and walked straight at me—stillknitting with downcast eyes—and only just as I began to think of gettingout of her way, as you would for a somnambulist, stood still, and looked up.Her dress was as plain as an umbrella-cover, and she turned round without aword and preceded me into a waiting-room. I gave my name, and looked about.Deal table in the middle, plain chairs all round the walls, on one end a largeshining map, marked with all the colours of a rainbow. There was a vast amountof red—good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work isdone in there, a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and,on the East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progressdrink the jolly lager-beer. However, I wasn’t going into any of these. Iwas going into the yellow. Dead in the centre. And the river wasthere—fascinating—deadly—like a snake. Ough! A door opened, awhite-haired secretarial head, but wearing a compassionate expression,appeared, and a skinny forefinger beckoned me into the sanctuary. Its light wasdim, and a heavy writing-desk squatted in the middle. From behind thatstructure came out an impression of pale plumpness in a frock-coat. The greatman himself. He was five feet six, I should judge, and had his grip on thehandle-end of ever so many millions. He shook hands, I fancy, murmured vaguely,was satisfied with my French. Bon Voyage.
“In about forty-five seconds I found myself again in the waiting-roomwith the compassionate secretary, who, full of desolation and sympathy, made mesign some document. I believe I undertook amongst other things not to discloseany trade secrets. Well, I am not going to.
“I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am not used to suchceremonies, and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just asthough I had been let into some conspiracy—I don’tknow—something not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In the outerroom the two women knitted black wool feverishly. People were arriving, and theyounger one was walking back and forth introducing them. The old one sat on herchair. Her flat cloth slippers were propped up on a foot-warmer, and a catreposed on her lap. She wore a starched white affair on her head, had a wart onone cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her nose. Sheglanced at me above the glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of thatlook troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheery countenances were beingpiloted over, and she threw at them the same quick glance of unconcernedwisdom. She seemed to know all about them and about me, too. An eerie feelingcame over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away there I thought ofthese two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warmpall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the otherscrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes.Ave! Old knitter of black wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many ofthose she looked at ever saw her again—not half, by a long way.
“There was yet a visit to the doctor. ‘A simple formality,’assured me the secretary, with an air of taking an immense part in all mysorrows. Accordingly a young chap wearing his hat over the left eyebrow, someclerk I suppose—there must have been clerks in the business, though thehouse was as still as a house in a city of the dead—came from somewhereup-stairs, and led me forth. He was shabby and careless, with inkstains on thesleeves of his jacket, and his cravat was large and billowy, under a chinshaped like the toe of an old boot. It was a little too early for the doctor,so I proposed a drink, and thereupon he developed a vein of joviality. As wesat over our vermouths he glorified the Company’s business, and by and byI expressed casually my surprise at him not going out there. He became verycool and collected all at once. ‘I am not such a fool as I look, quothPlato to his disciples,’ he said sententiously, emptied his glass withgreat resolution, and we rose.
“The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of something else thewhile. ‘Good, good for there,’ he mumbled, and then with a certaineagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my head. Rather surprised, Isaid Yes, when he produced a thing like calipers and got the dimensions backand front and every way, taking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little manin a threadbare coat like a gaberdine, with his feet in slippers, and I thoughthim a harmless fool. ‘I always ask leave, in the interests of science, tomeasure the crania of those going out there,’ he said. ‘And whenthey come back, too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see them,’ heremarked; ‘and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.’He smiled, as if at some quiet joke. ‘So you are going out there. Famous.Interesting, too.’ He gave me a searching glance, and made another note.‘Ever any madness in your family?’ he asked, in a matter-of-facttone. I felt very annoyed. ‘Is that question in the interests of science,too?’ ‘It would be,’ he said, without taking notice of myirritation, ‘interesting for science to watch the mental changes ofindividuals, on the spot, but...’ ‘Are you an alienist?’ Iinterrupted. ‘Every doctor should be—a little,’ answered thatoriginal, imperturbably. ‘I have a little theory which you messieurs whogo out there must help me to prove. This is my share in the advantages mycountry shall reap from the possession of such a magnificent dependency. Themere wealth I leave to others. Pardon my questions, but you are the firstEnglishman coming under my observation...’ I hastened to assure him I wasnot in the least typical. ‘If I were,’ said I, ‘Iwouldn’t be talking like this with you.’ ‘What you say israther profound, and probably erroneous,’ he said, with a laugh.‘Avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun. Adieu. How do youEnglish say, eh? Good-bye. Ah! Good-bye. Adieu. In the tropics one mustbefore everything keep calm.’... He lifted a warning forefinger....‘Du calme, du calme.’
“One thing more remained to do—say good-bye to my excellent aunt. Ifound her triumphant. I had a cup of tea—the last decent cup of tea formany days—and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you wouldexpect a lady’s drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by thefireside. In the course of these confidences it became quite plain to me I hadbeen represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness knows to howmany more people besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature—a pieceof good fortune for the Company—a man you don’t get hold of everyday. Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-half-pennyriver-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was alsoone of the Workers, with a capital—you know. Something like an emissaryof light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of suchrot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman,living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. Shetalked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horridways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured tohint that the Company was run for profit.
“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of hishire,’ she said, brightly. It’s queer how out of touch with truthwomen are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anythinglike it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were toset it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded factwe men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation wouldstart up and knock the whole thing over.
“After this I got embraced, told to wear flannel, be sure to write often,and so on—and I left. In the street—I don’t know why—aqueer feeling came to me that I was an imposter. Odd thing that I, who used toclear out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours’ notice, withless thought than most men give to the crossing of a street, had amoment—I won’t say of hesitation, but of startled pause, beforethis commonplace affair. The best way I can explain it to you is by sayingthat, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the centre ofa continent, I were about to set off for the centre of the earth.
“I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port theyhave out there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landingsoldiers and custom-house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a coast as itslips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it is beforeyou—smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, andalways mute with an air of whispering, ‘Come and find out.’ Thisone was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect ofmonotonous grimness. The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to bealmost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far,far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist. The sunwas fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and theregreyish-whitish specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flagflying above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no biggerthan pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. We pounded along,stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to levy toll inwhat looked like a God-forsaken wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-polelost in it; landed more soldiers—to take care of the custom-house clerks,presumably. Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did ornot, nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, and onwe went. Every day the coast looked the same, as though we had not moved; butwe passed various places—trading places—with names like Gran’Bassam, Little Popo; names that seemed to belong to some sordid farce acted infront of a sinister back-cloth. The idleness of a passenger, my isolationamongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languidsea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truthof things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. The voice ofthe surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of abrother. It was something natural, that had its reason, that had a meaning. Nowand then a boat from the shore gave one a momentary contact with reality. Itwas paddled by black fellows. You could see from afar the white of theireyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed withperspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks—these chaps; but theyhad bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of movement, that was asnatural and true as the surf along their coast. They wanted no excuse for beingthere. They were a great comfort to look at. For a time I would feel I belongedstill to a world of straightforward facts; but the feeling would not last long.Something would turn up to scare it away. Once, I remember, we came upon aman-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, andshe was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going onthereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles of the longsix-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell swungher up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin masts. In the empty immensityof earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into acontinent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart andvanish, a little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give afeeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was atouch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in thesight; and it was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestlythere was a camp of natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out ofsight somewhere.
“We gave her her letters (I heard the men in that lonely ship were dyingof fever at the rate of three a day) and went on. We called at some more placeswith farcical names, where the merry dance of death and trade goes on in astill and earthy atmosphere as of an overheated catacomb; all along theformless coast bordered by dangerous surf, as if Nature herself had tried toward off intruders; in and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose bankswere rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened into slime, invaded thecontorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of animpotent despair. Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a particularizedimpression, but the general sense of vague and oppressive wonder grew upon me.It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares.
“It was upward of thirty days before I saw the mouth of the big river. Weanchored off the seat of the government. But my work would not begin till sometwo hundred miles farther on. So as soon as I could I made a start for a placethirty miles higher up.
“I had my passage on a little sea-going steamer. Her captain was a Swede,and knowing me for a seaman, invited me on the bridge. He was a young man,lean, fair, and morose, with lanky hair and a shuffling gait. As we left themiserable little wharf, he tossed his head contemptuously at the shore.‘Been living there?’ he asked. I said, ‘Yes.’‘Fine lot these government chaps—are they not?’ he went on,speaking English with great precision and considerable bitterness. ‘It isfunny what some people will do for a few francs a month. I wonder what becomesof that kind when it goes upcountry?’ I said to him I expected to seethat soon. ‘So-o-o!’ he exclaimed. He shuffled athwart, keeping oneeye ahead vigilantly. ‘Don’t be too sure,’ he continued.‘The other day I took up a man who hanged himself on the road. He was aSwede, too.’ ‘Hanged himself! Why, in God’s name?’ Icried. He kept on looking out watchfully. ‘Who knows? The sun too muchfor him, or the country perhaps.’
“At last we opened a reach. A rocky cliff appeared, mounds of turned-upearth by the shore, houses on a hill, others with iron roofs, amongst a wasteof excavations, or hanging to the declivity. A continuous noise of the rapidsabove hovered over this scene of inhabited devastation. A lot of people, mostlyblack and naked, moved about like ants. A jetty projected into the river. Ablinding sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence of glare.‘There’s your Company’s station,’ said the Swede,pointing to three wooden barrack-like structures on the rocky slope. ‘Iwill send your things up. Four boxes did you say? So. Farewell.’
“I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then found a path leadingup the hill. It turned aside for the boulders, and also for an undersizedrailway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was off.The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal. I came upon more piecesof decaying machinery, a stack of rusty rails. To the left a clump of treesmade a shady spot, where dark things seemed to stir feebly. I blinked, the pathwas steep. A horn tooted to the right, and I saw the black people run. A heavyand dull detonation shook the ground, a puff of smoke came out of the cliff,and that was all. No change appeared on the face of the rock. They werebuilding a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but thisobjectless blasting was all the work going on.
“A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advancedin a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing smallbaskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with theirfootsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behindwaggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbswere like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all wereconnected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmicallyclinking. Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship ofwar I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice;but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They werecalled criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come tothem, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre breasts pantedtogether, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonilyuphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete,deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of thereclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently,carrying a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off,and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder withalacrity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distancethat he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with alarge, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me intopartnership in his exalted trust. After all, I also was a part of the greatcause of these high and just proceedings.
“Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the left. My idea was tolet that chain-gang get out of sight before I climbed the hill. You know I amnot particularly tender; I’ve had to strike and to fend off. I’vehad to resist and to attack sometimes—that’s only one way ofresisting—without counting the exact cost, according to the demands ofsuch sort of life as I had blundered into. I’ve seen the devil ofviolence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all thestars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drovemen—men, I tell you. But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that inthe blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby,pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious hecould be, too, I was only to find out several months later and a thousand milesfarther. For a moment I stood appalled, as though by a warning. Finally Idescended the hill, obliquely, towards the trees I had seen.
“I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope,the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn’t a quarryor a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with thephilanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do. I don’tknow. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scarin the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for thesettlement had been tumbled in there. There wasn’t one that was notbroken. It was a wanton smash-up. At last I got under the trees. My purpose wasto stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed tome I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno. The rapids were near,and an uninterrupted, uniform, headlong, rushing noise filled the mournfulstillness of the grove, where not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with amysterious sound—as though the tearing pace of the launched earth hadsuddenly become audible.
“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against thetrunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dimlight, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. Another mine onthe cliff went off, followed by a slight shudder of the soil under my feet. Thework was going on. The work! And this was the place where some of the helpershad withdrawn to die.
“They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies,they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but blackshadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of timecontracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, theysickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.These moribund shapes were free as air—and nearly as thin. I began todistinguish the gleam of the eyes under the trees. Then, glancing down, I saw aface near my hand. The black bones reclined at full length with one shoulderagainst the tree, and slowly the eyelids rose and the sunken eyes looked up atme, enormous and vacant, a kind of blind, white flicker in the depths of theorbs, which died out slowly. The man seemed young—almost a boy—butyou know with them it’s hard to tell. I found nothing else to do but tooffer him one of my good Swede’s ship’s biscuits I had in mypocket. The fingers closed slowly on it and held—there was no othermovement and no other glance. He had tied a bit of white worsted round hisneck—Why? Where did he get it? Was it a badge—an ornament—acharm—a propitiatory act? Was there any idea at all connected with it? Itlooked startling round his black neck, this bit of white thread from beyond theseas.
“Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legsdrawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in anintolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, asif overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered inevery pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or apestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to hishands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. Helapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins infront of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone.
“I didn’t want any more loitering in the shade, and I made hastetowards the station. When near the buildings I met a white man, in such anunexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort ofvision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowytrousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed,oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing,and had a penholder behind his ear.
“I shook hands with this miracle, and I learned he was theCompany’s chief accountant, and that all the book-keeping was done atthis station. He had come out for a moment, he said, ‘to get a breath offresh air. The expression sounded wonderfully odd, with its suggestion ofsedentary desk-life. I wouldn’t have mentioned the fellow to you at all,only it was from his lips that I first heard the name of the man who is soindissolubly connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respectedthe fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. Hisappearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the greatdemoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone.His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character. Hehad been out nearly three years; and, later, I could not help asking him how hemanaged to sport such linen. He had just the faintest blush, and said modestly,‘I’ve been teaching one of the native women about the station. Itwas difficult. She had a distaste for the work.’ Thus this man had verilyaccomplished something. And he was devoted to his books, which were inapple-pie order.
“Everything else in the station was in a muddle—heads, things,buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; astream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire sent intothe depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory.
“I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity. I lived ina hut in the yard, but to be out of the chaos I would sometimes get into theaccountant’s office. It was built of horizontal planks, and so badly puttogether that, as he bent over his high desk, he was barred from neck to heelswith narrow strips of sunlight. There was no need to open the big shutter tosee. It was hot there, too; big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting, butstabbed. I sat generally on the floor, while, of faultless appearance (and evenslightly scented), perching on a high stool, he wrote, he wrote. Sometimes hestood up for exercise. When a truckle-bed with a sick man (some invalid agentfrom upcountry) was put in there, he exhibited a gentle annoyance. ‘Thegroans of this sick person,’ he said, ‘distract my attention. Andwithout that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in thisclimate.’
“One day he remarked, without lifting his head, ‘In the interioryou will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.’ On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was, hesaid he was a first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at thisinformation, he added slowly, laying down his pen, ‘He is a veryremarkable person.’ Further questions elicited from him that Mr. Kurtzwas at present in charge of a trading-post, a very important one, in the trueivory-country, at ‘the very bottom of there. Sends in as much ivory asall the others put together...’ He began to write again. The sick man wastoo ill to groan. The flies buzzed in a great peace.
“Suddenly there was a growing murmur of voices and a great tramping offeet. A caravan had come in. A violent babble of uncouth sounds burst out onthe other side of the planks. All the carriers were speaking together, and inthe midst of the uproar the lamentable voice of the chief agent was heard‘giving it up’ tearfully for the twentieth time that day.... Herose slowly. ‘What a frightful row,’ he said. He crossed the roomgently to look at the sick man, and returning, said to me, ‘He does nothear.’ ‘What! Dead?’ I asked, startled. ‘No, notyet,’ he answered, with great composure. Then, alluding with a toss ofthe head to the tumult in the station-yard, ‘When one has got to makecorrect entries, one comes to hate those savages—hate them to thedeath.’ He remained thoughtful for a moment. ‘When you see Mr.Kurtz’ he went on, ‘tell him from me that everythinghere’—he glanced at the deck—’ is very satisfactory. Idon’t like to write to him—with those messengers of ours you neverknow who may get hold of your letter—at that Central Station.’ Hestared at me for a moment with his mild, bulging eyes. ‘Oh, he will gofar, very far,’ he began again. ‘He will be a somebody in theAdministration before long. They, above—the Council in Europe, youknow—mean him to be.’
“He turned to his work. The noise outside had ceased, and presently ingoing out I stopped at the door. In the steady buzz of flies the homeward-boundagent was lying finished and insensible; the other, bent over his books, wasmaking correct entries of perfectly correct transactions; and fifty feet belowthe doorstep I could see the still tree-tops of the grove of death.
“Next day I left that station at last, with a caravan of sixty men, for atwo-hundred-mile tramp.
“No use telling you much about that. Paths, paths, everywhere; astamped-in network of paths spreading over the empty land, through the longgrass, through burnt grass, through thickets, down and up chilly ravines, upand down stony hills ablaze with heat; and a solitude, a solitude, nobody, nota hut. The population had cleared out a long time ago. Well, if a lot ofmysterious niggers armed with all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took totravelling on the road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels rightand left to carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottagethereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings were gone, too.Still I passed through several abandoned villages. There’s somethingpathetically childish in the ruins of grass walls. Day after day, with thestamp and shuffle of sixty pair of bare feet behind me, each pair under a60-lb. load. Camp, cook, sleep, strike camp, march. Now and then a carrier deadin harness, at rest in the long grass near the path, with an empty water-gourdand his long staff lying by his side. A great silence around and above. Perhapson some quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremorvast, faint; a sound weird, appealing, suggestive, and wild—and perhapswith as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country. Once awhite man in an unbuttoned uniform, camping on the path with an armed escort oflank Zanzibaris, very hospitable and festive—not to say drunk. Waslooking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can’t say I saw anyroad or any upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-holein the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles farther on, maybe considered as a permanent improvement. I had a white companion, too, not abad chap, but rather too fleshy and with the exasperating habit of fainting onthe hot hillsides, miles away from the least bit of shade and water. Annoying,you know, to hold your own coat like a parasol over a man’s head while heis coming to. I couldn’t help asking him once what he meant by comingthere at all. ‘To make money, of course. What do you think?’ hesaid, scornfully. Then he got fever, and had to be carried in a hammock slungunder a pole. As he weighed sixteen stone I had no end of rows with thecarriers. They jibbed, ran away, sneaked off with their loads in thenight—quite a mutiny. So, one evening, I made a speech in English withgestures, not one of which was lost to the sixty pairs of eyes before me, andthe next morning I started the hammock off in front all right. An hourafterwards I came upon the whole concern wrecked in a bush—man, hammock,groans, blankets, horrors. The heavy pole had skinned his poor nose. He wasvery anxious for me to kill somebody, but there wasn’t the shadow of acarrier near. I remembered the old doctor—‘It would be interestingfor science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot.’ Ifelt I was becoming scientifically interesting. However, all that is to nopurpose. On the fifteenth day I came in sight of the big river again, andhobbled into the Central Station. It was on a back water surrounded by scruband forest, with a pretty border of smelly mud on one side, and on the threeothers enclosed by a crazy fence of rushes. A neglected gap was all the gate ithad, and the first glance at the place was enough to let you see the flabbydevil was running that show. White men with long staves in their hands appearedlanguidly from amongst the buildings, strolling up to take a look at me, andthen retired out of sight somewhere. One of them, a stout, excitable chap withblack moustaches, informed me with great volubility and many digressions, assoon as I told him who I was, that my steamer was at the bottom of the river. Iwas thunderstruck. What, how, why? Oh, it was ‘all right.’ The‘manager himself’ was there. All quite correct. ‘Everybodyhad behaved splendidly! splendidly!’—‘you must,’ hesaid in agitation, ‘go and see the general manager at once. He iswaiting!’
