Dec 302017
"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad, the story the movie Apocalypse Now is based on.
File HOD.ZIP from The Programmer’s Corner in
Category Various Text files
“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, the story the movie Apocalypse Now is based on.
File Name File Size Zip Size Zip Type
HOD.TXT 212763 82544 deflated

Download File HOD.ZIP Here

Contents of the HOD.TXT file

The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor
without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood
had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound
down the river, the only thing for it was to come to
and wait for the turn of the tide.
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us
like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In
the offing the sea and the sky were welded together
without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned
sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to
stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked,
with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the
low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness.
The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back
still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brood-
ing motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town
on earth.
The Director of Companies was our captain and our
host. We four affectionately watched his back as he
stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole
river there was nothing that looked half so nautical.
He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trust-
worthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his
work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but
behind him, within the brooding gloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said some-
where, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts
together through long periods of separation, it had
the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns
-- and even convictions. The Lawyer -- the best of old
fellows -- had, because of his many years and many
virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the
only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a
box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with
the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning
against the mizzenmast. He had sunken cheeks, a
yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect,
and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands out-
wards, resembled an idol. The Director, satisfied the
anchor had good hold, made his way aft and sat down
amongst us. We exchanged a few words lazily. After-
wards there was silence on board the yacht. For some
reason or other we did not begin that game of domi-
noes. We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but
placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity of
still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifi-
cally; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immen-
sity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex
marsh was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from
the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores
in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west,
brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre
every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.
And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the
sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a
dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to
go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of
that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.
Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the
serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The
old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the
decline of day, after ages of good service done to the
race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil
dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends
of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not
in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs
for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories.
And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as
the phrase goes, "followed the sea" with reverence
and affection, than to evoke the great spirit of the past
upon the lower reaches of the Thames. The tidal cur-
rent runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded
with memories of 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 Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights
all, titled and untitled -- the great knights-errant of
the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are
like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the
Golden Hind returning with her round flanks full of
treasure, to be visited by the Queen's Highness and
thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and
Terror, bound on other conquests -- and that never
returned. 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 of fame, they all had gone out
on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch,
messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a
spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not
floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery 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 the shore. The Chapman light-
house, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone
strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway -- a
great stir of lights going up and going down. And
farther west on the upper reaches the place of the
monstrous town was still marked ominously on the
sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under
the stars.
"And this also," said Marlow suddenly, "has been
one of the dark places of the earth."
He was the only man of us who still "followed the
sea." The worst that could be said of him was that he
did not represent his class. He was a seaman, but he
was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one
may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are
of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always
with them -- the ship; and so is their country -- the sea.
One ship is very much like another, and the sea is
always the same. In the immutability of their sur-
roundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the
changLng immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by
a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful igno-
rance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman
unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his
existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest,
after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree
on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a
whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not
worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct
simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the
shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical
(if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to
him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a
kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought
it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness
of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made
visible by the spectral illuminination of moonshine.
His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was
just like Marlow. It was accepted in silence. No one
took the trouble to grunt even; and presently he said,
very slow --
"I was thinking of very old times, when the
Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago --
the other day.... Light came out of this river
since -- you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running
blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds.
We live in the flicker -- may it last as long as the old
earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.
Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine -- what
d'ye call 'em? -- trireme in the Mediterranean, or-
dered suddenly to the north run overland across the
Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft
the legionaries -- a wonderful lot of handy men they
must have been, too -- used to build, apparently by the
hundred, in a month or two, if we 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 as rigid as a concertina --
and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what
you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages, --
precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but
Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no
going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in
a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay -- cold,
fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death -- death skulk-
ing in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must
have been dying like flies here. Oh, yes -- he did it.
Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking
much about it either, except afterwards to brag of
what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They
were men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps
he was cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of pro-
motion to the fleet at Ravenna by and by, if he had
good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate.
Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga -- perhaps
too much dice, you know -- coming out here in the
train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even,
to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march
through the woods, and in some inland post feel the
savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him --
all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in
the forest, in the jungles, in the 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 of the
abomination -- you know, imagine the growing regrets,
the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the sur-
render, the hate."
He paused.
"Mind," he began again, lifting one arm from the
elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with
his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a
Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a
lotus-flower -- "Mind, none of us would feel exactly
like this. What saves us is efficiency -- the devotion to
efficiency. But these chaps were not much account,
really. They were no colonists; their administration
was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect.
They were conquerors, and for that 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 was just robbery
with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale,
and men going at it blind -- as is very proper for those
who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth,
which mostly means the taking it away from those
who have a different complexion or slightly flatter
noses than ourselves, is not a pretty 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 pre-
tence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea --
something you can set up, and bow down before, and
offer a sacrifice to..."
He broke off. Flames glided in the river, small
green flames, red flames, white flames, pursuing, over-
taking, joining, crossing each other -- then separating
slowly or hastily. The traffic of the great city went on
in the deepening night upon the sleepless river. We
looked on, waiting patiently -- there was nothing else
to do till the end of the flood; but it was only after a
long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, "I
suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh
water sailor for a bit," that we knew we were fated,
before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of
Marlow's inconclusive experiences.
"I don't want to bother you much with what hap-
pened to me personally," he began, showing in this
remark the weakness of many tellers of tales who
seem so often unaware of what their audience would
best like to hear; "yet to understand the effect of it on
me you ought to know how I got out there, what I
saw, how I went up that river to the place where I
first met the poor chap. It was the farthest point of
navigation and the culminating point of my experi-
ence. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on
everything about me -- and into my thoughts. It was
sombre enough, too -- and pitiful -- not extraordinary
in any way -- not very clear either. 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 of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China
Seas a regular dose of the East -- six years or so, and
I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your
work and invading your homes, just as though I had
got a heavenly mission to civilize you. 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 for hours at South America, or
Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories
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 all look that)
I would put my finger on it and say, 'When I grow
up I will go there.' The North Pole was one of these
places, I remember. Well, I haven't been there yet,
and shall not try now. The glamour's off. Other places
were scattered about the Equator, and in every sort of
latitude all over the two hemispheres. I have been in
some of them, and . . . well, we won't talk about
that. But there was one yet -- the biggest, 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 filled since my boyhood with rivers
and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space
of delightful mystery -- a white patch for a boy to
dream gloriously over. It had become a place of dark-
ness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty
big river, that you could see on the map, resembling
an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its
body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its
tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at
the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a
snake would a bird -- a silly little bird. Then I remem-
bered there was a big concern, a Company for trade
on that river. Dash it all! I thought to myself, they
can't trade without using some kind of craft on that lot
of fresh water -- steamboats! Why shouldn't I try to
get charge of one? I went on along Fleet Street, but
could not shake off the idea. The snake had charmed
"You understand it was a Continental concern, that
Trading society; but I have a lot of relations living on
the Continent, because it's cheap and not so nasty as it
looks, they say.
"I am sorry to own I began to worry them. This
was already a fresh departure for me. I was not used
to get things that way, you know. I always went my
own road and on my own legs where I had a mind to
go. I wouldn't have believed it of myself; but, then --
you see -- I felt somehow I must get there by hook or
by crook. So I worried them. The men said 'My dear
fellow,' and did nothing. Then -- would you believe
it? -- I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the
women to work -- to get a job. Heavens! We]l, you
see, the notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthu-
siastic soul. 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 high personage in the
Administration, and also a man who has lots of influ-
ence with,' etc., etc. She was determined to make no
end of fuss to get me appointed skipper of a river
steamboat, if such was my fancy.
"I got my appointment -- of course; and I got it
very quick. It appears the Company had received news
that one of their captains had been killed in a scuffle
with the natives. This was my chance, and it made me
the more anxious to go. It was only months and
months afterwards, when I made the attempt to re-
cover what was left of the body, that I heard the
original quarrel arose from a misunderstanding about
some hens. Yes, two black hens. Fresleven -- that was
the fellow's name, a Dane -- thought himself wronged
somehow in the bargain, so he went ashore and started
to hammer the chief of the village with a stick. Oh,
it didn't surprise me in the least to 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 had been a couple of years al-
ready out there engaged in the noble cause, you know,
and he probably felt the need at last of asserting his
self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the
old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people
watched him, thunderstruck, till some man -- I was
told the chief's son -- in desperation at hearing the old
chap yell, made a tentative jab with a spear at the
white man -- and of course it went quite easy between
the shoulder-blades. Then the whole population
cleared into the forest, expecting all kinds of calamities
to happen, while, on the other hand, the steamer Fres-
leven commanded left also in a bad panic, in charge of
the engineer, I believe. Afterwards nobody seemed to
trouble much about Fresleven's remains, till I got out
and stepped into his shoes. I couldn't let it rest,
though; but when an opportunity offered at last to
meet my predecessor, the grass growing through his
ribs was tall enough to hide his bones. They were all
there. The supernatural being had not been touched
after he fell. And the village was deserted, the huts
gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen en-
dosures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough. The
people had vanished. Mad terror had scattered them,
men, women, and children, through the bush, and
they had never returned. What became of the hens I
don'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 fairly begun
to hope for it.