“I did not see the real significance of that wreck at once. I fancy I seeit now, but I am not sure—not at all. Certainly the affair was toostupid—when I think of it—to be altogether natural. Still... But atthe moment it presented itself simply as a confounded nuisance. The steamer wassunk. They had started two days before in a sudden hurry up the river with themanager on board, in charge of some volunteer skipper, and before they had beenout three hours they tore the bottom out of her on stones, and she sank nearthe south bank. I asked myself what I was to do there, now my boat was lost. Asa matter of fact, I had plenty to do in fishing my command out of the river. Ihad to set about it the very next day. That, and the repairs when I brought thepieces to the station, took some months.
“My first interview with the manager was curious. He did not ask me tosit down after my twenty-mile walk that morning. He was commonplace incomplexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and ofordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, andhe certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as anaxe. But even at these times the rest of his person seemed to disclaim theintention. Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of hislips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it,but I can’t explain. It was unconscious, this smile was, though justafter he had said something it got intensified for an instant. It came at theend of his speeches like a seal applied on the words to make the meaning of thecommonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable. He was a common trader, fromhis youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet heinspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. Thatwas it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothingmore. You have no idea how effective such a... a... faculty can be. He had nogenius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident insuch things as the deplorable state of the station. He had no learning, and nointelligence. His position had come to him—why? Perhaps because he wasnever ill... He had served three terms of three years out there... Becausetriumphant health in the general rout of constitutions is a kind of power initself. When he went home on leave he rioted on a large scale—pompously.Jack ashore—with a difference—in externals only. This one couldgather from his casual talk. He originated nothing, he could keep the routinegoing—that’s all. But he was great. He was great by this littlething that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He nevergave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicionmade one pause—for out there there were no external checks. Once whenvarious tropical diseases had laid low almost every ‘agent’ in thestation, he was heard to say, ‘Men who come out here should have noentrails.’ He sealed the utterance with that smile of his, as though ithad been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping. You fancied youhad seen things—but the seal was on. When annoyed at meal-times by theconstant quarrels of the white men about precedence, he ordered an immenseround table to be made, for which a special house had to be built. This was thestation’s mess-room. Where he sat was the first place—the rest werenowhere. One felt this to be his unalterable conviction. He was neither civilnor uncivil. He was quiet. He allowed his ‘boy’—an overfedyoung negro from the coast—to treat the white men, under his very eyes,with provoking insolence.
“He began to speak as soon as he saw me. I had been very long on theroad. He could not wait. Had to start without me. The up-river stations had tobe relieved. There had been so many delays already that he did not know who wasdead and who was alive, and how they got on—and so on, and so on. He paidno attention to my explanations, and, playing with a stick of sealing-wax,repeated several times that the situation was ‘very grave, verygrave.’ There were rumours that a very important station was in jeopardy,and its chief, Mr. Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not true. Mr. Kurtz was... Ifelt weary and irritable. Hang Kurtz, I thought. I interrupted him by saying Ihad heard of Mr. Kurtz on the coast. ‘Ah! So they talk of him downthere,’ he murmured to himself. Then he began again, assuring me Mr.Kurtz was the best agent he had, an exceptional man, of the greatest importanceto the Company; therefore I could understand his anxiety. He was, he said,‘very, very uneasy.’ Certainly he fidgeted on his chair a gooddeal, exclaimed, ‘Ah, Mr. Kurtz!’ broke the stick of sealing-waxand seemed dumfounded by the accident. Next thing he wanted to know ‘howlong it would take to’... I interrupted him again. Being hungry, youknow, and kept on my feet too. I was getting savage. ‘How can Itell?’ I said. ‘I haven’t even seen the wreck yet—somemonths, no doubt.’ All this talk seemed to me so futile. ‘Somemonths,’ he said. ‘Well, let us say three months before we can makea start. Yes. That ought to do the affair.’ I flung out of his hut (helived all alone in a clay hut with a sort of verandah) muttering to myself myopinion of him. He was a chattering idiot. Afterwards I took it back when itwas borne in upon me startlingly with what extreme nicety he had estimated thetime requisite for the ‘affair.’
“I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on thatstation. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeemingfacts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw thisstation, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. Iasked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there withtheir absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrimsbewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air,was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint ofimbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove!I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silentwilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as somethinggreat and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passingaway of this fantastic invasion.
“Oh, these months! Well, never mind. Various things happened. One eveninga grass shed full of calico, cotton prints, beads, and I don’t know whatelse, burst into a blaze so suddenly that you would have thought the earth hadopened to let an avenging fire consume all that trash. I was smoking my pipequietly by my dismantled steamer, and saw them all cutting capers in the light,with their arms lifted high, when the stout man with moustaches came tearingdown to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured me that everybody was‘behaving splendidly, splendidly,’ dipped about a quart of waterand tore back again. I noticed there was a hole in the bottom of his pail.
“I strolled up. There was no hurry. You see the thing had gone off like abox of matches. It had been hopeless from the very first. The flame had leapedhigh, driven everybody back, lighted up everything—and collapsed. Theshed was already a heap of embers glowing fiercely. A nigger was being beatennear by. They said he had caused the fire in some way; be that as it may, hewas screeching most horribly. I saw him, later, for several days, sitting in abit of shade looking very sick and trying to recover himself; afterwards hearose and went out—and the wilderness without a sound took him into itsbosom again. As I approached the glow from the dark I found myself at the backof two men, talking. I heard the name of Kurtz pronounced, then the words,‘take advantage of this unfortunate accident.’ One of the men wasthe manager. I wished him a good evening. ‘Did you ever see anything likeit—eh? it is incredible,’ he said, and walked off. The other manremained. He was a first-class agent, young, gentlemanly, a bit reserved, witha forked little beard and a hooked nose. He was stand-offish with the otheragents, and they on their side said he was the manager’s spy upon them.As to me, I had hardly ever spoken to him before. We got into talk, and by andby we strolled away from the hissing ruins. Then he asked me to his room, whichwas in the main building of the station. He struck a match, and I perceivedthat this young aristocrat had not only a silver-mounted dressing-case but alsoa whole candle all to himself. Just at that time the manager was the only mansupposed to have any right to candles. Native mats covered the clay walls; acollection of spears, assegais, shields, knives was hung up in trophies. Thebusiness intrusted to this fellow was the making of bricks—so I had beeninformed; but there wasn’t a fragment of a brick anywhere in the station,and he had been there more than a year—waiting. It seems he could notmake bricks without something, I don’t know what—straw maybe.Anyway, it could not be found there and as it was not likely to be sent fromEurope, it did not appear clear to me what he was waiting for. An act ofspecial creation perhaps. However, they were all waiting—all the sixteenor twenty pilgrims of them—for something; and upon my word it did notseem an uncongenial occupation, from the way they took it, though the onlything that ever came to them was disease—as far as I could see. Theybeguiled the time by back-biting and intriguing against each other in a foolishkind of way. There was an air of plotting about that station, but nothing cameof it, of course. It was as unreal as everything else—as thephilanthropic pretence of the whole concern, as their talk, as theirgovernment, as their show of work. The only real feeling was a desire to getappointed to a trading-post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earnpercentages. They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on thataccount—but as to effectually lifting a little finger—oh, no. Byheavens! there is something after all in the world allowing one man to steal ahorse while another must not look at a halter. Steal a horse straight out. Verywell. He has done it. Perhaps he can ride. But there is a way of looking at ahalter that would provoke the most charitable of saints into a kick.
“I had no idea why he wanted to be sociable, but as we chatted in thereit suddenly occurred to me the fellow was trying to get at something—infact, pumping me. He alluded constantly to Europe, to the people I was supposedto know there—putting leading questions as to my acquaintances in thesepulchral city, and so on. His little eyes glittered like micadiscs—with curiosity—though he tried to keep up a bit ofsuperciliousness. At first I was astonished, but very soon I became awfullycurious to see what he would find out from me. I couldn’t possiblyimagine what I had in me to make it worth his while. It was very pretty to seehow he baffled himself, for in truth my body was full only of chills, and myhead had nothing in it but that wretched steamboat business. It was evident hetook me for a perfectly shameless prevaricator. At last he got angry, and, toconceal a movement of furious annoyance, he yawned. I rose. Then I noticed asmall sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blindfolded,carrying a lighted torch. The background was sombre—almost black. Themovement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the facewas sinister.
“It arrested me, and he stood by civilly, holding an empty half-pintchampagne bottle (medical comforts) with the candle stuck in it. To my questionhe said Mr. Kurtz had painted this—in this very station more than a yearago—while waiting for means to go to his trading post. ‘Tell me,pray,’ said I, ‘who is this Mr. Kurtz?’
“‘The chief of the Inner Station,’ he answered in a shorttone, looking away. ‘Much obliged,’ I said, laughing. ‘Andyou are the brickmaker of the Central Station. Every one knows that.’ Hewas silent for a while. ‘He is a prodigy,’ he said at last.‘He is an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows whatelse. We want,’ he began to declaim suddenly, ‘for the guidance ofthe cause intrusted to us by Europe, so to speak, higher intelligence, widesympathies, a singleness of purpose.’ ‘Who says that?’ Iasked. ‘Lots of them,’ he replied. ‘Some even write that; andso he comes here, a special being, as you ought to know.’‘Why ought I to know?’ I interrupted, really surprised. He paid noattention. ‘Yes. Today he is chief of the best station, next year he willbe assistant-manager, two years more and... but I dare-say you know what hewill be in two years’ time. You are of the new gang—the gang ofvirtue. The same people who sent him specially also recommended you. Oh,don’t say no. I’ve my own eyes to trust.’ Light dawned uponme. My dear aunt’s influential acquaintances were producing an unexpectedeffect upon that young man. I nearly burst into a laugh. ‘Do you read theCompany’s confidential correspondence?’ I asked. He hadn’t aword to say. It was great fun. ‘When Mr. Kurtz,’ I continued,severely, ‘is General Manager, you won’t have theopportunity.’
“He blew the candle out suddenly, and we went outside. The moon hadrisen. Black figures strolled about listlessly, pouring water on the glow,whence proceeded a sound of hissing; steam ascended in the moonlight, thebeaten nigger groaned somewhere. ‘What a row the brute makes!’ saidthe indefatigable man with the moustaches, appearing near us. ‘Serve himright. Transgression—punishment—bang! Pitiless, pitiless.That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future.I was just telling the manager...’ He noticed my companion, and becamecrestfallen all at once. ‘Not in bed yet,’ he said, with a kind ofservile heartiness; ‘it’s so natural. Ha!Danger—agitation.’ He vanished. I went on to the riverside, and theother followed me. I heard a scathing murmur at my ear, ‘Heap ofmuffs—go to.’ The pilgrims could be seen in knots gesticulating,discussing. Several had still their staves in their hands. I verily believethey took these sticks to bed with them. Beyond the fence the forest stood upspectrally in the moonlight, and through that dim stir, through the faintsounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence of the land went home toone’s very heart—its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality ofits concealed life. The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere near by, and thenfetched a deep sigh that made me mend my pace away from there. I felt a handintroducing itself under my arm. ‘My dear sir,’ said the fellow,‘I don’t want to be misunderstood, and especially by you, who willsee Mr. Kurtz long before I can have that pleasure. I wouldn’t like himto get a false idea of my disposition....’
“I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles, and it seemedto me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would findnothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe. He, don’t you see, hadbeen planning to be assistant-manager by and by under the present man, and Icould see that the coming of that Kurtz had upset them both not a little. Hetalked precipitately, and I did not try to stop him. I had my shoulders againstthe wreck of my steamer, hauled up on the slope like a carcass of some bigriver animal. The smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove! was in my nostrils,the high stillness of primeval forest was before my eyes; there were shinypatches on the black creek. The moon had spread over everything a thin layer ofsilver—over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of mattedvegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river Icould see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly bywithout a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabberedabout himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensitylooking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who hadstrayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felthow big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn’t talk, andperhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory comingout from there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enoughabout it, too—God knows! Yet somehow it didn’t bring any image withit—no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. Ibelieved it in the same way one of you might believe there are inhabitants inthe planet Mars. I knew once a Scotch sailmaker who was certain, dead sure,there were people in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they looked andbehaved, he would get shy and mutter something about ‘walking onall-fours.’ If you as much as smiled, he would—though a man ofsixty—offer to fight you. I would not have gone so far as to fight forKurtz, but I went for him near enough to a lie. You know I hate, detest, andcan’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, butsimply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortalityin lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world—what Iwant to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rottenwould do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough to it by letting theyoung fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence inEurope. I became in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of thebewitched pilgrims. This simply because I had a notion it somehow would be ofhelp to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see—you understand. He wasjust a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Doyou see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I amtrying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation ofa dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity,surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion ofbeing captured by the incredible which is of the very essence ofdreams....”
He was silent for a while.
“... No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensationof any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth,its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. Welive, as we dream—alone....”
He paused again as if reflecting, then added:
“Of course in this you fellows see more than I could then. You see me,whom you know....”
It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could hardly see one another. Fora long time already he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice.There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep, but I wasawake. I listened, I listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word, thatwould give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative thatseemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river.
“... Yes—I let him run on,” Marlow began again, “andthink what he pleased about the powers that were behind me. I did! And therewas nothing behind me! There was nothing but that wretched, old, mangledsteamboat I was leaning against, while he talked fluently about ‘thenecessity for every man to get on.’ ‘And when one comes out here,you conceive, it is not to gaze at the moon.’ Mr. Kurtz was a‘universal genius,’ but even a genius would find it easier to workwith ‘adequate tools—intelligent men.’ He did not makebricks—why, there was a physical impossibility in the way—as I waswell aware; and if he did secretarial work for the manager, it was because‘no sensible man rejects wantonly the confidence of his superiors.’Did I see it? I saw it. What more did I want? What I really wanted was rivets,by heaven! Rivets. To get on with the work—to stop the hole. Rivets Iwanted. There were cases of them down at the coast—cases—piledup—burst—split! You kicked a loose rivet at every second step inthat station-yard on the hillside. Rivets had rolled into the grove of death.You could fill your pockets with rivets for the trouble of stoopingdown—and there wasn’t one rivet to be found where it was wanted. Wehad plates that would do, but nothing to fasten them with. And every week themessenger, a long negro, letter-bag on shoulder and staff in hand, left ourstation for the coast. And several times a week a coast caravan came in withtrade goods—ghastly glazed calico that made you shudder only to look atit, glass beads value about a penny a quart, confounded spotted cottonhandkerchiefs. And no rivets. Three carriers could have brought all that waswanted to set that steamboat afloat.
“He was becoming confidential now, but I fancy my unresponsive attitudemust have exasperated him at last, for he judged it necessary to inform me hefeared neither God nor devil, let alone any mere man. I said I could see thatvery well, but what I wanted was a certain quantity of rivets—and rivetswere what really Mr. Kurtz wanted, if he had only known it. Now letters went tothe coast every week.... ‘My dear sir,’ he cried, ‘I writefrom dictation.’ I demanded rivets. There was a way—for anintelligent man. He changed his manner; became very cold, and suddenly began totalk about a hippopotamus; wondered whether sleeping on board the steamer (Istuck to my salvage night and day) I wasn’t disturbed. There was an oldhippo that had the bad habit of getting out on the bank and roaming at nightover the station grounds. The pilgrims used to turn out in a body and emptyevery rifle they could lay hands on at him. Some even had sat up o’nights for him. All this energy was wasted, though. ‘That animal has acharmed life,’ he said; ‘but you can say this only of brutes inthis country. No man—you apprehend me?—no man here bears a charmedlife.’ He stood there for a moment in the moonlight with his delicatehooked nose set a little askew, and his mica eyes glittering without a wink,then, with a curt Good-night, he strode off. I could see he was disturbed andconsiderably puzzled, which made me feel more hopeful than I had been for days.It was a great comfort to turn from that chap to my influential friend, thebattered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. I clambered on board. She rangunder my feet like an empty Huntley & Palmer biscuit-tin kicked along agutter; she was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty in shape, butI had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influentialfriend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out abit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I hadrather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. Idon’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in thework—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself,not for others—what no other man can ever know. They can only see themere show, and never can tell what it really means.
“I was not surprised to see somebody sitting aft, on the deck, with hislegs dangling over the mud. You see I rather chummed with the few mechanicsthere were in that station, whom the other pilgrims naturally despised—onaccount of their imperfect manners, I suppose. This was the foreman—aboiler-maker by trade—a good worker. He was a lank, bony, yellow-facedman, with big intense eyes. His aspect was worried, and his head was as bald asthe palm of my hand; but his hair in falling seemed to have stuck to his chin,and had prospered in the new locality, for his beard hung down to his waist. Hewas a widower with six young children (he had left them in charge of a sisterof his to come out there), and the passion of his life was pigeon-flying. Hewas an enthusiast and a connoisseur. He would rave about pigeons. After workhours he used sometimes to come over from his hut for a talk about his childrenand his pigeons; at work, when he had to crawl in the mud under the bottom ofthe steamboat, he would tie up that beard of his in a kind of white serviettehe brought for the purpose. It had loops to go over his ears. In the evening hecould be seen squatted on the bank rinsing that wrapper in the creek with greatcare, then spreading it solemnly on a bush to dry.
“I slapped him on the back and shouted, ‘We shall haverivets!’ He scrambled to his feet exclaiming, ‘No! Rivets!’as though he couldn’t believe his ears. Then in a low voice,‘You... eh?’ I don’t know why we behaved like lunatics. I putmy finger to the side of my nose and nodded mysteriously. ‘Good foryou!’ he cried, snapped his fingers above his head, lifting one foot. Itried a jig. We capered on the iron deck. A frightful clatter came out of thathulk, and the virgin forest on the other bank of the creek sent it back in athundering roll upon the sleeping station. It must have made some of thepilgrims sit up in their hovels. A dark figure obscured the lighted doorway ofthe manager’s hut, vanished, then, a second or so after, the doorwayitself vanished, too. We stopped, and the silence driven away by the stampingof our feet flowed back again from the recesses of the land. The great wall ofvegetation, an exuberant and entangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves,boughs, festoons, motionless in the moonlight, was like a rioting invasion ofsoundless life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to toppleover the creek, to sweep every little man of us out of his little existence.And it moved not. A deadened burst of mighty splashes and snorts reached usfrom afar, as though an icthyosaurus had been taking a bath of glitter in thegreat river. ‘After all,’ said the boiler-maker in a reasonabletone, ‘why shouldn’t we get the rivets?’ Why not, indeed! Idid not know of any reason why we shouldn’t. ‘They’ll come inthree weeks,’ I said confidently.
“But they didn’t. Instead of rivets there came an invasion, aninfliction, a visitation. It came in sections during the next three weeks, eachsection headed by a donkey carrying a white man in new clothes and tan shoes,bowing from that elevation right and left to the impressed pilgrims. Aquarrelsome band of footsore sulky niggers trod on the heels of the donkey; alot of tents, camp-stools, tin boxes, white cases, brown bales would be shotdown in the courtyard, and the air of mystery would deepen a little over themuddle of the station. Five such instalments came, with their absurd air ofdisorderly flight with the loot of innumerable outfit shops and provisionstores, that, one would think, they were lugging, after a raid, into thewilderness for equitable division. It was an inextricable mess of things decentin themselves but that human folly made look like the spoils of thieving.
“This devoted band called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition, and Ibelieve they were sworn to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordidbuccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, andcruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of seriousintention in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these thingsare wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of theland was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than thereis in burglars breaking into a safe. Who paid the expenses of the nobleenterprise I don’t know; but the uncle of our manager was leader of thatlot.
“In exterior he resembled a butcher in a poor neighbourhood, and his eyeshad a look of sleepy cunning. He carried his fat paunch with ostentation on hisshort legs, and during the time his gang infested the station spoke to no onebut his nephew. You could see these two roaming about all day long with theirheads close together in an everlasting confab.
“I had given up worrying myself about the rivets. One’s capacityfor that kind of folly is more limited than you would suppose. I saidHang!—and let things slide. I had plenty of time for meditation, and nowand then I would give some thought to Kurtz. I wasn’t very interested inhim. No. Still, I was curious to see whether this man, who had come outequipped with moral ideas of some sort, would climb to the top after all andhow he would set about his work when there.”
“One evening as I was lying flat on the deck of my steamboat, I heardvoices approaching—and there were the nephew and the uncle strollingalong the bank. I laid my head on my arm again, and had nearly lost myself in adoze, when somebody said in my ear, as it were: ‘I am as harmless as alittle child, but I don’t like to be dictated to. Am I themanager—or am I not? I was ordered to send him there. It’sincredible.’ ... I became aware that the two were standing on the shorealongside the forepart of the steamboat, just below my head. I did not move; itdid not occur to me to move: I was sleepy. ‘It isunpleasant,’ grunted the uncle. ‘He has asked the Administration tobe sent there,’ said the other, ‘with the idea of showing what hecould do; and I was instructed accordingly. Look at the influence that man musthave. Is it not frightful?’ They both agreed it was frightful, then madeseveral bizarre remarks: ‘Make rain and fine weather—oneman—the Council—by the nose’—bits of absurd sentencesthat got the better of my drowsiness, so that I had pretty near the whole of mywits about me when the uncle said, ‘The climate may do away with thisdifficulty for you. Is he alone there?’ ‘Yes,’ answered themanager; ‘he sent his assistant down the river with a note to me in theseterms: “Clear this poor devil out of the country, and don’t bothersending more of that sort. I had rather be alone than have the kind of men youcan dispose of with me.” It was more than a year ago. Can you imaginesuch impudence!’ ‘Anything since then?’ asked the otherhoarsely. ‘Ivory,’ jerked the nephew; ‘lots of it—primesort—lots—most annoying, from him.’ ‘And withthat?’ questioned the heavy rumble. ‘Invoice,’ was the replyfired out, so to speak. Then silence. They had been talking about Kurtz.
“I was broad awake by this time, but, lying perfectly at ease, remainedstill, having no inducement to change my position. ‘How did that ivorycome all this way?’ growled the elder man, who seemed very vexed. Theother explained that it had come with a fleet of canoes in charge of an Englishhalf-caste clerk Kurtz had with him; that Kurtz had apparently intended toreturn himself, the station being by that time bare of goods and stores, butafter coming three hundred miles, had suddenly decided to go back, which hestarted to do alone in a small dugout with four paddlers, leaving thehalf-caste to continue down the river with the ivory. The two fellows thereseemed astounded at anybody attempting such a thing. They were at a loss for anadequate motive. As to me, I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was adistinct glimpse: the dugout, four paddling savages, and the lone white manturning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts ofhome—perhaps; setting his face towards the depths of the wilderness,towards his empty and desolate station. I did not know the motive. Perhaps hewas just simply a fine fellow who stuck to his work for its own sake. His name,you understand, had not been pronounced once. He was ‘that man.’The half-caste, who, as far as I could see, had conducted a difficult trip withgreat prudence and pluck, was invariably alluded to as ‘thatscoundrel.’ The ‘scoundrel’ had reported that the‘man’ had been very ill—had recovered imperfectly.... The twobelow me moved away then a few paces, and strolled back and forth at somelittle distance. I heard: ‘Military post—doctor—two hundredmiles—quite alone now—unavoidable delays—nine months—nonews—strange rumours.’ They approached again, just as the managerwas saying, ‘No one, as far as I know, unless a species of wanderingtrader—a pestilential fellow, snapping ivory from the natives.’ Whowas it they were talking about now? I gathered in snatches that this was someman supposed to be in Kurtz’s district, and of whom the manager did notapprove. ‘We will not be free from unfair competition till one of thesefellows is hanged for an example,’ he said. ‘Certainly,’grunted the other; ‘get him hanged! Why not? Anything—anything canbe done in this country. That’s what I say; nobody here, you understand,here, can endanger your position. And why? You stand theclimate—you outlast them all. The danger is in Europe; but there before Ileft I took care to—’ They moved off and whispered, then theirvoices rose again. ‘The extraordinary series of delays is not my fault. Idid my best.’ The fat man sighed. ‘Very sad.’ ‘And thepestiferous absurdity of his talk,’ continued the other; ‘hebothered me enough when he was here. “Each station should be like abeacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, butalso for humanizing, improving, instructing.” Conceive you—thatass! And he wants to be manager! No, it’s—’ Here he gotchoked by excessive indignation, and I lifted my head the least bit. I wassurprised to see how near they were—right under me. I could have spatupon their hats. They were looking on the ground, absorbed in thought. Themanager was switching his leg with a slender twig: his sagacious relativelifted his head. ‘You have been well since you came out this time?’he asked. The other gave a start. ‘Who? I? Oh! Like a charm—like acharm. But the rest—oh, my goodness! All sick. They die so quick, too,that I haven’t the time to send them out of the country—it’sincredible!’ ‘Hm’m. Just so,’ grunted the uncle.‘Ah! my boy, trust to this—I say, trust to this.’ I saw himextend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, thecreek, the mud, the river—seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourishbefore the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death,to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startlingthat I leaped to my feet and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though Ihad expected an answer of some sort to that black display of confidence. Youknow the foolish notions that come to one sometimes. The high stillnessconfronted these two figures with its ominous patience, waiting for the passingaway of a fantastic invasion.
“They swore aloud together—out of sheer fright, Ibelieve—then pretending not to know anything of my existence, turned backto the station. The sun was low; and leaning forward side by side, they seemedto be tugging painfully uphill their two ridiculous shadows of unequal length,that trailed behind them slowly over the tall grass without bending a singleblade.
“In a few days the Eldorado Expedition went into the patient wilderness,that closed upon it as the sea closes over a diver. Long afterwards the newscame that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of the lessvaluable animals. They, no doubt, like the rest of us, found what theydeserved. I did not inquire. I was then rather excited at the prospect ofmeeting Kurtz very soon. When I say very soon I mean it comparatively. It wasjust two months from the day we left the creek when we came to the bank belowKurtz’s station.
“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginningsof the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm,thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. Thelong stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadoweddistances. On silvery sand-banks hippos and alligators sunned themselves sideby side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lostyour way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day longagainst shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitchedand cut off for ever from everything you had knownonce—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps. Therewere moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes whenyou have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of anunrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelmingrealities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And thisstillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillnessof an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at youwith a vengeful aspect. I got used to it afterwards; I did not see it any more;I had no time. I had to keep guessing at the channel; I had to discern, mostlyby inspiration, the signs of hidden banks; I watched for sunken stones; I waslearning to clap my teeth smartly before my heart flew out, when I shaved by afluke some infernal sly old snag that would have ripped the life out of thetin-pot steamboat and drowned all the pilgrims; I had to keep a lookout for thesigns of dead wood we could cut up in the night for next day’s steaming.When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of thesurface, the reality—the reality, I tell you—fades. The inner truthis hidden—luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often itsmysterious stillness watching me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches youfellows performing on your respective tight-ropes for—what is it?half-a-crown a tumble—”
“Try to be civil, Marlow,” growled a voice, and I knew there was atleast one listener awake besides myself.
“I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which makes up the rest of theprice. And indeed what does the price matter, if the trick be well done? You doyour tricks very well. And I didn’t do badly either, since I managed notto sink that steamboat on my first trip. It’s a wonder to me yet. Imaginea blindfolded man set to drive a van over a bad road. I sweated and shiveredover that business considerably, I can tell you. After all, for a seaman, toscrape the bottom of the thing that’s supposed to float all the timeunder his care is the unpardonable sin. No one may know of it, but you neverforget the thump—eh? A blow on the very heart. You remember it, you dreamof it, you wake up at night and think of it—years after—and go hotand cold all over. I don’t pretend to say that steamboat floated all thetime. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashingaround and pushing. We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew.Fine fellows—cannibals—in their place. They were men one could workwith, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each otherbefore my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo-meat which wentrotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils. Phoo! Ican sniff it now. I had the manager on board and three or four pilgrims withtheir staves—all complete. Sometimes we came upon a station close by thebank, clinging to the skirts of the unknown, and the white men rushing out of atumble-down hovel, with great gestures of joy and surprise and welcome, seemedvery strange—had the appearance of being held there captive by a spell.The word ivory would ring in the air for a while—and on we went againinto the silence, along empty reaches, round the still bends, between the highwalls of our winding way, reverberating in hollow claps the ponderous beat ofthe stern-wheel. Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running uphigh; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the littlebegrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a loftyportico. It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogetherdepressing, that feeling. After all, if you were small, the grimy beetlecrawled on—which was just what you wanted it to do. Where the pilgrimsimagined it crawled to I don’t know. To some place where they expected toget something. I bet! For me it crawled towards Kurtz—exclusively; butwhen the steam-pipes started leaking we crawled very slow. The reaches openedbefore us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across thewater to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into theheart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll ofdrums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustainedfaintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break ofday. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns wereheralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, theirfires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We werewanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of anunknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men takingpossession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profoundanguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend,there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst ofyells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping of feet stamping, ofbodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionlessfoliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black andincomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us,welcoming us—who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension ofour surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretlyappalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse.We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember becausewe were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone,leaving hardly a sign—and no memories.
“The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackledform of a conquered monster, but there—there you could look at a thingmonstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were notinhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of theirnot being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, andspun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought oftheir humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship withthis wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you wereman enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintesttrace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion ofthere being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night offirst ages—could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable ofanything—because everything is in it, all the past as well as all thefuture. What was there after all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valour,rage—who can tell?—but truth—truth stripped of its cloak oftime. Let the fool gape and shudder—the man knows, and can look onwithout a wink. But he must at least be as much of a man as these on the shore.He must meet that truth with his own true stuff—with his own inbornstrength. Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, prettyrags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want adeliberate belief. An appeal to me in this fiendish row—is there? Verywell; I hear; I admit, but I have a voice, too, and for good or evil mine isthe speech that cannot be silenced. Of course, a fool, what with sheer frightand fine sentiments, is always safe. Who’s that grunting? You wonder Ididn’t go ashore for a howl and a dance? Well, no—I didn’t.Fine sentiments, you say? Fine sentiments, be hanged! I had no time. I had tomess about with white-lead and strips of woolen blanket helping to put bandageson those leaky steam-pipes—I tell you. I had to watch the steering, andcircumvent those snags, and get the tin-pot along by hook or by crook. Therewas surface-truth enough in these things to save a wiser man. And betweenwhiles I had to look after the savage who was fireman. He was an improvedspecimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, uponmy word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breechesand a feather hat, walking on his hind-legs. A few months of training had donefor that really fine chap. He squinted at the steam-gauge and at thewater-gauge with an evident effort of intrepidity—and he had filed teeth,too, the poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer patterns, andthree ornamental scars on each of his cheeks. He ought to have been clappinghis hands and stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard atwork, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge. He wasuseful because he had been instructed; and what he knew was this—thatshould the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit insidethe boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take aterrible vengeance. So he sweated and fired up and watched the glass fearfully(with an impromptu charm, made of rags, tied to his arm, and a piece ofpolished bone, as big as a watch, stuck flatways through his lower lip), whilethe wooded banks slipped past us slowly, the short noise was left behind, theinterminable miles of silence—and we crept on, towards Kurtz. But thesnags were thick, the water was treacherous and shallow, the boiler seemedindeed to have a sulky devil in it, and thus neither that fireman nor I had anytime to peer into our creepy thoughts.
“Some fifty miles below the Inner Station we came upon a hut of reeds, aninclined and melancholy pole, with the unrecognizable tatters of what had beena flag of some sort flying from it, and a neatly stacked wood-pile. This wasunexpected. We came to the bank, and on the stack of firewood found a flatpiece of board with some faded pencil-writing on it. When deciphered it said:‘Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.’ There was asignature, but it was illegible—not Kurtz—a much longer word.‘Hurry up.’ Where? Up the river? ‘Approach cautiously.’We had not done so. But the warning could not have been meant for the placewhere it could be only found after approach. Something was wrong above. Butwhat—and how much? That was the question. We commented adversely upon theimbecility of that telegraphic style. The bush around said nothing, and wouldnot let us look very far, either. A torn curtain of red twill hung in thedoorway of the hut, and flapped sadly in our faces. The dwelling wasdismantled; but we could see a white man had lived there not very long ago.There remained a rude table—a plank on two posts; a heap of rubbishreposed in a dark corner, and by the door I picked up a book. It had lost itscovers, and the pages had been thumbed into a state of extremely dirtysoftness; but the back had been lovingly stitched afresh with white cottonthread, which looked clean yet. It was an extraordinary find. Its title was,An Inquiry into some Points of Seamanship, by a man Towser,Towson—some such name—Master in his Majesty’s Navy. Thematter looked dreary reading enough, with illustrative diagrams and repulsivetables of figures, and the copy was sixty years old. I handled this amazingantiquity with the greatest possible tenderness, lest it should dissolve in myhands. Within, Towson or Towser was inquiring earnestly into the breakingstrain of ships’ chains and tackle, and other such matters. Not a veryenthralling book; but at the first glance you could see there a singleness ofintention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work, which madethese humble pages, thought out so many years ago, luminous with another than aprofessional light. The simple old sailor, with his talk of chains andpurchases, made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious sensationof having come upon something unmistakably real. Such a book being there waswonderful enough; but still more astounding were the notes pencilled in themargin, and plainly referring to the text. I couldn’t believe my eyes!They were in cipher! Yes, it looked like cipher. Fancy a man lugging with him abook of that description into this nowhere and studying it—and makingnotes—in cipher at that! It was an extravagant mystery.
“I had been dimly aware for some time of a worrying noise, and when Ilifted my eyes I saw the wood-pile was gone, and the manager, aided by all thepilgrims, was shouting at me from the riverside. I slipped the book into mypocket. I assure you to leave off reading was like tearing myself away from theshelter of an old and solid friendship.
“I started the lame engine ahead. ‘It must be this miserabletrader—this intruder,’ exclaimed the manager, looking backmalevolently at the place we had left. ‘He must be English,’ Isaid. ‘It will not save him from getting into trouble if he is notcareful,’ muttered the manager darkly. I observed with assumed innocencethat no man was safe from trouble in this world.