"I flew around like mad to get ready, and before
forty-eight hours I was crossing the Channel to snow
myself to my employers, and sign the contract. In a
very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes
me think of a whited sepulchre. Prejudice no doubt. I
had no difficulty in finding the Company's offices. It
was the biggest thing in the town, and everybody I
met was full of it. They were going to run an over sea
empire, and make no end of coin by trade.
"A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high
houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds, a
dead silence, grass sprouting between the stones, im-
posing carriage archways right and left, immense
double doors standing ponderously ajar. I slipped
through one of these cracks, went up a swept and un-
garnished staircase, as arid as a desert, and opened the
first door I 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
-- still knitting with downcast eyes -- and only just as
I began to think of getting out 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 a word 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 large shining map, marked with
all the colours of a rainbow. There was a vast amount
of red -- good to see at any time, because one knows
that some real work is done 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 progress drink the jolly lager-beer.
However, I wasn't going into any of these. I was
going into the yellow. Dead in the centre. And the
river was there -- fascinating -- deadly -- like a snake.
Ough! A door opened, a white-haired secretarial head,
but wearing a compassionate expression, appeared, and
a skinny forefinger beckoned me into the sanctuary. Its
light was dim, and a heavy writing-desk squatted in
the middle. From behind that structure came out an
impression of pale plumpness in a frock-coat. The
great man himself. He was five feet six, I should
judge, and had his grip on the handle-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-room with the compassionate secretary,
who, full of desolation and sympathy, made me sign
some document. I believe I undertook amongst other
things not to disclose any trade secrets. Well, I am
not going to.
"I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am
not used to such ceremonies, and there was something
ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though I
had been let into some conspiracy -- I don't know --
something not quite right; and I was glad to get out.
In the outer room the two women knitted black wool
feverishly. People were arriving, and the younger one
was walking back and forth introducing them. The
old one sat on her chair. Her flat cloth slippers were
propped up on a foot-warmer, and a cat reposed on her
lap. She wore a starched white affair on her head, had
a wart on one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung
on the tip of her nose. She glanced at me above the
glasses. The swift and indifferent placidity of that
look troubled me. Two youths with foolish and cheery
countenances were being piloted over, and she threw at
them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom.
She seemed to know all about them and about me, too.
An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny
and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these
two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black
wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing
continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing
the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old
eyes. Ave! Old knittter of black wool. Morituri te
salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever saw
her again -- not half, by a long way.
"There was yet a visit to the doctor. 'A simple for-
mality,' assured me the secretary, with an air of taking
an immense part in all my sorrows. Accordingly a
young chap wearing his hat over the left eyebrow,
some clerk I suppose -- there must have been clerks
in the business, though the house was as still as a
house in a city of the dead -- came from somewhere
up-stairs, and led me forth. He was shabby and care-
less, with inkstains on the sleeves of his jacket, and
his cravat was large and billowy, under a chin shaped
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 we sat over our ver-
mouths he glorified the Company's business, and by
and by I expressed casually my surprise at him not
going out there. He became very cool and collected
all at once. 'I am not such a fool as I look, quoth
Plato to his disciples,' he said sententiously, emptied
his glass with great resolution, and we rose.
"The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking
of something else the while. 'Good, good for there,' he
mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me
whether I would let him measure my head. Rather
surprised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like
calipers and got the dimensions back and front and
every way, taking notes carefully. He was an un-
shaven little man in a threadbare coat like a gaberdine,
with his feet in slippers, and I thought him a harmless
fool. 'I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to
measure the crania of those going out there,' he said.
'And when they come back, too?' I asked. 'Oh, I never
see them,' he remarked; '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 fam-
ily?' he asked, in a matter-of-fact tone. I felt very
annoyed. 'Is that question in the interests of science,
too?' 'It would be,' he said, without taking notice of
my irritation, 'interesting for science to watch the
mental changes of individuals, on the spot, but . . .'
'Are you an alienist?' I interrupted. 'Every doctor
should be -- a little,' answered that original, imperturb-
ably. 'I have a little theory which you messieurs who
go out there must help me to prove. This is my share
in the advantages my country shall reap from the
possession of such a magnificent dependency. The
mere wealth I leave to others. Pardon my questions,
but you are the first Englishman coming under my
observation . . .' I hastened to assure him I was not
in the least typical. 'If I were,' said I, 'I wouldn't be
talking like this with you.' 'What you say is rather
profound, and probably erroneous,' he said, with a
laugh. 'Avoid irritation more than exposure to the
sun. Adieu. How do you English say, eh? Good-bye.
Ah! Good-bye. Adieu. In the tropics one must before
everytlung keep calm.' . . . He lifted a warning
forefinger. . . 'Du calme, du calme, Adieu.'
"One thing more remained to do -- say good-bye to
my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a
cup of tea -- the last decent cup of tea for many days --
and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you
would expect a lady's drawing-room to look, we had a
long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these
confidences it became quite plain to me I had been
represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and
goodness knows to how many more people besides, as
an exceptional and gifted creature -- a piece of good
fortune for the Company -- a man you don't get hold
of every day. Good heavens! and I was going to take
charge of a two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat with
a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I
was also one of the Workers, with a capital -- you
know. Something like an emissary of light, something
like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of
such rot 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. She talked
about 'weaning those ignorant millions from their
horrid ways,' till, upon my word, she made me quite
uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company
was run for profit.
" 'You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is
worthy of his hire,' she said, brightly. It's queer how
out of touch with truth women are. They live in a
world of their own, and there has never been anything
like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether,
and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces
before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men
have been living contentedly with ever since the day
of creation would start up and knock the whole thing
"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 -- a queer feeling came to me
that I was an impostor. Odd thing that I, who used to
clear out for any part of the world at twenty-four
hours' notice, with less thought than most men give to
the crossing of a street, had a moment -- I won't say
of hesitation, but of startled pause, before this com-
monplace affair. The best way I can explain it to you
is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though,
instead of going to the centre of a 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 they have out there, for, as far as I
could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and
custom-house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a
coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an
enigma. There it is before you -- smiling, frowning,
inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always
mute with an air of whispering, 'Come and find out.'
This one was almost featureless, as if still in the mak-
ing, with an aspect of monotonous grimness. The edge
of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost
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 sun was fierce,
the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here
and there greyish-whitish specks showed up clustered
inside the white surf, with a flag fiying above them
perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no
bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of
their background. We pounded along, stopped, landed
soldiers; went on, landed custom-house clerks to
levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken wilder-
ness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost 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 or not, nobody seemed particu-
larly to care. They were just flung out there, and on
we went. Every day the coast looked the same, as
though we had not moved; but we passed various
places -- trading places with names like Gran' Bas-
sam, Little Popo; names that seemed to belong to
some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister back-cloth.
The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all
these men with whom I had no point of contact, the
oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the
coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things,
within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion.
The voice of the surf heard now and then was a posi-
tive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. It was some-
thing natural, that had its reason, that had a meaning
Now and then a boat from the shore gave one a mo-
mentary contact with reality. It was paddled by
black fellows. You could see from afar the white of
their eyeballs glistening. They shouted, sang; their
bodies streamed with perspiration; they had faces
like grotesque masks -- these chaps; but they had bone,
muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of move-
ment, that was as natural and true as the surf along
their coast. They wanted no excuse for being there.
They were a great comfort to look at. For a time I
would feel I belonged still to a world of straightfor-
ward facts; but the feeling would not last long. Some-
thing would turn up to scare it away. Once, I remem-
ber, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the
coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and she was
shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of
their wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped
limp like a rag; the muzzles of the long six-inch guns
stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy, slimy swell
swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her
thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and
water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a
continent. Pop, would go one of the six-inch guns; a
small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke
would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble
screech -- and nothing happened. Nothing could hap-
pen. There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding,
a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was
not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me
earnestly there was a camp of natives -- he called them
enemies! -- hidden out of sight somewhere.