“The current was more rapid now, the steamer seemed at her last gasp, thestern-wheel flopped languidly, and I caught myself listening on tiptoe for thenext beat of the boat, for in sober truth I expected the wretched thing to giveup every moment. It was like watching the last flickers of a life. But still wecrawled. Sometimes I would pick out a tree a little way ahead to measure ourprogress towards Kurtz by, but I lost it invariably before we got abreast. Tokeep the eyes so long on one thing was too much for human patience. The managerdisplayed a beautiful resignation. I fretted and fumed and took to arguing withmyself whether or no I would talk openly with Kurtz; but before I could come toany conclusion it occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed anyaction of mine, would be a mere futility. What did it matter what any one knewor ignored? What did it matter who was manager? One gets sometimes such a flashof insight. The essentials of this affair lay deep under the surface, beyond myreach, and beyond my power of meddling.
“Towards the evening of the second day we judged ourselves about eightmiles from Kurtz’s station. I wanted to push on; but the manager lookedgrave, and told me the navigation up there was so dangerous that it would beadvisable, the sun being very low already, to wait where we were till nextmorning. Moreover, he pointed out that if the warning to approach cautiouslywere to be followed, we must approach in daylight—not at dusk or in thedark. This was sensible enough. Eight miles meant nearly three hours’steaming for us, and I could also see suspicious ripples at the upper end ofthe reach. Nevertheless, I was annoyed beyond expression at the delay, and mostunreasonably, too, since one night more could not matter much after so manymonths. As we had plenty of wood, and caution was the word, I brought up in themiddle of the stream. The reach was narrow, straight, with high sides like arailway cutting. The dusk came gliding into it long before the sun had set. Thecurrent ran smooth and swift, but a dumb immobility sat on the banks. Theliving trees, lashed together by the creepers and every living bush of theundergrowth, might have been changed into stone, even to the slenderest twig,to the lightest leaf. It was not sleep—it seemed unnatural, like a stateof trance. Not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard. You looked onamazed, and began to suspect yourself of being deaf—then the night camesuddenly, and struck you blind as well. About three in the morning some largefish leaped, and the loud splash made me jump as though a gun had been fired.When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and moreblinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standingall round you like something solid. At eight or nine, perhaps, it lifted as ashutter lifts. We had a glimpse of the towering multitude of trees, of theimmense matted jungle, with the blazing little ball of the sun hanging overit—all perfectly still—and then the white shutter came down again,smoothly, as if sliding in greased grooves. I ordered the chain, which we hadbegun to heave in, to be paid out again. Before it stopped running with amuffled rattle, a cry, a very loud cry, as of infinite desolation, soaredslowly in the opaque air. It ceased. A complaining clamour, modulated in savagediscords, filled our ears. The sheer unexpectedness of it made my hair stirunder my cap. I don’t know how it struck the others: to me it seemed asthough the mist itself had screamed, so suddenly, and apparently from all sidesat once, did this tumultuous and mournful uproar arise. It culminated in ahurried outbreak of almost intolerably excessive shrieking, which stoppedshort, leaving us stiffened in a variety of silly attitudes, and obstinatelylistening to the nearly as appalling and excessive silence. ‘Good God!What is the meaning—’ stammered at my elbow one of thepilgrims—a little fat man, with sandy hair and red whiskers, who woresidespring boots, and pink pyjamas tucked into his socks. Two others remainedopen-mouthed a while minute, then dashed into the little cabin, to rush outincontinently and stand darting scared glances, with Winchesters at‘ready’ in their hands. What we could see was just the steamer wewere on, her outlines blurred as though she had been on the point ofdissolving, and a misty strip of water, perhaps two feet broad, aroundher—and that was all. The rest of the world was nowhere, as far as oureyes and ears were concerned. Just nowhere. Gone, disappeared; swept offwithout leaving a whisper or a shadow behind.
“I went forward, and ordered the chain to be hauled in short, so as to beready to trip the anchor and move the steamboat at once if necessary.‘Will they attack?’ whispered an awed voice. ‘We will be allbutchered in this fog,’ murmured another. The faces twitched with thestrain, the hands trembled slightly, the eyes forgot to wink. It was verycurious to see the contrast of expressions of the white men and of the blackfellows of our crew, who were as much strangers to that part of the river aswe, though their homes were only eight hundred miles away. The whites, ofcourse greatly discomposed, had besides a curious look of being painfullyshocked by such an outrageous row. The others had an alert, naturallyinterested expression; but their faces were essentially quiet, even those ofthe one or two who grinned as they hauled at the chain. Several exchangedshort, grunting phrases, which seemed to settle the matter to theirsatisfaction. Their headman, a young, broad-chested black, severely draped indark-blue fringed cloths, with fierce nostrils and his hair all done upartfully in oily ringlets, stood near me. ‘Aha!’ I said, just forgood fellowship’s sake. ‘Catch ’im,’ he snapped, with abloodshot widening of his eyes and a flash of sharp teeth—‘catch’im. Give ’im to us.’ ‘To you, eh?’ I asked;‘what would you do with them?’ ‘Eat ’im!’ he saidcurtly, and, leaning his elbow on the rail, looked out into the fog in adignified and profoundly pensive attitude. I would no doubt have been properlyhorrified, had it not occurred to me that he and his chaps must be very hungry:that they must have been growing increasingly hungry for at least this monthpast. They had been engaged for six months (I don’t think a single one ofthem had any clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages have. Theystill belonged to the beginnings of time—had no inherited experience toteach them as it were), and of course, as long as there was a piece of paperwritten over in accordance with some farcical law or other made down the river,it didn’t enter anybody’s head to trouble how they would live.Certainly they had brought with them some rotten hippo-meat, whichcouldn’t have lasted very long, anyway, even if the pilgrimshadn’t, in the midst of a shocking hullabaloo, thrown a considerablequantity of it overboard. It looked like a high-handed proceeding; but it wasreally a case of legitimate self-defence. You can’t breathe dead hippowaking, sleeping, and eating, and at the same time keep your precarious grip onexistence. Besides that, they had given them every week three pieces of brasswire, each about nine inches long; and the theory was they were to buy theirprovisions with that currency in riverside villages. You can see howthat worked. There were either no villages, or the people were hostile,or the director, who like the rest of us fed out of tins, with an occasionalold he-goat thrown in, didn’t want to stop the steamer for some more orless recondite reason. So, unless they swallowed the wire itself, or made loopsof it to snare the fishes with, I don’t see what good their extravagantsalary could be to them. I must say it was paid with a regularity worthy of alarge and honourable trading company. For the rest, the only thing toeat—though it didn’t look eatable in the least—I saw in theirpossession was a few lumps of some stuff like half-cooked dough, of a dirtylavender colour, they kept wrapped in leaves, and now and then swallowed apiece of, but so small that it seemed done more for the looks of the thing thanfor any serious purpose of sustenance. Why in the name of all the gnawingdevils of hunger they didn’t go for us—they were thirty tofive—and have a good tuck-in for once, amazes me now when I think of it.They were big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences,with courage, with strength, even yet, though their skins were no longer glossyand their muscles no longer hard. And I saw that something restraining, one ofthose human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play there. I lookedat them with a swift quickening of interest—not because it occurred to meI might be eaten by them before very long, though I own to you that just then Iperceived—in a new light, as it were—how unwholesome the pilgrimslooked, and I hoped, yes, I positively hoped, that my aspect was notso—what shall I say?—so—unappetizing: a touch of fantasticvanity which fitted well with the dream-sensation that pervaded all my days atthat time. Perhaps I had a little fever, too. One can’t live withone’s finger everlastingly on one’s pulse. I had often ‘alittle fever,’ or a little touch of other things—the playfulpaw-strokes of the wilderness, the preliminary trifling before the more seriousonslaught which came in due course. Yes; I looked at them as you would on anyhuman being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities,weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity.Restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience,fear—or some kind of primitive honour? No fear can stand up to hunger, nopatience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and asto superstition, beliefs, and what you may call principles, they are less thanchaff in a breeze. Don’t you know the devilry of lingering starvation,its exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its sombre and brooding ferocity?Well, I do. It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly.It’s really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition ofone’s soul—than this kind of prolonged hunger. Sad, but true. Andthese chaps, too, had no earthly reason for any kind of scruple. Restraint! Iwould just as soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling amongst thecorpses of a battlefield. But there was the fact facing me—the factdazzling, to be seen, like the foam on the depths of the sea, like a ripple onan unfathomable enigma, a mystery greater—when I thought of it—thanthe curious, inexplicable note of desperate grief in this savage clamour thathad swept by us on the river-bank, behind the blind whiteness of the fog.
“Two pilgrims were quarrelling in hurried whispers as to which bank.‘Left.’ ‘no, no; how can you? Right, right, of course.’‘It is very serious,’ said the manager’s voice behind me;‘I would be desolated if anything should happen to Mr. Kurtz before wecame up.’ I looked at him, and had not the slightest doubt he wassincere. He was just the kind of man who would wish to preserve appearances.That was his restraint. But when he muttered something about going on at once,I did not even take the trouble to answer him. I knew, and he knew, that it wasimpossible. Were we to let go our hold of the bottom, we would be absolutely inthe air—in space. We wouldn’t be able to tell where we were goingto—whether up or down stream, or across—till we fetched against onebank or the other—and then we wouldn’t know at first which it was.Of course I made no move. I had no mind for a smash-up. You couldn’timagine a more deadly place for a shipwreck. Whether we drowned at once or not,we were sure to perish speedily in one way or another. ‘I authorize youto take all the risks,’ he said, after a short silence. ‘I refuseto take any,’ I said shortly; which was just the answer he expected,though its tone might have surprised him. ‘Well, I must defer to yourjudgment. You are captain,’ he said with marked civility. I turned myshoulder to him in sign of my appreciation, and looked into the fog. How longwould it last? It was the most hopeless lookout. The approach to this Kurtzgrubbing for ivory in the wretched bush was beset by as many dangers as thoughhe had been an enchanted princess sleeping in a fabulous castle. ‘Willthey attack, do you think?’ asked the manager, in a confidential tone.
“I did not think they would attack, for several obvious reasons. Thethick fog was one. If they left the bank in their canoes they would get lost init, as we would be if we attempted to move. Still, I had also judged the jungleof both banks quite impenetrable—and yet eyes were in it, eyes that hadseen us. The riverside bushes were certainly very thick; but the undergrowthbehind was evidently penetrable. However, during the short lift I had seen nocanoes anywhere in the reach—certainly not abreast of the steamer. Butwhat made the idea of attack inconceivable to me was the nature of thenoise—of the cries we had heard. They had not the fierce character bodingimmediate hostile intention. Unexpected, wild, and violent as they had been,they had given me an irresistible impression of sorrow. The glimpse of thesteamboat had for some reason filled those savages with unrestrained grief. Thedanger, if any, I expounded, was from our proximity to a great human passionlet loose. Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence—butmore generally takes the form of apathy....
“You should have seen the pilgrims stare! They had no heart to grin, oreven to revile me: but I believe they thought me gone mad—with fright,maybe. I delivered a regular lecture. My dear boys, it was no good bothering.Keep a lookout? Well, you may guess I watched the fog for the signs of liftingas a cat watches a mouse; but for anything else our eyes were of no more use tous than if we had been buried miles deep in a heap of cotton-wool. It felt likeit, too—choking, warm, stifling. Besides, all I said, though it soundedextravagant, was absolutely true to fact. What we afterwards alluded to as anattack was really an attempt at repulse. The action was very far from beingaggressive—it was not even defensive, in the usual sense: it wasundertaken under the stress of desperation, and in its essence was purelyprotective.
“It developed itself, I should say, two hours after the fog lifted, andits commencement was at a spot, roughly speaking, about a mile and a half belowKurtz’s station. We had just floundered and flopped round a bend, when Isaw an islet, a mere grassy hummock of bright green, in the middle of thestream. It was the only thing of the kind; but as we opened the reach more, Iperceived it was the head of a long sand-bank, or rather of a chain of shallowpatches stretching down the middle of the river. They were discoloured, justawash, and the whole lot was seen just under the water, exactly as aman’s backbone is seen running down the middle of his back under theskin. Now, as far as I did see, I could go to the right or to the left of this.I didn’t know either channel, of course. The banks looked pretty wellalike, the depth appeared the same; but as I had been informed the station wason the west side, I naturally headed for the western passage.
“No sooner had we fairly entered it than I became aware it was muchnarrower than I had supposed. To the left of us there was the longuninterrupted shoal, and to the right a high, steep bank heavily overgrown withbushes. Above the bush the trees stood in serried ranks. The twigs overhung thecurrent thickly, and from distance to distance a large limb of some treeprojected rigidly over the stream. It was then well on in the afternoon, theface of the forest was gloomy, and a broad strip of shadow had already fallenon the water. In this shadow we steamed up—very slowly, as you mayimagine. I sheered her well inshore—the water being deepest near thebank, as the sounding-pole informed me.
“One of my hungry and forbearing friends was sounding in the bows justbelow me. This steamboat was exactly like a decked scow. On the deck, therewere two little teakwood houses, with doors and windows. The boiler was in thefore-end, and the machinery right astern. Over the whole there was a lightroof, supported on stanchions. The funnel projected through that roof, and infront of the funnel a small cabin built of light planks served for apilot-house. It contained a couch, two camp-stools, a loaded Martini-Henryleaning in one corner, a tiny table, and the steering-wheel. It had a wide doorin front and a broad shutter at each side. All these were always thrown open,of course. I spent my days perched up there on the extreme fore-end of thatroof, before the door. At night I slept, or tried to, on the couch. An athleticblack belonging to some coast tribe and educated by my poor predecessor, wasthe helmsman. He sported a pair of brass earrings, wore a blue cloth wrapperfrom the waist to the ankles, and thought all the world of himself. He was themost unstable kind of fool I had ever seen. He steered with no end of a swaggerwhile you were by; but if he lost sight of you, he became instantly the prey ofan abject funk, and would let that cripple of a steamboat get the upper hand ofhim in a minute.
“I was looking down at the sounding-pole, and feeling much annoyed to seeat each try a little more of it stick out of that river, when I saw my polemangive up on the business suddenly, and stretch himself flat on the deck, withouteven taking the trouble to haul his pole in. He kept hold on it though, and ittrailed in the water. At the same time the fireman, whom I could also see belowme, sat down abruptly before his furnace and ducked his head. I was amazed.Then I had to look at the river mighty quick, because there was a snag in thefairway. Sticks, little sticks, were flying about—thick: they werewhizzing before my nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against mypilot-house. All this time the river, the shore, the woods, were veryquiet—perfectly quiet. I could only hear the heavy splashing thump of thestern-wheel and the patter of these things. We cleared the snag clumsily.Arrows, by Jove! We were being shot at! I stepped in quickly to close theshutter on the landside. That fool-helmsman, his hands on the spokes, waslifting his knees high, stamping his feet, champing his mouth, like a reined-inhorse. Confound him! And we were staggering within ten feet of the bank. I hadto lean right out to swing the heavy shutter, and I saw a face amongst theleaves on the level with my own, looking at me very fierce and steady; and thensuddenly, as though a veil had been removed from my eyes, I made out, deep inthe tangled gloom, naked breasts, arms, legs, glaring eyes—the bush wasswarming with human limbs in movement, glistening of bronze colour. The twigsshook, swayed, and rustled, the arrows flew out of them, and then the shuttercame to. ‘Steer her straight,’ I said to the helmsman. He held hishead rigid, face forward; but his eyes rolled, he kept on lifting and settingdown his feet gently, his mouth foamed a little. ‘Keep quiet!’ Isaid in a fury. I might just as well have ordered a tree not to sway in thewind. I darted out. Below me there was a great scuffle of feet on the irondeck; confused exclamations; a voice screamed, ‘Can you turn back?’I caught sight of a V-shaped ripple on the water ahead. What? Another snag! Afusillade burst out under my feet. The pilgrims had opened with theirWinchesters, and were simply squirting lead into that bush. A deuce of a lot ofsmoke came up and drove slowly forward. I swore at it. Now I couldn’t seethe ripple or the snag either. I stood in the doorway, peering, and the arrowscame in swarms. They might have been poisoned, but they looked as though theywouldn’t kill a cat. The bush began to howl. Our wood-cutters raised awarlike whoop; the report of a rifle just at my back deafened me. I glancedover my shoulder, and the pilot-house was yet full of noise and smoke when Imade a dash at the wheel. The fool-nigger had dropped everything, to throw theshutter open and let off that Martini-Henry. He stood before the wide opening,glaring, and I yelled at him to come back, while I straightened the suddentwist out of that steamboat. There was no room to turn even if I had wanted to,the snag was somewhere very near ahead in that confounded smoke, there was notime to lose, so I just crowded her into the bank—right into the bank,where I knew the water was deep.
“We tore slowly along the overhanging bushes in a whirl of broken twigsand flying leaves. The fusillade below stopped short, as I had foreseen itwould when the squirts got empty. I threw my head back to a glinting whizz thattraversed the pilot-house, in at one shutter-hole and out at the other. Lookingpast that mad helmsman, who was shaking the empty rifle and yelling at theshore, I saw vague forms of men running bent double, leaping, gliding,distinct, incomplete, evanescent. Something big appeared in the air before theshutter, the rifle went overboard, and the man stepped back swiftly, looked atme over his shoulder in an extraordinary, profound, familiar manner, and fellupon my feet. The side of his head hit the wheel twice, and the end of whatappeared a long cane clattered round and knocked over a little camp-stool. Itlooked as though after wrenching that thing from somebody ashore he had losthis balance in the effort. The thin smoke had blown away, we were clear of thesnag, and looking ahead I could see that in another hundred yards or so I wouldbe free to sheer off, away from the bank; but my feet felt so very warm and wetthat I had to look down. The man had rolled on his back and stared straight upat me; both his hands clutched that cane. It was the shaft of a spear that,either thrown or lunged through the opening, had caught him in the side, justbelow the ribs; the blade had gone in out of sight, after making a frightfulgash; my shoes were full; a pool of blood lay very still, gleaming dark-redunder the wheel; his eyes shone with an amazing lustre. The fusillade burst outagain. He looked at me anxiously, gripping the spear like something precious,with an air of being afraid I would try to take it away from him. I had to makean effort to free my eyes from his gaze and attend to the steering. With onehand I felt above my head for the line of the steam whistle, and jerked outscreech after screech hurriedly. The tumult of angry and warlike yells waschecked instantly, and then from the depths of the woods went out such atremulous and prolonged wail of mournful fear and utter despair as may beimagined to follow the flight of the last hope from the earth. There was agreat commotion in the bush; the shower of arrows stopped, a few dropping shotsrang out sharply—then silence, in which the languid beat of thestern-wheel came plainly to my ears. I put the helm hard a-starboard at themoment when the pilgrim in pink pyjamas, very hot and agitated, appeared in thedoorway. ‘The manager sends me—’ he began in an officialtone, and stopped short. ‘Good God!’ he said, glaring at thewounded man.
“We two whites stood over him, and his lustrous and inquiring glanceenveloped us both. I declare it looked as though he would presently put to ussome questions in an understandable language; but he died without uttering asound, without moving a limb, without twitching a muscle. Only in the very lastmoment, as though in response to some sign we could not see, to some whisper wecould not hear, he frowned heavily, and that frown gave to his black death-maskan inconceivably sombre, brooding, and menacing expression. The lustre ofinquiring glance faded swiftly into vacant glassiness. ‘Can yousteer?’ I asked the agent eagerly. He looked very dubious; but I made agrab at his arm, and he understood at once I meant him to steer whether or no.To tell you the truth, I was morbidly anxious to change my shoes and socks.‘He is dead,’ murmured the fellow, immensely impressed. ‘Nodoubt about it,’ said I, tugging like mad at the shoe-laces. ‘Andby the way, I suppose Mr. Kurtz is dead as well by this time.’
“For the moment that was the dominant thought. There was a sense ofextreme disappointment, as though I had found out I had been striving aftersomething altogether without a substance. I couldn’t have been moredisgusted if I had travelled all this way for the sole purpose of talking withMr. Kurtz. Talking with... I flung one shoe overboard, and became aware thatthat was exactly what I had been looking forward to—a talk with Kurtz. Imade the strange discovery that I had never imagined him as doing, you know,but as discoursing. I didn’t say to myself, ‘Now I will never seehim,’ or ‘Now I will never shake him by the hand,’ but,‘Now I will never hear him.’ The man presented himself as a voice.Not of course that I did not connect him with some sort of action. Hadn’tI been told in all the tones of jealousy and admiration that he had collected,bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together?That was not the point. The point was in his being a gifted creature, and thatof all his gifts the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it asense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift ofexpression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the mostcontemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from theheart of an impenetrable darkness.
“The other shoe went flying unto the devil-god of that river. I thought,‘By Jove! it’s all over. We are too late; he has vanished—thegift has vanished, by means of some spear, arrow, or club. I will never hearthat chap speak after all’—and my sorrow had a startlingextravagance of emotion, even such as I had noticed in the howling sorrow ofthese savages in the bush. I couldn’t have felt more of lonely desolationsomehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed my destiny in life.... Whydo you sigh in this beastly way, somebody? Absurd? Well, absurd. Good Lord!mustn’t a man ever—Here, give me some tobacco.”...
There was a pause of profound stillness, then a match flared, andMarlow’s lean face appeared, worn, hollow, with downward folds anddropped eyelids, with an aspect of concentrated attention; and as he tookvigorous draws at his pipe, it seemed to retreat and advance out of the nightin the regular flicker of tiny flame. The match went out.
“Absurd!” he cried. “This is the worst of trying to tell....Here you all are, each moored with two good addresses, like a hulk with twoanchors, a butcher round one corner, a policeman round another, excellentappetites, and temperature normal—you hear—normal from year’send to year’s end. And you say, Absurd! Absurd be—exploded! Absurd!My dear boys, what can you expect from a man who out of sheer nervousness hadjust flung overboard a pair of new shoes! Now I think of it, it is amazing Idid not shed tears. I am, upon the whole, proud of my fortitude. I was cut tothe quick at the idea of having lost the inestimable privilege of listening tothe gifted Kurtz. Of course I was wrong. The privilege was waiting for me. Oh,yes, I heard more than enough. And I was right, too. A voice. He was verylittle more than a voice. And I heard—him—it—thisvoice—other voices—all of them were so little more thanvoices—and the memory of that time itself lingers around me, impalpable,like a dying vibration of one immense jabber, silly, atrocious, sordid, savage,or simply mean, without any kind of sense. Voices, voices—even the girlherself—now—”
He was silent for a long time.
“I laid the ghost of his gifts at last with a lie,” he began,suddenly. “Girl! What? Did I mention a girl? Oh, she is out ofit—completely. They—the women, I mean—are out ofit—should be out of it. We must help them to stay in that beautiful worldof their own, lest ours gets worse. Oh, she had to be out of it. You shouldhave heard the disinterred body of Mr. Kurtz saying, ‘My Intended.’You would have perceived directly then how completely she was out of it. Andthe lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the hair goes on growingsometimes, but this—ah—specimen, was impressively bald. Thewilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball—anivory ball; it had caressed him, and—lo!—he had withered; it hadtaken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, andsealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilishinitiation. He was its spoiled and pampered favourite. Ivory? I should thinkso. Heaps of it, stacks of it. The old mud shanty was bursting with it. Youwould think there was not a single tusk left either above or below the groundin the whole country. ‘Mostly fossil,’ the manager had remarked,disparagingly. It was no more fossil than I am; but they call it fossil when itis dug up. It appears these niggers do bury the tusks sometimes—butevidently they couldn’t bury this parcel deep enough to save the giftedMr. Kurtz from his fate. We filled the steamboat with it, and had to pile a loton the deck. Thus he could see and enjoy as long as he could see, because theappreciation of this favour had remained with him to the last. You should haveheard him say, ‘My ivory.’ Oh, yes, I heard him. ‘MyIntended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belongedto him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of hearing the wildernessburst into a prodigious peal of laughter that would shake the fixed stars intheir places. Everything belonged to him—but that was a trifle. The thingwas to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him fortheir own. That was the reflection that made you creepy all over. It wasimpossible—it was not good for one either—trying to imagine. He hadtaken a high seat amongst the devils of the land—I mean literally. Youcan’t understand. How could you?—with solid pavement under yourfeet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall on you,stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terrorof scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums—how can you imagine whatparticular region of the first ages a man’s untrammelled feet may takehim into by the way of solitude—utter solitude without apoliceman—by the way of silence—utter silence, where no warningvoice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering of public opinion? Theselittle things make all the great difference. When they are gone you must fallback upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness. Ofcourse you may be too much of a fool to go wrong—too dull even to knowyou are being assaulted by the powers of darkness. I take it, no fool ever madea bargain for his soul with the devil; the fool is too much of a fool, or thedevil too much of a devil—I don’t know which. Or you may be such athunderingly exalted creature as to be altogether deaf and blind to anythingbut heavenly sights and sounds. Then the earth for you is only a standingplace—and whether to be like this is your loss or your gain I won’tpretend to say. But most of us are neither one nor the other. The earth for usis a place to live in, where we must put up with sights, with sounds, withsmells, too, by Jove!—breathe dead hippo, so to speak, and not becontaminated. And there, don’t you see? Your strength comes in, the faithin your ability for the digging of unostentatious holes to bury the stuffin—your power of devotion, not to yourself, but to an obscure,back-breaking business. And that’s difficult enough. Mind, I am nottrying to excuse or even explain—I am trying to account to myselffor—for—Mr. Kurtz—for the shade of Mr. Kurtz. This initiatedwraith from the back of Nowhere honoured me with its amazing confidence beforeit vanished altogether. This was because it could speak English to me. Theoriginal Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and—as he was goodenough to say himself—his sympathies were in the right place. His motherwas half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to themaking of Kurtz; and by and by I learned that, most appropriately, theInternational Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted himwith the making of a report, for its future guidance. And he had written it,too. I’ve seen it. I’ve read it. It was eloquent, vibrating witheloquence, but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of close writing hehad found time for! But this must have been before his—let ussay—nerves, went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnightdances ending with unspeakable rites, which—as far as I reluctantlygathered from what I heard at various times—were offered up tohim—do you understand?—to Mr. Kurtz himself. But it was a beautifulpiece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of laterinformation, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that wewhites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘mustnecessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernaturalbeings—we approach them with the might of a deity,’ and so on, andso on. ‘By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for goodpractically unbounded,’ etc., etc. From that point he soared and took mewith him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, youknow. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an augustBenevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power ofeloquence—of words—of burning noble words. There were no practicalhints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at thefoot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, maybe regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the endof that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminousand terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminateall the brutes!’ The curious part was that he had apparently forgottenall about that valuable postscriptum, because, later on, when he in a sensecame to himself, he repeatedly entreated me to take good care of ‘mypamphlet’ (he called it), as it was sure to have in the future a goodinfluence upon his career. I had full information about all these things, and,besides, as it turned out, I was to have the care of his memory. I’vedone enough for it to give me the indisputable right to lay it, if I choose,for an everlasting rest in the dust-bin of progress, amongst all the sweepingsand, figuratively speaking, all the dead cats of civilization. But then, yousee, I can’t choose. He won’t be forgotten. Whatever he was, he wasnot common. He had the power to charm or frighten rudimentary souls into anaggravated witch-dance in his honour; he could also fill the small souls of thepilgrims with bitter misgivings: he had one devoted friend at least, and he hadconquered one soul in the world that was neither rudimentary nor tainted withself-seeking. No; I can’t forget him, though I am not prepared to affirmthe fellow was exactly worth the life we lost in getting to him. I missed mylate helmsman awfully—I missed him even while his body was still lying inthe pilot-house. Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for asavage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well,don’t you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I hadhim at my back—a help—an instrument. It was a kind of partnership.He steered for me—I had to look after him, I worried about hisdeficiencies, and thus a subtle bond had been created, of which I only becameaware when it was suddenly broken. And the intimate profundity of that look hegave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory—like aclaim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.
“Poor fool! If he had only left that shutter alone. He had no restraint,no restraint—just like Kurtz—a tree swayed by the wind. As soon asI had put on a dry pair of slippers, I dragged him out, after first jerking thespear out of his side, which operation I confess I performed with my eyes shuttight. His heels leaped together over the little doorstep; his shoulders werepressed to my breast; I hugged him from behind desperately. Oh! he was heavy,heavy; heavier than any man on earth, I should imagine. Then without more ado Itipped him overboard. The current snatched him as though he had been a wisp ofgrass, and I saw the body roll over twice before I lost sight of it for ever.All the pilgrims and the manager were then congregated on the awning-deck aboutthe pilot-house, chattering at each other like a flock of excited magpies, andthere was a scandalized murmur at my heartless promptitude. What they wanted tokeep that body hanging about for I can’t guess. Embalm it, maybe. But Ihad also heard another, and a very ominous, murmur on the deck below. Myfriends the wood-cutters were likewise scandalized, and with a better show ofreason—though I admit that the reason itself was quite inadmissible. Oh,quite! I had made up my mind that if my late helmsman was to be eaten, thefishes alone should have him. He had been a very second-rate helmsman whilealive, but now he was dead he might have become a first-class temptation, andpossibly cause some startling trouble. Besides, I was anxious to take thewheel, the man in pink pyjamas showing himself a hopeless duffer at thebusiness.
“This I did directly the simple funeral was over. We were goinghalf-speed, keeping right in the middle of the stream, and I listened to thetalk about me. They had given up Kurtz, they had given up the station; Kurtzwas dead, and the station had been burnt—and so on—and so on. Thered-haired pilgrim was beside himself with the thought that at least this poorKurtz had been properly avenged. ‘Say! We must have made a gloriousslaughter of them in the bush. Eh? What do you think? Say?’ He positivelydanced, the bloodthirsty little gingery beggar. And he had nearly fainted whenhe saw the wounded man! I could not help saying, ‘You made a glorious lotof smoke, anyhow.’ I had seen, from the way the tops of the bushesrustled and flew, that almost all the shots had gone too high. You can’thit anything unless you take aim and fire from the shoulder; but these chapsfired from the hip with their eyes shut. The retreat, I maintained—and Iwas right—was caused by the screeching of the steam whistle. Upon thisthey forgot Kurtz, and began to howl at me with indignant protests.
“The manager stood by the wheel murmuring confidentially about thenecessity of getting well away down the river before dark at all events, when Isaw in the distance a clearing on the riverside and the outlines of some sortof building. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. He clapped his hands inwonder. ‘The station!’ he cried. I edged in at once, still goinghalf-speed.
“Through my glasses I saw the slope of a hill interspersed with raretrees and perfectly free from undergrowth. A long decaying building on thesummit was half buried in the high grass; the large holes in the peaked roofgaped black from afar; the jungle and the woods made a background. There was noenclosure or fence of any kind; but there had been one apparently, for near thehouse half-a-dozen slim posts remained in a row, roughly trimmed, and withtheir upper ends ornamented with round carved balls. The rails, or whateverthere had been between, had disappeared. Of course the forest surrounded allthat. The river-bank was clear, and on the waterside I saw a white man under ahat like a cart-wheel beckoning persistently with his whole arm. Examining theedge of the forest above and below, I was almost certain I could seemovements—human forms gliding here and there. I steamed past prudently,then stopped the engines and let her drift down. The man on the shore began toshout, urging us to land. ‘We have been attacked,’ screamed themanager. ‘I know—I know. It’s all right,’ yelled backthe other, as cheerful as you please. ‘Come along. It’s all right.I am glad.’
“His aspect reminded me of something I had seen—something funny Ihad seen somewhere. As I manoeuvred to get alongside, I was asking myself,‘What does this fellow look like?’ Suddenly I got it. He lookedlike a harlequin. His clothes had been made of some stuff that was brownholland probably, but it was covered with patches all over, with brightpatches, blue, red, and yellow—patches on the back, patches on the front,patches on elbows, on knees; coloured binding around his jacket, scarlet edgingat the bottom of his trousers; and the sunshine made him look extremely gay andwonderfully neat withal, because you could see how beautifully all thispatching had been done. A beardless, boyish face, very fair, no features tospeak of, nose peeling, little blue eyes, smiles and frowns chasing each otherover that open countenance like sunshine and shadow on a wind-swept plain.‘Look out, captain!’ he cried; ‘there’s a snag lodgedin here last night.’ What! Another snag? I confess I swore shamefully. Ihad nearly holed my cripple, to finish off that charming trip. The harlequin onthe bank turned his little pug-nose up to me. ‘You English?’ heasked, all smiles. ‘Are you?’ I shouted from the wheel. The smilesvanished, and he shook his head as if sorry for my disappointment. Then hebrightened up. ‘Never mind!’ he cried encouragingly. ‘Are wein time?’ I asked. ‘He is up there,’ he replied, with a tossof the head up the hill, and becoming gloomy all of a sudden. His face was likethe autumn sky, overcast one moment and bright the next.
“When the manager, escorted by the pilgrims, all of them armed to theteeth, had gone to the house this chap came on board. ‘I say, Idon’t like this. These natives are in the bush,’ I said. He assuredme earnestly it was all right. ‘They are simple people,’ he added;‘well, I am glad you came. It took me all my time to keep themoff.’ ‘But you said it was all right,’ I cried. ‘Oh,they meant no harm,’ he said; and as I stared he corrected himself,‘Not exactly.’ Then vivaciously, ‘My faith, your pilot-housewants a clean-up!’ In the next breath he advised me to keep enough steamon the boiler to blow the whistle in case of any trouble. ‘One goodscreech will do more for you than all your rifles. They are simplepeople,’ he repeated. He rattled away at such a rate he quite overwhelmedme. He seemed to be trying to make up for lots of silence, and actually hinted,laughing, that such was the case. ‘Don’t you talk with Mr.Kurtz?’ I said. ‘You don’t talk with that man—youlisten to him,’ he exclaimed with severe exaltation. ‘Butnow—’ He waved his arm, and in the twinkling of an eye was in theuttermost depths of despondency. In a moment he came up again with a jump,possessed himself of both my hands, shook them continuously, while he gabbled:‘Brother sailor... honour... pleasure... delight... introduce myself...Russian... son of an arch-priest... Government of Tambov... What? Tobacco!English tobacco; the excellent English tobacco! Now, that’s brotherly.Smoke? Where’s a sailor that does not smoke?”
“The pipe soothed him, and gradually I made out he had run away fromschool, had gone to sea in a Russian ship; ran away again; served some time inEnglish ships; was now reconciled with the arch-priest. He made a point ofthat. ‘But when one is young one must see things, gather experience,ideas; enlarge the mind.’ ‘Here!’ I interrupted. ‘Youcan never tell! Here I met Mr. Kurtz,’ he said, youthfully solemn andreproachful. I held my tongue after that. It appears he had persuaded a Dutchtrading-house on the coast to fit him out with stores and goods, and hadstarted for the interior with a light heart and no more idea of what wouldhappen to him than a baby. He had been wandering about that river for nearlytwo years alone, cut off from everybody and everything. ‘I am not soyoung as I look. I am twenty-five,’ he said. ‘At first old VanShuyten would tell me to go to the devil,’ he narrated with keenenjoyment; ‘but I stuck to him, and talked and talked, till at last hegot afraid I would talk the hind-leg off his favourite dog, so he gave me somecheap things and a few guns, and told me he hoped he would never see my faceagain. Good old Dutchman, Van Shuyten. I’ve sent him one small lot ofivory a year ago, so that he can’t call me a little thief when I getback. I hope he got it. And for the rest I don’t care. I had some woodstacked for you. That was my old house. Did you see?’