"We gave her her ktters (I heard the men in that
lonely ship were dying of fever at the rate of three
a day) and went on. We called at some more places
with farcical names, where the merry dance of death
and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as
of an overheated catacomb; all along the formless
coast bordered by dangerous surf, as if Nature herself
had tried to ward off intruders; in and out of rivers,
streams of death in life, whose banks were rotting into
mud, whose waters, thickened into slime, invaded the
contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us
in the extremity of an impotent despair. Nowhere
did we stop long enough to get a particularized im-
pression, but the general sense of vague and oppres-
sive wonder grew upon me. It was ]ike a weary
pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares
"It was upward of thirty days before I saw the
mouth of the big river. We anchored off the seat of
the government. But my work would not begin till
some two hundred miles farther on. So as soon as I
could I made a start for a place thirty 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 the miserable 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, speak-
ing English with great precision and considerable bit-
terness. 'It is funny what some people will do for a
few francs a month. I wonder what becomes of that
kind when it goes upcountry?' I said to him I expected
to see that soon. 'So-o-o!' he exclaimed. He shuffled
athwart, keeping one eye 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 a
Swede, too.' 'Hanged himself! Why, in God's name?'
I cried. He kept on looking out watchfully. 'Who
knows? The sun too much for him, or the country
"At last we opened a reach. A rocky cliff appeared,
mounds of turned-up earth by the shore, houses on a
hill, others with iron roofs, amongst a waste of exca-
vations, or hanging to the declivity. A continuous noise
of the rapids above hovered over this scene of in-
habited devastation. A lot of people, mostly black
and naked, moved about like ants. A jetty projected
into the river. A blinding 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. 'I will send your things up. Four boxes did you
say? So. Farewell.'
"I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then
found a path leading up the hill. It turned aside for
the boulders, and also for an undersized railway-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 pieces of decaying
machinery, a stack of rusty rails. To the left a clump
of trees made a shady spot, where dark things seemed
to stir feebly. I blinked, the path was steep. A horn
tooted to the right, and I saw the black people run. A
heavy and 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 were
building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or
anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work
going on.
"A slight clinking behind me made me turn my
head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the
path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small
baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink
kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound
round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled
to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of
their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an
iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together
with a chain whose bights swung between them,
rhythmically clinking. Another report from the cliff
made me think suddenly of that ship of war 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 were called
criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting
shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from
the sea. All their meagre breasts panted together, the
violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared
stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, with-
out a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference
of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the
reclaimed, 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 with alacrity. This was simple prudence,
white men being so much alike at a distance that he
could not tell who I might be. He was speedily re-
assured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a
glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partner-
ship in his exalted trust. After all, I also was a part of
the great cause of these high and just proceedings.
"Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the
left. My idea was to let that chain-gang get out of
sight before I climbed the hilL You know I am not
particularly tender; I've had to strike and to fend off.
I've had to resist and to attack sometimes -- that's only
one way of resisting -- without counting the exact cost,
according to the demands of such sort of life as I had
blundered into. I've seen the devil of violence, and
the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but,
by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed
devils, that swayed and drove men -- men, I tell you.
But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the
blinding sunshine of that land I would become ac-
quainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil
of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he
could be, too, I was only to find out several months
later and a thousand miles farther. For a moment I
stood appalled, as though by a warning. Finally I
descended the hill, obliquely, towards the trees I had
"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 quarry or a sandpit,
anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been con-
nected with the philanthropic desire of giving the
criminals something to do. I don't know. Then I
nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more
than a scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of
imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been
tumbled in there. There wasn't one that was not
broken. It was a wanton smash-up. At last I got under
the trees. My purpose was to stroll into the shade for
a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed to me
I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno.
The rapids were near, and an uninterrupted, uniform,
headlong, rushing noise filled the mournful stillness
of the grove, where not a breath stirred, not a leaf
moved, with a mysterious sound -- as though the tear-
ing pace of the launched earth had suddenly become
"Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees
leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half
coming out, half effased within the dim light, in all
the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair. An-
other mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight
shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was
going on. The work! And this was the place where
some of the helpers had 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 black shadows of
disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the green-
ish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast
in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncon-
genial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they
sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed
to crawl away and rest. These moribund shapes were
free as air -- and nearly as thin. I began to distinguish
the gleam of the eyes under the trees. Then, glancing
down, I saw a face near my hand. The black bones
reclined at full length with one shoulder against the
tree, and slowly the eyelids rose and the sunken eyes
looked up at me, enormous and vacant, a kind of
blind, white flicker in the depths of the orbs, which
died out slowly. The man seemed young -- almost a
boy -- but you know with them it's hard to tell. I
found nothing else to do but to offer him one of my
good Swede's ship's biscuits I had in my pocket. The
fingers closed slowly on it and held -- there was no
other movement and no other glance. He had tied a
bit of white worsted round his neck -- Why? Where
did he get it? Was it a badge -- an ornament -- charm
-- a propitiatory act? Was there any idea at all con-
nected with it? It looked startling round his black
neck, this bit of white thread from beyond the seas.
"Near the same tree two more bundles of acute
angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his
chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an
intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phan-
tom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great
weariness; and all about others were scattered in
every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of
a massacre or a pestilence. While I stood horror-
struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and
knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to
drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the
sunlight, crossing his shins in front 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 haste towards the station. When near the
buildings I met a white man, in such an unexpected
elegance of getup that in the first moment I took him
for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar,
white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, 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 the Company's chief accountant, and that all the
bookkeeping was done at this station. He had come
out for a moment, he said, 'to get a breath of fresh
air.' The expression sounded wonderfully odd, with
its suggestion of sedentary 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
so indissolubly connected with the memories of that
time. Moreover, I respected the fe]low. Yes; I re-
spected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His
appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser's
dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land
he kept up his appearance. That's backbone. His
starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achieve-
ments of character. He had been out nearly three
years; and later, I could not help asking him how he
managed 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. It was difficult.
She had a distaste for the work.' Thus this man had
verily accomplished something. And he was devoted
to his books, which were in apple-pie order.
"Everything else in the station was in a muddle --
heads, things, buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with
splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manu-
factured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-
wire set into the 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 in a hut in the yard, but to be out of
the chaos I would sometimes get into the accountant's
office. It was built of horizontal planks, and so badly
put together that, as he bent over his high desk, he
was barred from neck to heels with narrow strips of
sunlight. There was no need to open the big shutter to
see. It was hot there, too; big flies buzzed fiendishly,
and did not sting, but stabbed. I sat generally on the
floor, while, of faultless appearance (and even slightly
scented), perching on a high stool, he wrote, he wrote.
Sometimes he stood up for exercise. When a truckle-
bed with a sick man (some invalid agent from up-
country) was put in there, he exhibited a gentle an-
noyance. 'The groans of this sick person,' he said,
'distract my attention. And without that it is ex-
tremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in
this climate.'
"One day he remarked, without lifting his head,
'In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.'
On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was, he said he was a
first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at
this information, he added slowly, laying down his
pen, 'He is a very remarkable person.' Further ques-
tions elicited from him that Mr. Kurtz was at present
in charge of a trading-post, a very important one, in
the true ivory-country, at 'the very bottom of there.
Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together
. . .' He began to write again. The sick man was too
ill to groan. The flies buzzed in a great peace.
"Suddenly there was a growing murmur of voices
and a great tramping of feet. A caravan had come in.
A violent babble of uncouth sounds burst out on the
other side of the planks. All the carriers were speaking
together, and in the midst of the uproar the lament-
able voice of the chief agent was heard 'giving it up'
tearfully for the twentieth time that day.... He
rose slowly. 'What a frightful row,' he said. He
crossed the room gently to look at the sick man, and
returning, said to me, 'He does not hear.' 'What!
Dead?' I asked, startled. 'No, not yet,' he answered,
with great composure. Then, alluding with a toss of
the head to the tumult in the station-yard, 'When one
has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate
those savages -- hate them to the death.' He remained
thoughtful for a moment. 'When you see Mr. Kurtz'
he went on, 'tell him from me that everything here' --
he glanced at the deck -- 'is very satisfactory. I don't
like to write to him -- with those messengers of ours
you never know who may get hold of your letter -- at
that Central Station.' He stared at me for a moment
with his mild, bulging eyes. 'Oho, he will go far, very
far,' he began again. 'He will be a somebody in the
Administration before long. They, above -- the Coun-
cil in Europe, you know -- mean him to be.'
"He turned to his work. The noise outside had
ceased, and presently in going out I stopped at the
door. In the steady buzz of flies the homeward-bound
agent was lying flushed and insensible; the other,
bent over his books, was making correct entries of
perfectly correct transactions; and fifty feet below the
doorstep I could see the still treetops of the grove of
"Next day I left that station at last, with a caravan
of sixty men, for a two-hundred-mile tramp.