“I gave him Towson’s book. He made as though he would kiss me, butrestrained himself. ‘The only book I had left, and I thought I had lostit,’ he said, looking at it ecstatically. ‘So many accidents happento a man going about alone, you know. Canoes get upset sometimes—andsometimes you’ve got to clear out so quick when the people getangry.’ He thumbed the pages. ‘You made notes in Russian?’ Iasked. He nodded. ‘I thought they were written in cipher,’ I said.He laughed, then became serious. ‘I had lots of trouble to keep thesepeople off,’ he said. ‘Did they want to kill you?’ I asked.‘Oh, no!’ he cried, and checked himself. ‘Why did they attackus?’ I pursued. He hesitated, then said shamefacedly, ‘Theydon’t want him to go.’ ‘Don’t they?’ I saidcuriously. He nodded a nod full of mystery and wisdom. ‘I tellyou,’ he cried, ‘this man has enlarged my mind.’ He openedhis arms wide, staring at me with his little blue eyes that were perfectlyround.”
“I looked at him, lost in astonishment. There he was before me, inmotley, as though he had absconded from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic,fabulous. His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogetherbewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he hadexisted, how he had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed toremain—why he did not instantly disappear. ‘I went a littlefarther,’ he said, ‘then still a little farther—till I hadgone so far that I don’t know how I’ll ever get back. Never mind.Plenty time. I can manage. You take Kurtz away quick—quick—I tellyou.’ The glamour of youth enveloped his parti-coloured rags, hisdestitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wanderings.For months—for years—his life hadn’t been worth a day’spurchase; and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearancesindestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflectingaudacity. I was seduced into something like admiration—like envy. Glamoururged him on, glamour kept him unscathed. He surely wanted nothing from thewilderness but space to breathe in and to push on through. His need was toexist, and to move onwards at the greatest possible risk, and with a maximum ofprivation. If the absolutely pure, uncalculating, unpractical spirit ofadventure had ever ruled a human being, it ruled this bepatched youth. I almostenvied him the possession of this modest and clear flame. It seemed to haveconsumed all thought of self so completely, that even while he was talking toyou, you forgot that it was he—the man before your eyes—who hadgone through these things. I did not envy him his devotion to Kurtz, though. Hehad not meditated over it. It came to him, and he accepted it with a sort ofeager fatalism. I must say that to me it appeared about the most dangerousthing in every way he had come upon so far.
“They had come together unavoidably, like two ships becalmed near eachother, and lay rubbing sides at last. I suppose Kurtz wanted an audience,because on a certain occasion, when encamped in the forest, they had talked allnight, or more probably Kurtz had talked. ‘We talked ofeverything,’ he said, quite transported at the recollection. ‘Iforgot there was such a thing as sleep. The night did not seem to last an hour.Everything! Everything!... Of love, too.’ ‘Ah, he talked to you oflove!’ I said, much amused. ‘It isn’t what you think,’he cried, almost passionately. ‘It was in general. He made me seethings—things.’
“He threw his arms up. We were on deck at the time, and the headman of mywood-cutters, lounging near by, turned upon him his heavy and glittering eyes.I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I assure you that never, neverbefore, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazingsky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, sopitiless to human weakness. ‘And, ever since, you have been with him, ofcourse?’ I said.
“On the contrary. It appears their intercourse had been very much brokenby various causes. He had, as he informed me proudly, managed to nurse Kurtzthrough two illnesses (he alluded to it as you would to some risky feat), butas a rule Kurtz wandered alone, far in the depths of the forest. ‘Veryoften coming to this station, I had to wait days and days before he would turnup,’ he said. ‘Ah, it was worth waitingfor!—sometimes.’ ‘What was he doing? exploring orwhat?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yes, of course’; he had discovered lotsof villages, a lake, too—he did not know exactly in what direction; itwas dangerous to inquire too much—but mostly his expeditions had been forivory. ‘But he had no goods to trade with by that time,’ Iobjected. ‘There’s a good lot of cartridges left even yet,’he answered, looking away. ‘To speak plainly, he raided thecountry,’ I said. He nodded. ‘Not alone, surely!’ He mutteredsomething about the villages round that lake. ‘Kurtz got the tribe tofollow him, did he?’ I suggested. He fidgeted a little. ‘Theyadored him,’ he said. The tone of these words was so extraordinary that Ilooked at him searchingly. It was curious to see his mingled eagerness andreluctance to speak of Kurtz. The man filled his life, occupied his thoughts,swayed his emotions. ‘What can you expect?’ he burst out; ‘hecame to them with thunder and lightning, you know—and they had never seenanything like it—and very terrible. He could be very terrible. Youcan’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man. No, no, no!Now—just to give you an idea—I don’t mind telling you, hewanted to shoot me, too, one day—but I don’t judge him.’‘Shoot you!’ I cried ‘What for?’ ‘Well, I had asmall lot of ivory the chief of that village near my house gave me. You see Iused to shoot game for them. Well, he wanted it, and wouldn’t hearreason. He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and thencleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, andthere was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased.And it was true, too. I gave him the ivory. What did I care! But I didn’tclear out. No, no. I couldn’t leave him. I had to be careful, of course,till we got friendly again for a time. He had his second illness then.Afterwards I had to keep out of the way; but I didn’t mind. He was livingfor the most part in those villages on the lake. When he came down to theriver, sometimes he would take to me, and sometimes it was better for me to becareful. This man suffered too much. He hated all this, and somehow hecouldn’t get away. When I had a chance I begged him to try and leavewhile there was time; I offered to go back with him. And he would say yes, andthen he would remain; go off on another ivory hunt; disappear for weeks; forgethimself amongst these people—forget himself—you know.’‘Why! he’s mad,’ I said. He protested indignantly. Mr. Kurtzcouldn’t be mad. If I had heard him talk, only two days ago, Iwouldn’t dare hint at such a thing.... I had taken up my binoculars whilewe talked, and was looking at the shore, sweeping the limit of the forest ateach side and at the back of the house. The consciousness of there being peoplein that bush, so silent, so quiet—as silent and quiet as the ruined houseon the hill—made me uneasy. There was no sign on the face of nature ofthis amazing tale that was not so much told as suggested to me in desolateexclamations, completed by shrugs, in interrupted phrases, in hints ending indeep sighs. The woods were unmoved, like a mask—heavy, like the closeddoor of a prison—they looked with their air of hidden knowledge, ofpatient expectation, of unapproachable silence. The Russian was explaining tome that it was only lately that Mr. Kurtz had come down to the river, bringingalong with him all the fighting men of that lake tribe. He had been absent forseveral months—getting himself adored, I suppose—and had come downunexpectedly, with the intention to all appearance of making a raid eitheracross the river or down stream. Evidently the appetite for more ivory had gotthe better of the—what shall I say?—less material aspirations.However he had got much worse suddenly. ‘I heard he was lying helpless,and so I came up—took my chance,’ said the Russian. ‘Oh, heis bad, very bad.’ I directed my glass to the house. There were no signsof life, but there was the ruined roof, the long mud wall peeping above thegrass, with three little square window-holes, no two of the same size; all thisbrought within reach of my hand, as it were. And then I made a brusquemovement, and one of the remaining posts of that vanished fence leaped up inthe field of my glass. You remember I told you I had been struck at thedistance by certain attempts at ornamentation, rather remarkable in the ruinousaspect of the place. Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result wasto make me throw my head back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully frompost to post with my glass, and I saw my mistake. These round knobs were notornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking anddisturbing—food for thought and also for vultures if there had been anylooking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industriousenough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, thoseheads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one,the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you maythink. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement ofsurprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returneddeliberately to the first I had seen—and there it was, black, dried,sunken, with closed eyelids—a head that seemed to sleep at the top ofthat pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of theteeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dreamof that eternal slumber.
“I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the manager saidafterwards that Mr. Kurtz’s methods had ruined the district. I have noopinion on that point, but I want you clearly to understand that there wasnothing exactly profitable in these heads being there. They only showed thatMr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, thatthere was something wanting in him—some small matter which, when thepressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence.Whether he knew of this deficiency himself I can’t say. I think theknowledge came to him at last—only at the very last. But the wildernesshad found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for thefantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself whichhe did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel withthis great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.... I put downthe glass, and the head that had appeared near enough to be spoken to seemed atonce to have leaped away from me into inaccessible distance.
“The admirer of Mr. Kurtz was a bit crestfallen. In a hurried, indistinctvoice he began to assure me he had not dared to take these—say,symbols—down. He was not afraid of the natives; they would not stir tillMr. Kurtz gave the word. His ascendancy was extraordinary. The camps of thesepeople surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. Theywould crawl.... ‘I don’t want to know anything of the ceremoniesused when approaching Mr. Kurtz,’ I shouted. Curious, this feeling thatcame over me that such details would be more intolerable than those headsdrying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s windows. After all, that was onlya savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into somelightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was apositive relief, being something that had a right toexist—obviously—in the sunshine. The young man looked at me withsurprise. I suppose it did not occur to him that Mr. Kurtz was no idol of mine.He forgot I hadn’t heard any of these splendid monologues on, what wasit? on love, justice, conduct of life—or what not. If it had come tocrawling before Mr. Kurtz, he crawled as much as the veriest savage of themall. I had no idea of the conditions, he said: these heads were the heads ofrebels. I shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What would be the nextdefinition I was to hear? There had been enemies, criminals, workers—andthese were rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on theirsticks. ‘You don’t know how such a life tries a man likeKurtz,’ cried Kurtz’s last disciple. ‘Well, and you?’ Isaid. ‘I! I! I am a simple man. I have no great thoughts. I want nothingfrom anybody. How can you compare me to...?’ His feelings were too muchfor speech, and suddenly he broke down. ‘I don’t understand,’he groaned. ‘I’ve been doing my best to keep him alive, andthat’s enough. I had no hand in all this. I have no abilities. Therehasn’t been a drop of medicine or a mouthful of invalid food for monthshere. He was shamefully abandoned. A man like this, with such ideas.Shamefully! Shamefully! I—I—haven’t slept for the last tennights...’
“His voice lost itself in the calm of the evening. The long shadows ofthe forest had slipped downhill while we talked, had gone far beyond the ruinedhovel, beyond the symbolic row of stakes. All this was in the gloom, while wedown there were yet in the sunshine, and the stretch of the river abreast ofthe clearing glittered in a still and dazzling splendour, with a murky andovershadowed bend above and below. Not a living soul was seen on the shore. Thebushes did not rustle.
“Suddenly round the corner of the house a group of men appeared, asthough they had come up from the ground. They waded waist-deep in the grass, ina compact body, bearing an improvised stretcher in their midst. Instantly, inthe emptiness of the landscape, a cry arose whose shrillness pierced the stillair like a sharp arrow flying straight to the very heart of the land; and, asif by enchantment, streams of human beings—of naked humanbeings—with spears in their hands, with bows, with shields, with wildglances and savage movements, were poured into the clearing by the dark-facedand pensive forest. The bushes shook, the grass swayed for a time, and theneverything stood still in attentive immobility.
“‘Now, if he does not say the right thing to them we are all donefor,’ said the Russian at my elbow. The knot of men with the stretcherhad stopped, too, halfway to the steamer, as if petrified. I saw the man on thestretcher sit up, lank and with an uplifted arm, above the shoulders of thebearers. ‘Let us hope that the man who can talk so well of love ingeneral will find some particular reason to spare us this time,’ I said.I resented bitterly the absurd danger of our situation, as if to be at themercy of that atrocious phantom had been a dishonouring necessity. I could nothear a sound, but through my glasses I saw the thin arm extended commandingly,the lower jaw moving, the eyes of that apparition shining darkly far in itsbony head that nodded with grotesque jerks. Kurtz—Kurtz—that meansshort in German—don’t it? Well, the name was as true as everythingelse in his life—and death. He looked at least seven feet long. Hiscovering had fallen off, and his body emerged from it pitiful and appalling asfrom a winding-sheet. I could see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones ofhis arm waving. It was as though an animated image of death carved out of oldivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men madeof dark and glittering bronze. I saw him open his mouth wide—it gave hima weirdly voracious aspect, as though he had wanted to swallow all the air, allthe earth, all the men before him. A deep voice reached me faintly. He musthave been shouting. He fell back suddenly. The stretcher shook as the bearersstaggered forward again, and almost at the same time I noticed that the crowdof savages was vanishing without any perceptible movement of retreat, as if theforest that had ejected these beings so suddenly had drawn them in again as thebreath is drawn in a long aspiration.
“Some of the pilgrims behind the stretcher carried his arms—twoshot-guns, a heavy rifle, and a light revolver-carbine—the thunderboltsof that pitiful Jupiter. The manager bent over him murmuring as he walkedbeside his head. They laid him down in one of the little cabins—just aroom for a bed place and a camp-stool or two, you know. We had brought hisbelated correspondence, and a lot of torn envelopes and open letters litteredhis bed. His hand roamed feebly amongst these papers. I was struck by the fireof his eyes and the composed languor of his expression. It was not so much theexhaustion of disease. He did not seem in pain. This shadow looked satiated andcalm, as though for the moment it had had its fill of all the emotions.
“He rustled one of the letters, and looking straight in my face said,‘I am glad.’ Somebody had been writing to him about me. Thesespecial recommendations were turning up again. The volume of tone he emittedwithout effort, almost without the trouble of moving his lips, amazed me. Avoice! a voice! It was grave, profound, vibrating, while the man did not seemcapable of a whisper. However, he had enough strength in him—factitiousno doubt—to very nearly make an end of us, as you shall hear directly.
“The manager appeared silently in the doorway; I stepped out at once andhe drew the curtain after me. The Russian, eyed curiously by the pilgrims, wasstaring at the shore. I followed the direction of his glance.
“Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance, flittingindistinctly against the gloomy border of the forest, and near the river twobronze figures, leaning on tall spears, stood in the sunlight under fantastichead-dresses of spotted skins, warlike and still in statuesque repose. And fromright to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition of awoman.
“She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths,treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarousornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of ahelmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow,a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on herneck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her,glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value of severalelephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent;there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. And in thehush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immensewilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to lookat her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its owntenebrous and passionate soul.
“She came abreast of the steamer, stood still, and faced us. Her longshadow fell to the water’s edge. Her face had a tragic and fierce aspectof wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling,half-shaped resolve. She stood looking at us without a stir, and like thewilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose. A wholeminute passed, and then she made a step forward. There was a low jingle, aglint of yellow metal, a sway of fringed draperies, and she stopped as if herheart had failed her. The young fellow by my side growled. The pilgrimsmurmured at my back. She looked at us all as if her life had depended upon theunswerving steadiness of her glance. Suddenly she opened her bared arms andthrew them up rigid above her head, as though in an uncontrollable desire totouch the sky, and at the same time the swift shadows darted out on the earth,swept around on the river, gathering the steamer into a shadowy embrace. Aformidable silence hung over the scene.
“She turned away slowly, walked on, following the bank, and passed intothe bushes to the left. Once only her eyes gleamed back at us in the dusk ofthe thickets before she disappeared.
“‘If she had offered to come aboard I really think I would havetried to shoot her,’ said the man of patches, nervously. ‘I havebeen risking my life every day for the last fortnight to keep her out of thehouse. She got in one day and kicked up a row about those miserable rags Ipicked up in the storeroom to mend my clothes with. I wasn’t decent. Atleast it must have been that, for she talked like a fury to Kurtz for an hour,pointing at me now and then. I don’t understand the dialect of thistribe. Luckily for me, I fancy Kurtz felt too ill that day to care, or therewould have been mischief. I don’t understand.... No—it’s toomuch for me. Ah, well, it’s all over now.’
“At this moment I heard Kurtz’s deep voice behind the curtain:‘Save me!—save the ivory, you mean. Don’t tell me. Saveme! Why, I’ve had to save you. You are interrupting my plans now.Sick! Sick! Not so sick as you would like to believe. Never mind. I’llcarry my ideas out yet—I will return. I’ll show you what can bedone. You with your little peddling notions—you are interfering with me.I will return. I....’
“The manager came out. He did me the honour to take me under the arm andlead me aside. ‘He is very low, very low,’ he said. He consideredit necessary to sigh, but neglected to be consistently sorrowful. ‘Wehave done all we could for him—haven’t we? But there is nodisguising the fact, Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. Hedid not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously,cautiously—that’s my principle. We must be cautious yet. Thedistrict is closed to us for a time. Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade willsuffer. I don’t deny there is a remarkable quantity of ivory—mostlyfossil. We must save it, at all events—but look how precarious theposition is—and why? Because the method is unsound.’ ‘Doyou,’ said I, looking at the shore, ‘call it “unsoundmethod?”’ ‘Without doubt,’ he exclaimed hotly.‘Don’t you?’... ‘No method at all,’ I murmuredafter a while. ‘Exactly,’ he exulted. ‘I anticipated this.Shows a complete want of judgment. It is my duty to point it out in the properquarter.’ ‘Oh,’ said I, ‘that fellow—what’shis name?—the brickmaker, will make a readable report for you.’ Heappeared confounded for a moment. It seemed to me I had never breathed anatmosphere so vile, and I turned mentally to Kurtz for relief—positivelyfor relief. ‘Nevertheless I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man,’ Isaid with emphasis. He started, dropped on me a heavy glance, said veryquietly, ‘he was,’ and turned his back on me. My hour offavour was over; I found myself lumped along with Kurtz as a partisan ofmethods for which the time was not ripe: I was unsound! Ah! but it wassomething to have at least a choice of nightmares.
“I had turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr. Kurtz, who, I wasready to admit, was as good as buried. And for a moment it seemed to me as if Ialso were buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt anintolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, theunseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrablenight.... The Russian tapped me on the shoulder. I heard him mumbling andstammering something about ‘brother seaman—couldn’tconceal—knowledge of matters that would affect Mr. Kurtz’sreputation.’ I waited. For him evidently Mr. Kurtz was not in his grave;I suspect that for him Mr. Kurtz was one of the immortals. ‘Well!’said I at last, ‘speak out. As it happens, I am Mr. Kurtz’sfriend—in a way.’
“He stated with a good deal of formality that had we not been ‘ofthe same profession,’ he would have kept the matter to himself withoutregard to consequences. ‘He suspected there was an active ill-willtowards him on the part of these white men that—’ ‘You areright,’ I said, remembering a certain conversation I had overheard.‘The manager thinks you ought to be hanged.’ He showed a concern atthis intelligence which amused me at first. ‘I had better get out of theway quietly,’ he said earnestly. ‘I can do no more for Kurtz now,and they would soon find some excuse. What’s to stop them? There’sa military post three hundred miles from here.’ ‘Well, upon myword,’ said I, ‘perhaps you had better go if you have any friendsamongst the savages near by.’ ‘Plenty,’ he said. ‘Theyare simple people—and I want nothing, you know.’ He stood bitinghis lip, then: ‘I don’t want any harm to happen to these whiteshere, but of course I was thinking of Mr. Kurtz’s reputation—butyou are a brother seaman and—’ ‘All right,’ said I,after a time. ‘Mr. Kurtz’s reputation is safe with me.’ I didnot know how truly I spoke.
“He informed me, lowering his voice, that it was Kurtz who had orderedthe attack to be made on the steamer. ‘He hated sometimes the idea ofbeing taken away—and then again.... But I don’t understand thesematters. I am a simple man. He thought it would scare you away—that youwould give it up, thinking him dead. I could not stop him. Oh, I had an awfultime of it this last month.’ ‘Very well,’ I said. ‘Heis all right now.’ ‘Ye-e-es,’ he muttered, not very convincedapparently. ‘Thanks,’ said I; ‘I shall keep my eyesopen.’ ‘But quiet-eh?’ he urged anxiously. ‘It would beawful for his reputation if anybody here—’ I promised a completediscretion with great gravity. ‘I have a canoe and three black fellowswaiting not very far. I am off. Could you give me a few Martini-Henrycartridges?’ I could, and did, with proper secrecy. He helped himself,with a wink at me, to a handful of my tobacco. ‘Between sailors—youknow—good English tobacco.’ At the door of the pilot-house heturned round—‘I say, haven’t you a pair of shoes you couldspare?’ He raised one leg. ‘Look.’ The soles were tied withknotted strings sandalwise under his bare feet. I rooted out an old pair, atwhich he looked with admiration before tucking it under his left arm. One ofhis pockets (bright red) was bulging with cartridges, from the other (darkblue) peeped ‘Towson’s Inquiry,’ etc., etc. He seemed tothink himself excellently well equipped for a renewed encounter with thewilderness. ‘Ah! I’ll never, never meet such a man again. You oughtto have heard him recite poetry—his own, too, it was, he told me.Poetry!’ He rolled his eyes at the recollection of these delights.‘Oh, he enlarged my mind!’ ‘Good-bye,’ said I. He shookhands and vanished in the night. Sometimes I ask myself whether I had everreally seen him—whether it was possible to meet such a phenomenon!...
“When I woke up shortly after midnight his warning came to my mind withits hint of danger that seemed, in the starred darkness, real enough to make meget up for the purpose of having a look round. On the hill a big fire burned,illuminating fitfully a crooked corner of the station-house. One of the agentswith a picket of a few of our blacks, armed for the purpose, was keeping guardover the ivory; but deep within the forest, red gleams that wavered, thatseemed to sink and rise from the ground amongst confused columnar shapes ofintense blackness, showed the exact position of the camp where Mr.Kurtz’s adorers were keeping their uneasy vigil. The monotonous beatingof a big drum filled the air with muffled shocks and a lingering vibration. Asteady droning sound of many men chanting each to himself some weirdincantation came out from the black, flat wall of the woods as the humming ofbees comes out of a hive, and had a strange narcotic effect upon my half-awakesenses. I believe I dozed off leaning over the rail, till an abrupt burst ofyells, an overwhelming outbreak of a pent-up and mysterious frenzy, woke me upin a bewildered wonder. It was cut short all at once, and the low droning wenton with an effect of audible and soothing silence. I glanced casually into thelittle cabin. A light was burning within, but Mr. Kurtz was not there.
“I think I would have raised an outcry if I had believed my eyes. But Ididn’t believe them at first—the thing seemed so impossible. Thefact is I was completely unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstractterror, unconnected with any distinct shape of physical danger. What made thisemotion so overpowering was—how shall I define it?—the moral shockI received, as if something altogether monstrous, intolerable to thought andodious to the soul, had been thrust upon me unexpectedly. This lasted of coursethe merest fraction of a second, and then the usual sense of commonplace,deadly danger, the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or somethingof the kind, which I saw impending, was positively welcome and composing. Itpacified me, in fact, so much that I did not raise an alarm.
“There was an agent buttoned up inside an ulster and sleeping on a chairon deck within three feet of me. The yells had not awakened him; he snored veryslightly; I left him to his slumbers and leaped ashore. I did not betray Mr.Kurtz—it was ordered I should never betray him—it was written Ishould be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious to deal with thisshadow by myself alone—and to this day I don’t know why I was sojealous of sharing with any one the peculiar blackness of that experience.
“As soon as I got on the bank I saw a trail—a broad trail throughthe grass. I remember the exultation with which I said to myself, ‘Hecan’t walk—he is crawling on all-fours—I’ve gothim.’ The grass was wet with dew. I strode rapidly with clenched fists. Ifancy I had some vague notion of falling upon him and giving him a drubbing. Idon’t know. I had some imbecile thoughts. The knitting old woman with thecat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most improper person to be sitting atthe other end of such an affair. I saw a row of pilgrims squirting lead in theair out of Winchesters held to the hip. I thought I would never get back to thesteamer, and imagined myself living alone and unarmed in the woods to anadvanced age. Such silly things—you know. And I remember I confounded thebeat of the drum with the beating of my heart, and was pleased at its calmregularity.
“I kept to the track though—then stopped to listen. The night wasvery clear; a dark blue space, sparkling with dew and starlight, in which blackthings stood very still. I thought I could see a kind of motion ahead of me. Iwas strangely cocksure of everything that night. I actually left the track andran in a wide semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to myself) so as to get infront of that stir, of that motion I had seen—if indeed I had seenanything. I was circumventing Kurtz as though it had been a boyish game.
“I came upon him, and, if he had not heard me coming, I would have fallenover him, too, but he got up in time. He rose, unsteady, long, pale,indistinct, like a vapour exhaled by the earth, and swayed slightly, misty andsilent before me; while at my back the fires loomed between the trees, and themurmur of many voices issued from the forest. I had cut him off cleverly; butwhen actually confronting him I seemed to come to my senses, I saw the dangerin its right proportion. It was by no means over yet. Suppose he began toshout? Though he could hardly stand, there was still plenty of vigour in hisvoice. ‘Go away—hide yourself,’ he said, in that profoundtone. It was very awful. I glanced back. We were within thirty yards from thenearest fire. A black figure stood up, strode on long black legs, waving longblack arms, across the glow. It had horns—antelope horns, Ithink—on its head. Some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt: it lookedfiendlike enough. ‘Do you know what you are doing?’ I whispered.‘Perfectly,’ he answered, raising his voice for that single word:it sounded to me far off and yet loud, like a hail through a speaking-trumpet.‘If he makes a row we are lost,’ I thought to myself. This clearlywas not a case for fisticuffs, even apart from the very natural aversion I hadto beat that Shadow—this wandering and tormented thing. ‘You willbe lost,’ I said—‘utterly lost.’ One gets sometimessuch a flash of inspiration, you know. I did say the right thing, though indeedhe could not have been more irretrievably lost than he was at this very moment,when the foundations of our intimacy were being laid—to endure—toendure—even to the end—even beyond.
“‘I had immense plans,’ he muttered irresolutely.‘Yes,’ said I; ‘but if you try to shout I’ll smash yourhead with—’ There was not a stick or a stone near. ‘I willthrottle you for good,’ I corrected myself. ‘I was on the thresholdof great things,’ he pleaded, in a voice of longing, with a wistfulnessof tone that made my blood run cold. ‘And now for this stupidscoundrel—’ ‘Your success in Europe is assured in anycase,’ I affirmed steadily. I did not want to have the throttling of him,you understand—and indeed it would have been very little use for anypractical purpose. I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell ofthe wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by theawakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified andmonstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edgeof the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, thedrone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyondthe bounds of permitted aspirations. And, don’t you see, the terror ofthe position was not in being knocked on the head—though I had a verylively sense of that danger, too—but in this, that I had to deal with abeing to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had,even like the niggers, to invoke him—himself—his own exalted andincredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knewit. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kickedthe very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether Istood on the ground or floated in the air. I’ve been telling you what wesaid—repeating the phrases we pronounced—but what’s the good?They were common everyday words—the familiar, vague sounds exchanged onevery waking day of life. But what of that? They had behind them, to my mind,the terrific suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken innightmares. Soul! If anybody ever struggled with a soul, I am the man. And Iwasn’t arguing with a lunatic either. Believe me or not, his intelligencewas perfectly clear—concentrated, it is true, upon himself with horribleintensity, yet clear; and therein was my only chance—barring, of course,the killing him there and then, which wasn’t so good, on account ofunavoidable noise. But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it hadlooked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. Ihad—for my sins, I suppose—to go through the ordeal of looking intoit myself. No eloquence could have been so withering to one’s belief inmankind as his final burst of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I sawit—I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew norestraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself. I kept myhead pretty well; but when I had him at last stretched on the couch, I wiped myforehead, while my legs shook under me as though I had carried half a ton on myback down that hill. And yet I had only supported him, his bony arm claspedround my neck—and he was not much heavier than a child.
“When next day we left at noon, the crowd, of whose presence behind thecurtain of trees I had been acutely conscious all the time, flowed out of thewoods again, filled the clearing, covered the slope with a mass of naked,breathing, quivering, bronze bodies. I steamed up a bit, then swung downstream, and two thousand eyes followed the evolutions of the splashing,thumping, fierce river-demon beating the water with its terrible tail andbreathing black smoke into the air. In front of the first rank, along theriver, three men, plastered with bright red earth from head to foot, struttedto and fro restlessly. When we came abreast again, they faced the river,stamped their feet, nodded their horned heads, swayed their scarlet bodies;they shook towards the fierce river-demon a bunch of black feathers, a mangyskin with a pendent tail—something that looked a dried gourd; theyshouted periodically together strings of amazing words that resembled no soundsof human language; and the deep murmurs of the crowd, interrupted suddenly,were like the responses of some satanic litany.
“We had carried Kurtz into the pilot-house: there was more air there.Lying on the couch, he stared through the open shutter. There was an eddy inthe mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny cheeksrushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shoutedsomething, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus ofarticulated, rapid, breathless utterance.
“‘Do you understand this?’ I asked.
“He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingledexpression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, asmile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a moment aftertwitched convulsively. ‘Do I not?’ he said slowly, gasping, as ifthe words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power.
“I pulled the string of the whistle, and I did this because I saw thepilgrims on deck getting out their rifles with an air of anticipating a jollylark. At the sudden screech there was a movement of abject terror through thatwedged mass of bodies. ‘Don’t! don’t you frighten themaway,’ cried some one on deck disconsolately. I pulled the string timeafter time. They broke and ran, they leaped, they crouched, they swerved, theydodged the flying terror of the sound. The three red chaps had fallen flat,face down on the shore, as though they had been shot dead. Only the barbarousand superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her barearms after us over the sombre and glittering river.
“And then that imbecile crowd down on the deck started their little fun,and I could see nothing more for smoke.
“The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing usdown towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; andKurtz’s life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heartinto the sea of inexorable time. The manager was very placid, he had no vitalanxieties now, he took us both in with a comprehensive and satisfied glance:the ‘affair’ had come off as well as could be wished. I saw thetime approaching when I would be left alone of the party of ‘unsoundmethod.’ The pilgrims looked upon me with disfavour. I was, so to speak,numbered with the dead. It is strange how I accepted this unforeseenpartnership, this choice of nightmares forced upon me in the tenebrous landinvaded by these mean and greedy phantoms.
“Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. Itsurvived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barrendarkness of his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes of his wearybrain were haunted by shadowy images now—images of wealth and famerevolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and loftyexpression. My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas—these were thesubjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments. The shade of theoriginal Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was tobe buried presently in the mould of primeval earth. But both the diabolic loveand the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for thepossession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame,of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power.
“Sometimes he was contemptibly childish. He desired to have kings meethim at railway-stations on his return from some ghastly Nowhere, where heintended to accomplish great things. ‘You show them you have in yousomething that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to therecognition of your ability,’ he would say. ‘Of course you musttake care of the motives—right motives—always.’ The longreaches that were like one and the same reach, monotonous bends that wereexactly alike, slipped past the steamer with their multitude of secular treeslooking patiently after this grimy fragment of another world, the forerunner ofchange, of conquest, of trade, of massacres, of blessings. I lookedahead—piloting. ‘Close the shutter,’ said Kurtz suddenly oneday; ‘I can’t bear to look at this.’ I did so. There was asilence. ‘Oh, but I will wring your heart yet!’ he cried at theinvisible wilderness.
“We broke down—as I had expected—and had to lie up forrepairs at the head of an island. This delay was the first thing that shookKurtz’s confidence. One morning he gave me a packet of papers and aphotograph—the lot tied together with a shoe-string. ‘Keep this forme,’ he said. ‘This noxious fool’ (meaning the manager)‘is capable of prying into my boxes when I am not looking.’ In theafternoon I saw him. He was lying on his back with closed eyes, and I withdrewquietly, but I heard him mutter, ‘Live rightly, die, die...’ Ilistened. There was nothing more. Was he rehearsing some speech in his sleep,or was it a fragment of a phrase from some newspaper article? He had beenwriting for the papers and meant to do so again, ‘for the furthering ofmy ideas. It’s a duty.’
“His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at aman who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. But Ihad not much time to give him, because I was helping the engine-driver to taketo pieces the leaky cylinders, to straighten a bent connecting-rod, and inother such matters. I lived in an infernal mess of rust, filings, nuts, bolts,spanners, hammers, ratchet-drills—things I abominate, because Idon’t get on with them. I tended the little forge we fortunately hadaboard; I toiled wearily in a wretched scrap-heap—unless I had the shakestoo bad to stand.
“One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say alittle tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting fordeath.’ The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself tomurmur, ‘Oh, nonsense!’ and stood over him as if transfixed.
“Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have neverseen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I wasfascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face theexpression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of anintense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail ofdesire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of completeknowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he criedout twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
“‘The horror! The horror!’
“I blew the candle out and left the cabin. The pilgrims were dining inthe mess-room, and I took my place opposite the manager, who lifted his eyes togive me a questioning glance, which I successfully ignored. He leaned back,serene, with that peculiar smile of his sealing the unexpressed depths of hismeanness. A continuous shower of small flies streamed upon the lamp, upon thecloth, upon our hands and faces. Suddenly the manager’s boy put hisinsolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scathing contempt:
“‘Mistah Kurtz—he dead.’
“All the pilgrims rushed out to see. I remained, and went on with mydinner. I believe I was considered brutally callous. However, I did not eatmuch. There was a lamp in there—light, don’t you know—andoutside it was so beastly, beastly dark. I went no more near the remarkable manwho had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth.The voice was gone. What else had been there? But I am of course aware thatnext day the pilgrims buried something in a muddy hole.
“And then they very nearly buried me.
“However, as you see, I did not go to join Kurtz there and then. I didnot. I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyaltyto Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is—thatmysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most youcan hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes toolate—a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. Itis the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpablegreyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators,without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, withoutthe great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, withoutmuch belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. Ifsuch is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some ofus think it to be. I was within a hair’s breadth of the last opportunityfor pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would havenothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkableman. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edgemyself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see theflame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe,piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He hadsummed up—he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkableman. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candour,it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had theappalling face of a glimpsed truth—the strange commingling of desire andhate. And it is not my own extremity I remember best—a vision of greynesswithout form filled with physical pain, and a careless contempt for theevanescence of all things—even of this pain itself. No! It is hisextremity that I seem to have lived through. True, he had made that laststride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw backmy hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps allthe wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into thatinappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of theinvisible. Perhaps! I like to think my summing-up would not have been a word ofcareless contempt. Better his cry—much better. It was an affirmation, amoral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, byabominable satisfactions. But it was a victory! That is why I have remainedloyal to Kurtz to the last, and even beyond, when a long time after I heardonce more, not his own voice, but the echo of his magnificent eloquence thrownto me from a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal.