"No use telling you much about that. Paths, paths,
everywhere; a stamped-in network of paths spreading
over the empty land, through the long grass, through
burnt grass, through thickets, down and up chilly
ravines, up and down stony hills ablaze with heat;
and a solitude, a solitude, nobody, not a hut. The
population had cleared out a long time ago. Well, if
a lot of mysterious niggers armed with all kinds of
fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the
road between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yo-
kels right and left to carry heavy loads for them, I
fancy every farm and cottage thereabouts would
get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings were
gone, too. Still I passed through several abandoned
villages. There's something pathetically childish in
the ruins of grass walls. Day after day, with the stamp
and shuffle of sixty pair of bare feet behind me, each
pair under a 60-lb. load. Camp, cook, sleep, strike
camp, march. Now and then a carrier dead in harness,
at rest in the long grass near the path, with an empty
water-gourd and his long staff lying by his side. A
great silence around and above. Perhaps on some
quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swell-
ing, a tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing,
suggestive, and wild -- and perhaps with as profound
a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country.
Once a white man in an unbuttoned uniform, camping
on the path with an armed escort of lank Zanzibaris,
very hospitable and festive -- not to say drunk. Was
looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared.
Can't say I saw any road or any upkeep, unless the
body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole in the
forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three
miles farther on, may be considered as a permanent
improvement. I had a white companion, too, not a bad
chap, but rather too fleshy and with the exasperating
habit of fainting on the 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 he is coming to. I couldn't help asking him
once what he meant by coming there at all. 'To make
money, of course. What do you think?' he said, scorn-
fully. Then he got fever, and had to be carried in a
hammock slung under a pole. As he weighed sixteen
stone I had no end of rows with the carriers. They
jibbed, ran away, sneaked off with their loads in the
night -- quite a mutiny. So, one evening, I made a
speech in English with gestures, not one of which was
lost to the sixty pairs of eyes before me, and the next
morning I started the hammock off in front all right.
An hour afterwards I came upon the whole concern
wrecked in a bush -- man, hammock, groans, blankets,
horrors. The heavy pole had skinned his poor nose.
He was very anxious for me to kill somebody, but
there wasn't the shadow of a carrier near. I remem-
bered the old doctor -- 'It would be interesting for
science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on
the spot.' I felt I was becoming scientifically interest-
ing. However, all that is to no purpose. On the fif-
teenth day I came in sight of the big river again, and
hobbled into the Central Station. It was on a back
water surrounded by scrub and forest, with a pretty
border of smelly mud on one side, and on the three
others enclosed by a crazy fence of rushes. A ne-
glected gap was all the gate it had, and the first glance
at the place was enough to let you see the flabby devil
was running that show. White men with long staves in
their hands appeared languidly from amongst the
buildings, strolling up to take a look at me, and then
retired out of sight somewhere. One of them, a stout,
excitable chap with black moustaches, informed me
with great volubility and many digressions, as soon
as I told him who I was, that my steamer was at the
bottom of the river. I was thunderstruck. What, how,
why? Oh, it was 'all right.' The 'manager himself'
was there. All quite correct. 'Everybody had behaved
splendidly! splendidly!' -- 'you must,' he said in agi-
tation, 'go and see the general manager at once. He is
"I did not see the real significance of that wreck at
once. I fancy I see it now, but I am not sure not at
all. Certainly the affair was too stupid -- when I think
of it -- to be altogether natural. Still . . . But at the
moment it presented itself simply as a confounded
nuisance. The steamer was sunk. They had started
two days before in a sudden hurry up the river with
the manager on board, in charge of some volunteer
skipper, and before they had been out three hours
they tore the bottom out of her on stones, and she
sank near the south bank. I asked myself what I was
to do there, now my boat was lost. As a matter of fact,
I had plenty to do in fishing my command out of the
river. I had to set about it the very next day. That,
and the repairs when I brought the pieces to the sta-
tion, took some months.
"My first interview with the manager was curious.
He did not ask me to sit down after my twenty-mile
walk that morning. He was commonplace in com-
plexion, in feature, in manners, and in voice. He was
of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the
usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, and he
certainly could make his glance fall on one as trench-
ant and heavy as an axe. But even at these times the
rest of his person seemed to disclaim the intention.
Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expres-
sion of his lips, something stealthy -- a smile -- not a
smile -- I remember it, but I can't explain. It was un-
conscious, this smile was, though just after he had
said something it got intensified for an instant. It
came at the end of his speeches like a seal applied on
the words to make the meaning of the commonest
phrase appear absolutely inscrutable. He was a com-
mon trader, from his youth up employed in these
parts -- nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired
neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired
uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite
mistrust -- just uneasiness -- nothing more. You have
no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculy
can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative,
or for order even. That was evident in such things as
the deplorable state of the station. He had no learn-
ing, and no intelligence. His position had come to him
-- why? Perhaps because he was never ill . . . He
had served three terms of three years out there . . .
Because triumphant health in the general rout of con-
stitutions is a kind of power in itself. When he went
home on leave he rioted on a large scale -- pompously.
Jack ashore -- with a difference -- in externals only.
This one could gather from his casual talk. He origi-
nated nothing, he could keep the routine going --
that's all. But he was great. He was great by this little
thing that it was impossible to tell what could control
such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps
there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made
one pause -- for out there there were no external
checks. Once when various tropical diseases had laid
low almost every 'agent' in the station, he was heard
to say, 'Men who come out here should have no en-
trails.' He sealed the utterance with that smile of his,
as though it had been a door opening into a darkness
he had in his keeping. You fancied you had seen
things -- but the seal was on. When annoyed at meal-
times by the constant quarrels of the white men about
precedence, he ordered an immense round table to be
made, for which a special house had to be built. This
was the station's mess-room. Where he sat was the
first place -- the rest were nowhere. One felt this to be
his unalterable conviction. He was neither civil nor
uncivil. He was quiet. He allowed his 'boy' -- an over-
fed young 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 the road. He could not wait. Had
to start without me. The up-river stations had to be
relieved. There had been so many delays already that
he did not know who was dead and who was alive, and
how they got on -- and so on, and so on. He paid no
attention to my explanation, and, playing with a stick
of sealing-wax, repeated several times that the situa-
tion was 'very grave, very grave.' There were ru-
mours that a very important station was in jeopardy,
and its chief, Mr. Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not
true. Mr. Kurtz was . . . I felt weary and irritable.
Hang Kurtz, I thought. I interrupted him by saying
I had heard of Mr. Kurtz on the coast. 'Ah! So they
talk of him down there,' he murmured to himself.
Then he began again, assuring me Mr. Kurtz was the
best agent he had, an exceptional man, of the greatest
importance to the Company; therefore I could under-
stand his anxiety. He was, he said, 'very, very uneasy.'
Certainly he fidgeted on his chair a good deal, ex-
claimed, 'Ah, Mr. Kurtz!' broke the stick of sealing-
wax and seemed dumfounded by the accident. Next
thing he wanted to know 'how long it would take to'
. . . I interrupted him again. Being hungry, you
know, and kept on my feet too, I was getting savage.
'How can I tell?' I said. 'I haven't even seen the
wreck yet -- some months, no doubt.' All this talk
seemed to me so futile. 'Some months,' he said. "Well,
let us say three months before we can make a start.
Yes. That ought to do the affair.' I flung out of his
hut (he lived all alone in a clay hut with a sort of
verandah) muttering to myself my opinion of him.
He was a chattering idiot. Afterwards I took it back
when it was borne in upon me startlingly with what
extreme nicety he had estimated the time requisite for
the 'affair.'
"I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak,
my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to
me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of
life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I
saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in
the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes
what it all meant. They wandered here and there with
their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of
faithless pilgrims bewitched 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 of imbecile 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 silent
wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth
struck me as something great and invincible, like evil
or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this
fantastic invasion.
"Oh, these months! Well, never mind. Various
things happened. One evening a grass shed full of
calico, cotton prints, beads, and I don't know what
else, burst into a blaze so suddenly that you would
have thought the earth had opened to let an avenging
fire consume all that trash. I was smoking my pipe
quietly 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 tearing
down to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured me
that everybody was 'behaving splendidly, splendidly,'
dipped about a quart of water and 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 a box of matches. It had been
hopeless from the very first. The flame had leaped
high, driven everybody back, lighted up everything --
and collapsed. The shed was already a heap of embers
glowing fiercely. A nigger was being beaten near by.
They said he had caused the fire in some way; be that
as it may, he was screeching most horribly. I saw him,
later, for several days, sitting in a bit of shade looking
very sick and trying to recover himself: afterwards he
arose and went out -- and the wilderness without a
sound took him into its bosom again. As I approached
the glow from the dark I found myself at the back of
two men, talking. I heard the name of Kurtz pro-
nounced, then the words, 'take advantage of this un-
fortunate accident.' One of the men was the manager. I
wished him a good evening. 'Did you ever see anything
like it -- eh? it is incredible,' he said, and walked off.