“No, they did not bury me, though there is a period of time which Iremember mistily, with a shuddering wonder, like a passage through someinconceivable world that had no hope in it and no desire. I found myself backin the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through thestreets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamouscookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and sillydreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledgeof life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could notpossibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing ofcommonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfectsafety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the faceof a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlightenthem, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in theirfaces so full of stupid importance. I daresay I was not very well at that time.I tottered about the streets—there were various affairs tosettle—grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable persons. I admit mybehaviour was inexcusable, but then my temperature was seldom normal in thesedays. My dear aunt’s endeavours to ‘nurse up my strength’seemed altogether beside the mark. It was not my strength that wanted nursing,it was my imagination that wanted soothing. I kept the bundle of papers givenme by Kurtz, not knowing exactly what to do with it. His mother had diedlately, watched over, as I was told, by his Intended. A clean-shaved man, withan official manner and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, called on me one day andmade inquiries, at first circuitous, afterwards suavely pressing, about what hewas pleased to denominate certain ‘documents.’ I was not surprised,because I had had two rows with the manager on the subject out there. I hadrefused to give up the smallest scrap out of that package, and I took the sameattitude with the spectacled man. He became darkly menacing at last, and withmuch heat argued that the Company had the right to every bit of informationabout its ‘territories.’ And said he, ‘Mr. Kurtz’sknowledge of unexplored regions must have been necessarily extensive andpeculiar—owing to his great abilities and to the deplorable circumstancesin which he had been placed: therefore—’ I assured him Mr.Kurtz’s knowledge, however extensive, did not bear upon the problems ofcommerce or administration. He invoked then the name of science. ‘Itwould be an incalculable loss if,’ etc., etc. I offered him the report onthe ‘Suppression of Savage Customs,’ with the postscriptum tornoff. He took it up eagerly, but ended by sniffing at it with an air ofcontempt. ‘This is not what we had a right to expect,’ he remarked.‘Expect nothing else,’ I said. ‘There are only privateletters.’ He withdrew upon some threat of legal proceedings, and I sawhim no more; but another fellow, calling himself Kurtz’s cousin, appearedtwo days later, and was anxious to hear all the details about his dearrelative’s last moments. Incidentally he gave me to understand that Kurtzhad been essentially a great musician. ‘There was the making of animmense success,’ said the man, who was an organist, I believe, with lankgrey hair flowing over a greasy coat-collar. I had no reason to doubt hisstatement; and to this day I am unable to say what was Kurtz’sprofession, whether he ever had any—which was the greatest of histalents. I had taken him for a painter who wrote for the papers, or else for ajournalist who could paint—but even the cousin (who took snuff during theinterview) could not tell me what he had been—exactly. He was a universalgenius—on that point I agreed with the old chap, who thereupon blew hisnose noisily into a large cotton handkerchief and withdrew in senile agitation,bearing off some family letters and memoranda without importance. Ultimately ajournalist anxious to know something of the fate of his ‘dearcolleague’ turned up. This visitor informed me Kurtz’s propersphere ought to have been politics ‘on the popular side.’ He hadfurry straight eyebrows, bristly hair cropped short, an eyeglass on a broadribbon, and, becoming expansive, confessed his opinion that Kurtz reallycouldn’t write a bit—‘but heavens! how that man could talk.He electrified large meetings. He had faith—don’t you see?—hehad the faith. He could get himself to believe anything—anything. Hewould have been a splendid leader of an extreme party.’ ‘Whatparty?’ I asked. ‘Any party,’ answered the other. ‘Hewas an—an—extremist.’ Did I not think so? I assented. Did Iknow, he asked, with a sudden flash of curiosity, ‘what it was that hadinduced him to go out there?’ ‘Yes,’ said I, and forthwithhanded him the famous Report for publication, if he thought fit. He glancedthrough it hurriedly, mumbling all the time, judged ‘it would do,’and took himself off with this plunder.
“Thus I was left at last with a slim packet of letters and thegirl’s portrait. She struck me as beautiful—I mean she had abeautiful expression. I know that the sunlight can be made to lie, too, yet onefelt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicateshade of truthfulness upon those features. She seemed ready to listen withoutmental reservation, without suspicion, without a thought for herself. Iconcluded I would go and give her back her portrait and those letters myself.Curiosity? Yes; and also some other feeling perhaps. All that had beenKurtz’s had passed out of my hands: his soul, his body, his station, hisplans, his ivory, his career. There remained only his memory and hisIntended—and I wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in away—to surrender personally all that remained of him with me to thatoblivion which is the last word of our common fate. I don’t defendmyself. I had no clear perception of what it was I really wanted. Perhaps itwas an impulse of unconscious loyalty, or the fulfilment of one of those ironicnecessities that lurk in the facts of human existence. I don’t know. Ican’t tell. But I went.
“I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead thataccumulate in every man’s life—a vague impress on the brain ofshadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before thehigh and ponderous door, between the tall houses of a street as still anddecorous as a well-kept alley in a cemetery, I had a vision of him on thestretcher, opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the earth withall its mankind. He lived then before me; he lived as much as he had everlived—a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightfulrealities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly inthe folds of a gorgeous eloquence. The vision seemed to enter the house withme—the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedientworshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between themurky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of aheart—the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph forthe wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I wouldhave to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul. And the memory ofwhat I had heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at myback, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases cameback to me, were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. Iremembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of hisvile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul.And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said oneday, ‘This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay forit. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they willtry to claim it as theirs though. H’m. It is a difficult case. What doyou think I ought to do—resist? Eh? I want no more thanjustice.’... He wanted no more than justice—no more than justice. Irang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited heseemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel—stare with that wide andimmense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed tohear the whispered cry, “The horror! The horror!”
“The dusk was falling. I had to wait in a lofty drawing-room with threelong windows from floor to ceiling that were like three luminous and bedrapedcolumns. The bent gilt legs and backs of the furniture shone in indistinctcurves. The tall marble fireplace had a cold and monumental whiteness. A grandpiano stood massively in a corner; with dark gleams on the flat surfaces like asombre and polished sarcophagus. A high door opened—closed. I rose.
“She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me inthe dusk. She was in mourning. It was more than a year since his death, morethan a year since the news came; she seemed as though she would remember andmourn forever. She took both my hands in hers and murmured, ‘I had heardyou were coming.’ I noticed she was not very young—I mean notgirlish. She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering. Theroom seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy eveninghad taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this purebrow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out atme. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful. She carriedher sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she wouldsay, ‘I—I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.’But while we were still shaking hands, such a look of awful desolation cameupon her face that I perceived she was one of those creatures that are not theplaythings of Time. For her he had died only yesterday. And, by Jove! theimpression was so powerful that for me, too, he seemed to have died onlyyesterday—nay, this very minute. I saw her and him in the same instant oftime—his death and her sorrow—I saw her sorrow in the very momentof his death. Do you understand? I saw them together—I heard themtogether. She had said, with a deep catch of the breath, ‘I havesurvived’ while my strained ears seemed to hear distinctly, mingled withher tone of despairing regret, the summing up whisper of his eternalcondemnation. I asked myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panicin my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurdmysteries not fit for a human being to behold. She motioned me to a chair. Wesat down. I laid the packet gently on the little table, and she put her handover it.... ‘You knew him well,’ she murmured, after a moment ofmourning silence.
“‘Intimacy grows quickly out there,’ I said. ‘I knewhim as well as it is possible for one man to know another.’
“‘And you admired him,’ she said. ‘It was impossible toknow him and not to admire him. Was it?’
“‘He was a remarkable man,’ I said, unsteadily. Then beforethe appealing fixity of her gaze, that seemed to watch for more words on mylips, I went on, ‘It was impossible not to—’
“‘Love him,’ she finished eagerly, silencing me into anappalled dumbness. ‘How true! how true! But when you think that no oneknew him so well as I! I had all his noble confidence. I knew him best.’
“‘You knew him best,’ I repeated. And perhaps she did. Butwith every word spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead,smooth and white, remained illumined by the inextinguishable light of beliefand love.
“‘You were his friend,’ she went on. ‘Hisfriend,’ she repeated, a little louder. ‘You must have been, if hehad given you this, and sent you to me. I feel I can speak to you—and oh!I must speak. I want you—you who have heard his last words—to knowI have been worthy of him.... It is not pride.... Yes! I am proud to know Iunderstood him better than any one on earth—he told me so himself. Andsince his mother died I have had no one—noone—to—to—’
“I listened. The darkness deepened. I was not even sure whether he hadgiven me the right bundle. I rather suspect he wanted me to take care ofanother batch of his papers which, after his death, I saw the manager examiningunder the lamp. And the girl talked, easing her pain in the certitude of mysympathy; she talked as thirsty men drink. I had heard that her engagement withKurtz had been disapproved by her people. He wasn’t rich enough orsomething. And indeed I don’t know whether he had not been a pauper allhis life. He had given me some reason to infer that it was his impatience ofcomparative poverty that drove him out there.
“‘... Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?’she was saying. ‘He drew men towards him by what was best in them.’She looked at me with intensity. ‘It is the gift of the great,’ shewent on, and the sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of allthe other sounds, full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had everheard—the ripple of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by thewind, the murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words criedfrom afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of aneternal darkness. ‘But you have heard him! You know!’ she cried.
“‘Yes, I know,’ I said with something like despair in myheart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before that greatand saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in thetriumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from which Icould not even defend myself.
“‘What a loss to me—to us!’—she corrected herselfwith beautiful generosity; then added in a murmur, ‘To the world.’By the last gleams of twilight I could see the glitter of her eyes, full oftears—of tears that would not fall.
“‘I have been very happy—very fortunate—veryproud,’ she went on. ‘Too fortunate. Too happy for a little while.And now I am unhappy for—for life.’
“She stood up; her fair hair seemed to catch all the remaining light in aglimmer of gold. I rose, too.
“‘And of all this,’ she went on mournfully, ‘of all hispromise, and of all his greatness, of his generous mind, of his noble heart,nothing remains—nothing but a memory. You and I—’
“‘We shall always remember him,’ I said hastily.
“‘No!’ she cried. ‘It is impossible that all thisshould be lost—that such a life should be sacrificed to leavenothing—but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them,too—I could not perhaps understand—but others knew of them.Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.’
“‘His words will remain,’ I said.
“‘And his example,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Menlooked up to him—his goodness shone in every act. Hisexample—’
“‘True,’ I said; ‘his example, too. Yes, his example. Iforgot that.’
“‘But I do not. I cannot—I cannot believe—not yet. Icannot believe that I shall never see him again, that nobody will see himagain, never, never, never.’
“She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching themback and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of thewindow. Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquentphantom as long as I live, and I shall see her, too, a tragic and familiarShade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked withpowerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernalstream, the stream of darkness. She said suddenly very low, ‘He died ashe lived.’
“‘His end,’ said I, with dull anger stirring in me,‘was in every way worthy of his life.’
“‘And I was not with him,’ she murmured. My anger subsidedbefore a feeling of infinite pity.
“‘Everything that could be done—’ I mumbled.
“‘Ah, but I believed in him more than any one on earth—morethan his own mother, more than—himself. He needed me! Me! I would havetreasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.’
“I felt like a chill grip on my chest. ‘Don’t,’ I said,in a muffled voice.
“‘Forgive me. I—I have mourned so long in silence—insilence.... You were with him—to the last? I think of his loneliness.Nobody near to understand him as I would have understood. Perhaps no one tohear....’
“‘To the very end,’ I said, shakily. ‘I heard his verylast words....’ I stopped in a fright.
“‘Repeat them,’ she murmured in a heart-broken tone. ‘Iwant—I want—something—something—to—to livewith.’
“I was on the point of crying at her, ‘Don’t you hearthem?’ The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us,in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a risingwind. ‘The horror! The horror!’
“‘His last word—to live with,’ she insisted.‘Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I lovedhim!’
“I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.
“‘The last word he pronounced was—your name.’
“I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead shortby an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and ofunspeakable pain. ‘I knew it—I was sure!’... She knew. Shewas sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemedto me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavenswould fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for sucha trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz thatjustice which was his due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice? But Icouldn’t. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—toodark altogether....”
Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of ameditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first ofthe ebb,” said the Director suddenly. I raised my head. The offing wasbarred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to theuttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed tolead into the heart of an immense darkness.
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Conrad's famous novella is based on a real journey the author took up the Congo in 1890, during King Leopold II of Belgium's horrific rule.
Here, “heart of darkness” is a shorthand for European stereotypes of Africa, which Conrad's novel did its part to reinforce. Hamid's line plays on racist anxieties about immigration: the idea that certain places and peoples are primitive, exotic, dangerous.
Heart of Darkness has a great opening. The writing is very pretty and the story is immediately evocative and transporting. You instantly feel as if you are one of those aboard the yacht, listening to the old seaman telling his tale. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same.
The original book is in the public domain in the United States and in most, if not all, other countries as well.
Conrad intentionally made Heart of Darkness hard to read. He wanted the language of his novella to make the reader feel like they were fighting through the jungle, just like Marlow fought through the jungle in search of Kurtz.
Heart of Darkness was first published as a three-part serial story in Blackwood's Magazine. Central to Conrad's work is the idea that there is little difference between "civilised people" and "savages." Heart of Darkness implicitly comments on imperialism and racism.
The Heart of Darkness is a 72-page controversial novel written in 1899. Typically, it would take an average reader at least 3 hours and 45 minutes to read it, but you can finish it in 77 minutes reading at a pace of 500 words per minute.
Heart of Darkness examines the horrors of Western colonialism, depicting it as a phenomenon that tarnishes not only the lands and peoples it exploits but also those in the West who advance it.
Heart of Darkness is a short novel by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, written as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow's experience as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Central Africa.
The Norton Critical Edition is much the best if you really want to explore these multiple layers.
Heart of Darkness is a brilliant book. It is only relatively short, and if you are anywhere near as impressed with it as I was it will not take you long at all! Very much worth a go though, the chilling character of Kurtz is a real classic. I would say don't read it if you are feeling down though, it will not help!
Kurtz's last words in the “Heart of Darkness” were “The horror. The horror” has various meanings. First, the words show his reaction to what he witnessed in Africa. The terms horror depicted the exploitation that was seen in Africa and the evil practices of humans.
In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is more aptly described as a tragic hero, a hero who succumbs to a fatal flaw that brings about their downfall. Kurtz is praised throughout the first two sections of the book as a noble man, an intelligent man, and a man that will go far in life.
Conrad was in the Congo for four months, returning to England in January 1891. He made several more voyages as a first mate, but by 1894, when his guardian Tadeusz Bobrowski died, his sea life was over.
Marlow is a thirty-two-year-old sailor who has always lived at sea. The novel's narrator presents Marlow as "a meditating Buddha" because his experiences in the Congo have made him introspective and to a certain degree philosophic and wise.
In Heart of Darkness, the author, Joseph Conrad, is disdainful of colonialism and seeks to educate an immature and blinded society to the true nature and horrors of colonialism.
Indeed, perhaps his most well-known and widely read work, the classic novella Heart of Darkness, is problematic, to say the least, because of how he depicts the Africans in the story.
"And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the dark places of the earth." Marlow refers to England as one of these implying a repetition in historical practices particularly in the case of imperialism and oppression.
Examples in the Text
Why should we question Marlow's idea that the worst evil of colonialism is its ineffectiveness (failure to do anything)? It assumes that white people have the right to decide what goals should be pursued in Africa. White people never had the right to decide what should be accomplished in Africa.
Answer: The dense forest of the “Democratic republic of Congo” is called as the heart of darkness because the vegetation of democratic republic of Congo is dense. Explanation: The vegetation on the inner forest is too dense for any kind of quick travel, so the river helps the characters physically move more regularly.
Answer and Explanation: Heart of Darkness is classified as fiction, primarily because the characters in the story are not real people, and the events are fabricated by the author.
Answer: The dense forest of the “Democratic republic of Congo” is called as the heart of darkness because the vegetation of democratic republic of Congo is dense. Explanation: The vegetation on the inner forest is too dense for any kind of quick travel, so the river helps the characters physically move more regularly.
Kurtz's last words in the “Heart of Darkness” were “The horror. The horror” has various meanings. First, the words show his reaction to what he witnessed in Africa. The terms horror depicted the exploitation that was seen in Africa and the evil practices of humans.
Conrad was in the Congo for four months, returning to England in January 1891. He made several more voyages as a first mate, but by 1894, when his guardian Tadeusz Bobrowski died, his sea life was over.
The Heart of Darkness is a 72-page controversial novel written in 1899. Typically, it would take an average reader at least 3 hours and 45 minutes to read it, but you can finish it in 77 minutes reading at a pace of 500 words per minute.
Heart of Darkness is a short novel by Polish novelist Joseph Conrad, written as a frame narrative, about Charles Marlow's experience as an ivory transporter down the Congo River in Central Africa.
In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is more aptly described as a tragic hero, a hero who succumbs to a fatal flaw that brings about their downfall. Kurtz is praised throughout the first two sections of the book as a noble man, an intelligent man, and a man that will go far in life.
Yet, Conrad's depiction of the natives who line the banks of the river, dance and howl primitively. That they are never given a voice in the novel has, understandably, led to criticism of the novel itself. Chinua Achebe's influential 1977 essay on the book describes it as “bloody racist”.
Slavery is heavily present within the novel and can been in the treatment of the locals by the officials at the various stations. The first instance of slavery that Marlow encounters is when he finally arrives at the outer station.
Another symbol in the Heart of Darkness is the Congo River. First of all, the river symbolizes movement toward a goal. It's the only way the British have of getting to the center of the continent where the most ivory is, so it steers them towards their goal. It also moves Marlow toward his goal of reaching Kurtz.
Kurtz dies on the boat with the last words, "The horror! The horror!" Kurtz ultimately was changed by the jungle. At first he wanted to bring civilization to the natives, as his painting shows, but by the end he wants to "exterminate all the brutes!"
While Kurtz accepts and indulges the darkness within the soul, this darkness is what eventually breaks him down. His last words, “The horror, the horror,” suggest that he is seeing clearly for the first time and that he has greeted death so willingly because only death can liberate him from his hopelessness.
Kurtz's last words—“The horror! The horror!”—can be interpreted in various ways. Firstly, and most simply, they could be a response to a fever dream as Kurtz's body and mind disintegrate.
In the Prime Video television series, Conrad admits that he quit football because he believes he'll just ride the bench the entire season. Obviously, this shocking decision is a culmination of other stressors and unfortunate issues in his life.
According to the character's wiki page, Conrad Fisher is 17 years old in the first book of The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy, in which the Amazon Prime series is based. The character is the same age in the adaptation of the show however, the actor who plays him is actually in his early 20s.
One of Conrad's most important voyages occurred in 1890, when he sailed a steamboat up the Congo River in central Africa.