The other man remained. He was a first-class agent,
young, gentlemanly, a bit reserved, with a forked
little beard and a hooked nose. He was stand-offish
with the other agents, 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 and by we strolled away from the hissing ruins.
Then he asked me to his room, which was in the main
building of the station. He struck a match, and I
perceived that this young aristocrat had not only a
silver-mounted dressing-case but also a whole candle
all to himself. Just at that time the manager was the
only man supposed to have any right to candles.
Native mats covered the clay walls; a collection of
spears, assegais, shields, knives was hung up in tro-
phies. The business intrusted to this fellow was the
making of bricks -- so I had been informed; but there
wasn't a fragment of a brick anywhere in the station,
and he could not make 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 from
Europe, it did not appear clear to me what he was
waiting for. An act of special creation perhaps. How-
ever, they were all waiting all the sixteen or twenty
pilgrims of them -- for something; and upon my word
it did not seem an uncongenial occupation, from the
way they took it, though the only thing that ever
came to them was disease -- as far as I could see. They
beguiled the time by backbiting and intriguing against
each other in a foolish kind of way. There was an air
of plotting about that station, but nothing came of it,
of course. It was as unreal as everything else -- as the
philanthropic pretence of the whole concern, as their
talk, as their government, as their show of work. The
only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a
trading-post where ivory was to be had, so that they
could earn percentages. They intrigued and slandered
and hated each other only on that account -- but as to
effectually lifting a little finger -- oh, no. By heavens!
there is something after all in the world allowing one
man to steal a horse while another must not look at a
halter. Steal a horse straight out. Very well. He has
done it. Perhaps he can ride. But there is a way of
looking at a halter that would provoke the most chari-
table of saints into a kick.
"I had no idea why he wanted to be sociable, but as
we chatted in there it suddenly oocurred to me the
fellow was trying to get at something -- in fact, pump-
ing me. He alluded constantly to Europe, to the peo-
ple I was supposed to know there -- putting leading
questions as to my acquaintances in the sepulchral city,
and so on. His little eyes glittered like mica discs --
with curiosity -- though he tried to keep up a bit of
superciliousness. At first I was astonished, but very
soon I became awfully curious to see what he would
find out from me. I couldn't possibly imagine what I
had in me to make it worth his while. It was very pretty
to see how he baffled himself, for in truth my body was
full only of chills, and my head had nothing in it but
that wretched steamboat business. It was evident he
took me for a perfectly shameless prevaricator. At last
he got angry, and, to conceal a movement of furious
annoyance, he yawned. I rose. Then I noticed a small
sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman,
draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The
background was sombre -- almost black. The move-
ment of the woman was stately, and the effect of the
torchlight on the face was sinister.
"It arrested me, and he stood by civilly, holding an
empty half-pint champagne bottle (medical comforts)
with the candle stuck in it. To my question he said
Mr. Kurtz had painted this -- in this very station more
than a year ago -- while waiting for means to go to his
trading-post. 'Tell me, pray,' said I, 'who is this Mr.
" 'The chief of the Inner Station,' he answered in a
short tone, looking away. 'Much obliged,' I said,
laughing. 'And you are the brickmaker of the Central
Station. Every one knows that.' He was 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 what else. We want,' he began to declaim sud-
denly, 'for the guidance of the cause intrusted to us by
Europe, so to speak, higher intelligence, wide sympa-
thies, a singleness of purpose.' 'Who says that?' I
asked. 'Lots of them,' he replied. 'Some even write
that; and so he comes here, a special being, as you
ought to know.' 'Why ought I to know?' I inter-
rupted, really surprised. He paid no attention. 'Yes.
Today he is chief of the best station, next year he will
be assistant-manager, two years more and . . . but I
daresay you know what he will be in two years' time.
You are of the new gang -- the gang of virtue. The
same people who sent him specially also recom-
mended you. Oh, don't say no. I've my own eyes to
trust.' Light dawned upon me. My dear aunt's influ-
ential acquaintances were producing an unexpected
effect upon that young man. I nearly burst into a
laugh. 'Do you read the Company's confidential cor-
respondence?' I asked. He hadn't a word to say. It
was great fun. 'When Mr. Kurtz,' I continued, se-
verely, 'is General Manager, you won't have the op-
"He blew the candle out suddenly, and we went
outside. The moon had risen. Black figures strolled
about listlessly, pouring water on the glow, whence
proceeded a sound of hissing; steam ascended in the
moonlight, the beaten nigger groaned somewhere.
'What a row the brute makes!' said the indefatigable
man with the moustaches, appearing near us. 'Serve
him right. Transgression -- punishment -- bang! Piti-
less, 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 be-
came crestfallen all at once. 'Not in bed yet,' he said,
with a kind of servile heartiness; 'it's so natural. Ha!
Danger -- agitation.' He vanished. I went on to the
riverside, and the other followed me. I heard a scath-
ing murmur at my ear, 'Heap of muffs -- go to.' The
pilgrims could be seen in knots gesticulating, discuss-
ing. Several had still their staves in their hands. I
verily believe they took these sticks to bed with them.
Beyond the fence the forest stood up spectrally in the
moonlight, and through the dim stir, through the
faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence
of the land went home to one's very heart -- its mys-
tery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed
life. The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere near
by, and then fetched a deep sigh that made me mend
my pace away from there. I felt a hand introducing
itself under my arm. 'My dear sir,' said the fellow, 'I
don't want to be misunderstood, and especially by
you, who will see Mr. Kurtz long before I can have
that pleasure. I wouldn't like him to get a false idea
of my disposition....'
"I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistophe-
les, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke
my forefinger through him, and would find nothing
inside but a little loose dirt, maybe. He, don't you see,
had been planning to be assistant-manager by and by
under the present man, and I could see that the com-
ing of that Kurtz had upset them both not a little. He
talked precipitately, and I did not try to stop him. I
had my shoulders against the wreck of my steamer,
hauled up on the slope like a carcass of some big river
animal. The smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove!
was in my nostrils, the high stillness of primeval for-
est was before my eyes; there were shiny patches on
the black creek. The moon had spread over every-
thing a thin layer of silver -- over the rank grass, over
the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing
higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river
I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glitter-
ing, as it llowed broadly by without a murmur. All
this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jab-
bered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness
on the face of the immensity looking at us two were
meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who
had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb
thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how
confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn't talk,
and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I
could see a little ivory coming out from there, and I
had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard
enough about it, too -- God knows! Yet somehow it
didn't bring any image with it -- no more than if I had
been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I believed
it in the same way one of you might believe there are
inhabitants in the planet Mars. I knew once a Scotch
sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were peo-
ple in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they
looked and behaved, he would get shy and mutter
something about 'walking on all-fours.' If you as
much as smiled, he would -- though a man of sixty --
offer to fight you. I would not have gone so far as to
fight for Kurtz, but I went for him near enough to
lie. You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not
because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply
because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a
flavour of mortality in lies which is exactly what I
hate and detest in the world -- what I want to forget.
It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something
rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I
went near enough to it by letting the young fool there
believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influ-
ence in Europe. I became in an instant as much of a
pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims. This
simply because I had a notion it somehow would be of
help to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see
you understand. He was just a word for me. I did
not see the man in the name any more than you
do. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you
see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you
a dream -- making a vain attempt, because no relation
of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that com-
mingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in
a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being
captured by the incredible which is of the very essence
of dreams...."
He was silent for a while.
". . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to con-
vey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's ex-
istence -- that which makes its truth, its meaning its
subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We
live, as we dream alone...."
He paused again again if reflesting, 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. For a 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 was awake. I listened, I
listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word,
that would give me the clue to the faint uneasi-
ness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape
itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the
". . . Yes -- I let him run on," Marlow began
again, "and think what he pleased about the powers
that were behind me. I did! And there was nothing
behind me! There was nothing but that wretched,
old, mangled steamboat I was leaning against, while
he talked fluently about 'the necessity for every man
to get on.' 'And when one comes out here, you con-
ceive, it is not to gaze at the moon.' Mr. Kurtz was a
'universal genius,' but even a genius would find it
easier to work with 'adequate tools -- intelligent men.'
He did not make bricks -- why, there was a physical
impossibility in the way -- as I was well aware; and if
he did secretarial work for the manager, it was be-
cause '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 I wanted. There were cases of them down at
the coast cases piled up -- burst -- split! You kicked
a loose rivet at every second step in that station-yard
on the hillside. Rivets had rolled into the grove of
death. You could fill your pockets with rivets for the
trouble of stooping down -- and there wasn't one rivet
to be found where it was wanted. We had plates that
would to, but nothing to fasten them with. And every
week the messenger, a lone negro, letterbag on shoul-
der and staff in hand, left our station for the coast.
And several times a week a coast caravan came in with
trade goods -- ghastly glazed calico that made you
shudder only to look at it, glass beads value about a
penny a quart, confounded spotted cotton handker-
chiefs. And no rivets. Three carriers could have
brought all that was wanted to set that steamboat
"He was becoming confidential now, but I fancv my
unresponsive attitude must have exasperated him at
last, for he judged it necessary to inform me he feared
neither God nor devil, let alone any mere man. I said
I could see that very well, but what I wanted was a
certain quantity of rivets -- and rivets were what really
Mr. Kurtz wanted, if he had only known it. Now
letters went to the coast every week.... 'My dear
sir,' he cried, 'I write from dictation.' I demanded
rivets. There was a way -- for an intelligent man. He
changed his manner; became very cold, and suddenly
began to talk about a hippopotamus; wondered
whether sleeping on board the steamer (I stuck to
my salvage night and day) I wasn't disturbed. There
was an old hippo that had the bad habit of getting out
on the bank and roaming at night over the station
grounds. The pilgrims used to turn out in a body and
empty every 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 a
charmed life,' he said; 'but you can say this only of
brutes in this country. No man -- you apprehend me?
-- no man here bears a charmed life.' He stood there
for a moment in the moonlight with his delicate
hooked 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 and
considerably puzzled, which made me feel more hope-
ful than I had been for days. It was a great comfort
to turn from that chap to my influential friend, the
battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. I clam-
bered on board. She rang under my feet like an empty
Huntley & Palmer biscuit-tin kicked along a gutter;
she was nothing so solid in make, and rather less pretty
in shape, but I had expended enough hard work on
her to make me love her. No infiuential friend would
have served me better. She had given me a chance to
come out a bit -- to find out what I could do. No, I
don't like work. I had rather laze about and think of
all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work
-- no man does -- but I like what is in the work -- the
chance to find yourself. Your own reality -- for your-
self, not for others -- what no other man can ever
know. They can only see the mere show, and never
can tell what it really means.
"I was not surprised to see somebody sitting aft, on
the deck, with his legs dangling over the mud. You
see I rather chummed with the few mechanics there
were in that station, whom the other pilgrims natur-
ally despised -- on account of their imperfect manners,
I suppose. This was the foreman -- a boiler-maker by
trade -- a good worker. He was a lank, bony, yellow-
faced man, with big intense eyes. His aspect was
worried, and his head was as bald as the 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. He was a widower
with six young children (he had left them in charge
of a sister of his to come out there), and the passion of
his life was pigeon-flying. He was an enthusiast and
a connoisseur. He would rave about pigeons. After
work hours he used sometimes to come over from his
hut for a talk about his children and his pigeons; at
work, when he had to crawl in the mud under the
bottom of the steamboat, he would tie up that beard
of his in a kind of white serviette he brought for the
purpose. It had loops to go over his ears. In the eve-
ning he could be seen squatted on the bank rinsing that
wrapper in the creek with great care, then spreading
it solemnly on a bush to dry.
"I slapped him on the back and shouted, 'We shall
have rivets!' 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 put my finger to the
side of my nose and nodded mysteriously. 'Good for
you!' he cried, snapped his fingers above his head,
lifting one foot. I tried a jig. We capered on the iron
deck. A frightful clatter came out of that hulk, and
the virgin forest on the other bank of the creek sent
it back in a thundering roll upon the sleeping station.
It must have made some of the pilgrims sit up in their
hovels. A dark figure obscured the lighted doorway
of the manager's hut, vanished, then, a second or
so after, the doorway itself vanished, too. We stopped,
and the silence driven away by the stamping of our
feet flowed back again from the recesses of the land.
The great wall of vegetation, an exuberant and en-
tangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves, boughs, fes-
toons, motionless in the moonlight, was like a rioting
invasion of soundless life, a rolling wave of plants,
piled up, crested, ready to topple over 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 snorb reached us from afar, as though
an ichthyosaurus had been taking a bath of glitter in
the great river. 'After all,' said the boiler-maker in a
reasonable tone, 'why shouldn't we get the rivets?'
Why not, indeed! I did not know of any reason why
we shouldn't. 'They'll come in three weeks,' I said,
"But they didn't. Instead of rivets there came an
invasion, an infliction, a visitation. It came in sections
during the next three weeks, each section 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. A quarrelsome band of
footsore sulky niggers trod on the heels of the don-
key; a lot of tents, campstools, tin boxes, white cases,
brown bales would be shot down in the court-yard,
and the air of mystery would deepen a little over the
muddle of the station. Five such instalments came,
with their absurd air of disorderly flight with the
loot of innumerable outfit shops and provision stores,
that, one would think, they were lugging, after a
raid, into the wilderness for equitable division. It was
an inextricable mess of things decent in themselves
but that human folly made look like the spoils of
"This devoted band called itself the Eldorado
Exploring Expedition, and I believe they were sworn
to secrecy. Their talk, however, was the talk of sordid
buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy
without audacity, and cruel without courage; there
was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in
the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware
these things are wanted for the work of the world.
To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was
their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back
of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.
Who paid the expenses of the noble enterprise I don't
know; but the uncle of our manager was leader of
that lot.
"In exterior he resembled a butcher in a poor neigh-
bourhood, and his eyes had a look of sleepy cunning.
He carried his fat paunch with ostentation on his
short legs, and during the time his gang infested the
station spoke to no one but his nephew. You could
see these two roaming about all day long with their
heads close together in an everlasting confab.
"I had given up worrying myself about the rivets.
One's capacity for that kind of folly is more limited
than you would suppose. I said Hang! -- and let
things slide. I had plenty of time for meditation, and
now and then I would give some thought to Kurtz.
I wasn't very interested in him. No. Still, I was curious
to see whether this man, who had come out equipped
with moral ideas of some sort, would climb to the top
after all and how he would set about his work when


"One evening as I was lying flat on the deck of my
steamboat, I heard voices approaching -- and there
were the nephew and the uncle strolling along the
bank. I laid my head on my arm again, and had nearly
lost myself in a doze, when somebody said in my ear,
as it were: 'I am as harmless as a little child, but I
don't like to be dictated to. Am I the manager -- or am
I not? I was ordered to send him there. It's incred-
ible.'. . . I became aware that the two were standing
on the shore alongside the forepart of the steamboat,
just below my head. I did not move; it did not occur
to me to move: I was sleepy. 'It is unpleasant,'
grunted the uncle. 'He has asked the Administration
to be sent there,' said the other, 'with the idea of show-
ing what he could do; and I was instructed accord-
ingly. Look at the influence that man must have. Is
it not frightful?' They both agreed it was frightful,
then made several bizarre remarks: 'Make rain and
fine weather -- one man -- the Council -- by the nose' --
bits of absurd sentences that got the better of my
drowsiness, so that I had pretty near the whole of my
wits about me when the uncle said, 'The climate may
do away with this difficulty for you. Is he alone there?'
'Yes,' answered the manager; 'he sent his assistant
down the river with a note to me in these terms:
"Clear this poor devil out of the country, and don't
bother sending more of that sort. I had rather be
alone than have the kind of men you can dispose of
with me." It was more than a year ago. Can you im-
agine such impudence!' 'Anything since then?' asked
the other hoarsely. 'Ivory,' jerked the nephew; 'lots
of it -- prime sort -- lots -- most annoying, from him.'
'And with that?' questioned the heavy rumble. 'In-
voice,' was the reply fired out, so to speak. Then si-
lence. They had been talking about Kurtz.
"I was broad awake by this time, but, lying per-
fectly at ease, remained still, having no inducement to
change my position. 'How did that ivory come all
this way?' growled the elder man, who seemed very
vexed. The other explained that it had come with a
fleet of canoes in charge of an English half-caste
clerk Kurtz had with him; that Kurtz had apparently
intended to return himself, the station being by that
time bare of goods and stores, but after coming three
hundred miles, had suddenly decided to go back,
which he started to do alone in a small dugout with
four paddlers, leaving the half-caste to continue down
the river with the ivory. The two fellows there seemed
astounded at anybody attempting such a thing. They
were at a loss for an adequate motive. As to me, I
seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was a distinct
glimpse: the dugout, four paddling savages, and the
lone white man turning his back suddenly on the
headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home -- per-
haps; setting his face towards the depths of the wil-
derness, towards his empty and desolate station. I
did not know the motive. Perhaps he was 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 with great
prudence and pluck, was invariably alluded to as
'that scoundrel.' The 'scoundrel' had reported that
the 'man' had been very ill -- had recovered imper-
fectly.... The two below me moved away then a
few paces, and strolled back and forth at some little
distance. I heard: 'Military post -- doctor -- two hun-
dred miles -- quite alone now -- unavoidable delays --
nine months -- no news -- strange rumours.' They ap-
proached again, just as the manager was saying, 'No
one, as far as I know, unless a species of wandering
trader -- a pestilential fellow, snapping ivory from the
natives.' Who was it they were talking about now? I
gathered in snatches that this was some man supposed
to be in Kurtz's district, and of whom the manager
did not approve. 'We will not be free from unfair
competition till one of these fellows is hanged for an
example,' he said. 'Certainly,' grunted the other; 'get
him hanged! Why not? Anything -- anything can be
done in this country. That's what I say; nobody here,
you understand, here, can endanger your position.
And why? You stand the climate -- you outlast them
all. The danger is in Europe; but there before I left
I took care to --' They moved off and whispered,
then their voices rose again. 'The extraordinary series
of delays is not my fault. I did my best.' The fat man
sighed. 'Very sad.' 'And the pestiferous absurdity of
his talk,' continued the other; 'he bothered me enough
when he was here. "Each station should be like a
beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for
trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving,
instructing." Conceive you -- that ass! And he wants
to be manager! No, it's --' Here he got choked by
excessive indignation, and I lifted my head the least
bit. I was surprised to see how near they were --
right under me. I could have spat upon their hats.
They were looking on the ground, absorbed in
thought. The manager was switching his leg with a
slender twig: his sagacious relative lifted 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 a charm. 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's incredible!'
'H'm. Just so,' grunted the uncle. 'Ah! my boy, trust
to this -- I say, trust to this.' I saw him extend his
short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the
forest, the creek, the mud, the river -- seemed to
beckon with a dishonouring flourish before 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 startling that I leaped to my feet
and looked back at the edge of the forest, as though
I had expected an answer of some sort to that black
display of confidence. You know the foolish notions
that come to one sometimes. The high stillness con-
fronted these two figures with its ominous patience,
waiting for the passing away of a fantastic invasion.
"They swore aloud together -- out of sheer fright,
I believe -- then pretending not to know anything of
my existence, turned back to the station. The sun was
low; and leaning forward side by side, they seemed
to be tugging painfully uphill their two ridiculous
shadows of unequal length, that trailed behind them
slowly over the tall grass without bending a single
"In a few days the Eldorado Expedition went into
the patient wilderness, that dosed upon it as the sea
closes over a diver. Long afterwards the news came
that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to
the fate of the less valuable animals. They, no doubt,
like the rest of us, found what they deserved. I did not
inquire. I was then rather excited at the prospect of
meeting Kurtz very soon. When I say very soon I
mean it comparatively. It was just two months from
the day we left the creek when we came to the bank
below Kurtz's station.
"Going up that river was like travelling back to the
earliest beginnings of 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. The long stretches
of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of
over-shadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos
and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The
broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded
islands; you lost your way on that river as you would
in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals,
trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself
bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you
had known once -- somewhere -- far away -- in another
existence perhaps. There were moments when one's
past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you
have not a moment to spare to yourself; but it came in
the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered
with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities
of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence.
And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble
a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force
brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at
you with 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, mostly by
inspiration, the signs of hidden banks; I watched for
sunken stones; I was learning to clap my teeth smartly
before my heart flew out, when I shaved by a fluke
some infernal sly old snag that would have ripped the
life out of the tin-pot steamboat and drowned all the
pilgrims; I had to keep a lookout for the signs 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 the surface, the reality --
the reality, I tell you -- fades. The inner truth is hid-
den -- luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I
felt often its mysterious stillness watching me at my
monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows perform-
ing 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 at least one listener awake besides
"I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which
makes up the rest of the price. And indeed what does
the price matter, if the trick be well done? You do
your tricks very well. And I didn't do badly either,
since I managed not to sink that steamboat on my first
trip. It's a wonder to me yet. Imagine a blindfolded
man set to drive a van over a bad road. I sweated and
shivered over that business considerably, I can tell
you. After all, for a seaman, to scrape the bottom of
the thing that's supposed to float all the time under
his care is the unpardonable sin. No one may know of
it, but you never forget the thump -- eh? A blow on
the very heart. You remember it, you dream of it, you
wake up at night and think of it -- years after -- and go
hot and cold all over. I don't pretend to say that
steamboat floated all the time. More than once she
had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashing
around 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 work with,
and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did
not eat each other before my face: they had brought
along a provision of hippo-meat which went rotten,
and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my
nostrils. Phoo! I can sniff it now. I had the manager
on board and three or four pilgrims with their staves
-- all complete. Sometimes we came upon a station
close by the bank, clinging to the skirts of the un-
known, and the white men rushing out of a tumble-
down hovel, with great gestures of joy and surprise
and welcome, seemed very strange -- had the appear-
ance of being held there captive by a spell. The word
ivory would ring in the air for a while -- and on we
went again into the silence, along empty reaches,
round the still bends, between the high walls of our
winding way, reverberating in hollow claps the pon-
derous beat of the stern-wheel. Trees, trees, millions
of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and
at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream,
crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish
beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. It made
you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not alto-
gether depressing, that feeling. After all, if you were
small, the grimy beetle crawled on -- which was just
what you wanted it to do. Where the pilgrims im-
agined it crawled to I don't know. To some place
where they expected to get something. I bet! For me
it crawled towards Kurtz -- exclusively; but when the
steam-pipes started leaking we crawled very slow.
The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if
the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to
bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and
deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet
there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind
the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain
sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over
our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant
war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns
were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the
wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snap-
ping of a twig would make you start. We were wan-
derers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the
aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied
ourselves the first of men taking possession of an ac-
cursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of pro-
found anguish 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
of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clap-
ping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes
rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless
foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge
of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehis-
toric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us
-- who could tell? We were cut off from the compre-
hension of our surroundings; we glided past like
phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, 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 because we 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 shackled form of a conquered mon-
ster, but there -- there you could look at a thing mon-
strous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were
-- No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know,
that was the worst of it -- this suspicion of their not
being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They
howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces;
but what thrilled you was just the thought of their
humanity -- like yours -- the thought of your remote
kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly.
Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough
you would admit to yourself that there was in you just
the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frank-
ness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a
meaning in it which you -- you so remote from the
night of first ages -- could comprehend. And why not?
The mind of man is capable of anything -- because
everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.
What was there after all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion,
valour, rage -- who can tell? -- but truth -- truth
stripped of its cloak of time. Let the fool gape and
shudder -- the man knows, and can look on without 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 inborn strength. Princi-
ples won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags -- rags
that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you
want a deliberate belief. An appeal to me in this fiend-
ish row -- is there? Very well; I hear; I admit, but I
have a voice, too, and for good or evil mine is the
speech that cannot be silenced. Of course, a fool, what
with sheer fright and fine sentiments, is always safe.
Who's that grunting? You wonder I didn'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 to mess about with white-lead and
strips of woolen blanket helping to put bandages on
those leaky steampipes -- I tell you. I had to watch
the steering, and circumvent those snags, and get the
tin-pot along by hook or by crook. There was surface-
truth enough in these things to save a wiser man. And
between whiles I had to look after the savage who was
fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire
up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and,
upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as
seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather
hat, walking on his hindlegs. A few months of
training had done for that really fine chap. He
squinted at the steam-gauge and at the water-guage
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, and three orna-
mental scars on each of his cheeks. He ought to have
been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the
bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall to
strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge. He
was useful because he had been instructed; and what
he knew was this -- that should the water in that trans-
parent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the
boiler would get angry through the greatness of his
thirst, and take a terrible vengeance. So he sweated
and watched the glass fearfully (with an impromptu
charm, made of rags, tied to his arm, and a piece of
polished bone, as big as a watch, stuck flatways through
his lower lip), while the wooded banks slipped past
us slowly, the short noise was left behind, the inter-
minable miles of silence -- and we crept on, towards
Kurtz. But the snags were thick, the water was treach-
erous and shallow, the boiler seemed indeed to have
a sulky devil in it, and thus neither that fireman nor
I had any time to peer into our creepy thoughts.
"Some fifty miles below the Inner Station we came
upon a hut of reeds, an inclined and melancholy pole,
with the unrecognizable tatters of what had been a
flag of some sort flying from it, and a neatly stacked
woodpile. This was unexpected. We came to the bank,
and on the stack of firewood found a flat piece of
board with some faded pencil-writing on it. When de-
ciphered it said: 'Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach
cautiously.' There was a signature, 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 place where it could be only found
after approach. Something was wrong above. But
what -- and how much? That was the question. We
commented adversely upon the imbecility of that
telegraphic style. The bush around said nothing, and
would not let us look very far either. A torn curtain
of red twill hung in the doorway of the hut, and
flapped sadly in our faces. The dwelling was dis-
mantled; 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 rubbish reposed in
a dark corner, and by the door I picked up a book. It
had lost its covers, and the pages had been thumbed
into a state of extremely dirty softness; but the back
had been lovingly stitched afresh with white cotton
thread, which looked clean yet. It was an extraodi-
nary find. Its title was, An Inquiry snto some Points
of Seamanship, by a man Towser, Towson -- some such
name -- Master in his Majesty's Navy. The matter
looked dreary reading enough, with illustrative dia-
grams and repulsive tables of figures, and the copy
was sixty years old. I handled this amazing antiquity
with the greatest possible tenderness, lest it should
dissolve in my hands. Within, Towson or Towser was
inquiring earnestly into the breaking strain of ships'
chains and tackle, and other such matters. Not a very
enthrailing book; but at the first glance you could
see there a singleness of intention, an honest concern
for the right way of going to work, which made these
humble pages, thought out so many years ago, lumi-
nous with another than a professional light. The
simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases,
made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a deli-
cious sensation of having come upon something unmis-
takably real. Such a book being there was wonderful
enough but still more astounding were the notes pen-
cilled in the margin, 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
a book of that description into this nowhere and
studying it -- and making notes -- in cipher at that! It
was an extravagant mystery.
"I had been dimly aware for some time of a worry-
ing noise, and when I lifted my eyes I saw the wood-
pile was gone, and the manager, aided by all the pil-
grims, was shouting at me from the riverside. I
slipped the book into my pocket. I assure you to leave
off reading was like tearing myself away from the
shelter of an old and solid friendship.
"I started the lame engine ahead. 'It must be this
miserable trader -- this intruder,' exclaimed the man-
ager, looking back malevolently at the place we had
left. 'He must be English,' I said. 'It will not save
him from getting into trouble if he is not careful,'
muttered the manager darkly. I observed with as-
sumed innocence that no man was safe from trouble
in this world.
"The current was more rapid now, the steamer
seemed at her last gasp, the stern-wheel flopped lan-
guidly, and I caught myself listening on tiptoe for the
next beat of the boat, for in sober truth I expected the
wretched thing to give up every moment. It was like
watching the last flickers of a life. But still we crawled.
Sometimes I would pick out a tree a little way ahead
to measure our progress towards Kurtz by, but I lost
it invariably before we got abreast. To keep the eyes
so long on one thing was too much for human patience.
The manager displayed a beautiful resignation. I
fretted and fumed and took to arguing with myself
whether or no I would talk openly with Kurtz; but
before I could come to any conclusion it occurred to
me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action
of mine, would be a mere futility. What did it matter
what any one knew or ignored? What did it matter
who was manager? One gets sometimes such a flash
of insight. The essentials of this affair lay deep under
the surface, beyond my reach, and beyond my power
of meddling.
"Towards the evening of the second day we judged
ourselves about eight miles from Kurtz's station. I
wanted to push on; but the manager looked grave,
and told me the navigation up there was so dangerous
that it would be advisable, the sun being very low
already, to wait where we were till next morning.
Moreover, he pointed out that if the warning to ap-
proach cautiously were to be followed, we must ap-
proach in daylight -- not at dusk or in the dark. This
was sensible enough. Eight miles meant nearly three
hours' steaming for us, and I could also see suspicious
ripples at the upper end of the reach. Nevertheless,
I was annoyed beyond expression at the delay, and
most unreasonably, too, since one night more could
not matter much after so many months. As we had
plenty of wood, and caution was the word, I brought
up in the middle of the stream. The reach was narrow,
straight, with high sides like a railway cutting. The
dusk came gliding into it long before the sun had set.
The current ran smooth and swift, but a dumb immo-
bility sat on the banks. The living trees, lashed to-
gether by the creepers and every living bush of the
undergrowth, might have been changed into stone,
even to the slenderest twig, to the lightest leaf. It
was not sleep -- it seemed unnatural, like a state of
trance. Not the faintest sound of any kind could be
heard. You looked on amazed, and began to suspect
yourself of being deaf-- then the night came sud-
denly, and struck you blind as well. About three in the
morning some large fish 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 more blinding than the night. It did not
shift or drive; it was just there, standing all round
you like something solid. At eight or nine, perhaps, it
lifted as a shutter lifts. We had a glimpse of the
towering multitude of trees, of the immense matted
jungle, with the blazing little ball of the sun hanging
over it -- all perfectly still -- and then the white shutter
came down again, smoothly, as if sliding in greased
grooves. I ordered the chain, which we had begun to
heave in, to be paid out again. Before it stopped run-
ning with a muffled rattle, a cry, a very loud cry, as of
infinite desolation, soared slowly in the opaque air. It
ceased. A complaining clamour, modulated in savage
discords, filled our ears. The sheer unexpectedness of
it made my hair stir under my cap. I don't know how
it struck the others: to me it seemed as though the
mist itself had screamed, so suddenly, and apparently
from all sides at once, did this tumultuous and mourn-
ful uproar arise. It culminated in a hurried outbreak
of almost intolerably escessive shrieking, which
stopped short, leaving us stiffened in a variety of silly
attitudes, and obstinately listening to the nearly as
appalling and excessive silence. 'Good God! What is
the meaning --' stammered at my elbow one of the
pilgrims -- a little fat man, with sandy hair and red
whiskers, who wore sidespring boots, and pink py-
jamas tucked into his socks. Two others remained
open-mouthed a whole minute, then dashed into the
little cabin, to rush out incontinently and stand dart-
ing scared glances, with Winchesters at 'ready' in
their hands. What we could see was just the steamer
we were on, her outlines blurred as though she had
been on the point of dissolving, and a misty strip of
water, perhaps two feet broad, around her -- and that
was all. The rest of the world was nowhere, as far as
our eyes and ears were concerned. Just nowhere.
Gone, disappeared; swept off without leaving a
whisper or a shadow behind.
"I went forward, and ordered the chain to be
hauled in short, so as to be ready to trip the anchor
and move the steamboat at once if necessary. 'Will
they attack?' whispered an awed voice. 'We will be
all butchered in this fog,' murmured another. The
faces twitched with the strain, the hands trembled
slightly, the eyes forgot to wink. It was very curious
to see the contrast of expressions of the white men
and of the black fellows of our crew, who were as
much strangers to that part of the river as we, though
their homes were only eight hundred miles away.
The whites, of course greatly discomposed, had be-
sides a curious look of being painfully shocked by such
an outrageous row. The others had an alert, naturally
interested expression; but their faces were essentially
quiet, even those of the one or two who grinned as
they hauled at the chain. Several exchanged short,
grunting phrases, which seemed to settle the matter
to their satisfaction. Their headman, a young, broad-
chested black, severely draped in darkblue fringed
cloths, with fierce nostrils and his hair all done up
artfully in oily ringlets, stood near me. 'Aha!' I said,
just for good fellowship's sake. 'Catch 'im,' he
snapped, with a bloodshot 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 said curtly, and, leaning his elbow on the
rail, looked out into the fog in a dignified and pro-
foundly pensive attitude. I would no doubt have been
properly horrified, 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 month past. They had been engaged for six
months (I don't think a single one of them had any
clear idea of time, as we at the end of countless ages
have. They still belonged to the beginnings of time --
had no inherited experience to teach them as it were),
and of course, as long as there was a piece of paper
written 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, which
couldn't have lasted very long, anyway, even if the
pilgrims hadn't, in the midst of a shocking hullabaloo,
thrown a considerable quantity of it overboard. It
looked like a high-handed proceeding; but it was
really a case of legitimate self-defence. You can't
breathe dead hippo waking, sleeping, and eating, and
at the same time keep your precarious grip on exist-
ence. Besides that, they had given them every week
three pieces of brass wire, each about nine inches long;
and the theory was they were to buy their provisions
with that currency in riverside villages. You can see
how that 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 occasional old he-goat
thrown in, didn't want to stop the steamer for some
more or less recondite reason. So, unless they swal-
lowed the wire itself, or made loops of it to snare the
fishes with, I don't see what good their extravagant
salary could be to them. I must say it was paid with a
regularity worthy of a large and honourable trading
company. For the rest, the only thing to eat -- though
it didn't look eatable in the least -- I saw in their pos-
session was a few lumps of some stuff like half-cooked
dough, of a dirty lavender colour, they kept wrapped
in leaves, and now and then swallowed a piece of,
but so small that it seemed done more for the looks of
the thing than for any serious purpose of sustenance.
Why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger
they didn't go for us -- they were thirty to five -- 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 cour-
age, with strength, even yet, though their skins were
no longer glossy and their muscles no longer hard.
And I saw that something restraining, one of those
human secrets that baffle probability, had come into
play there. I looked at them with a swift quickening of
interest -- not because it occurred to me I might be
eaten by them before very long, though I own to you
that just then I perceived -- in a new light, as it were
-- how unwholesome the pilgrims looked, and I
hoped, yes, I positively hoped, that my aspect was not
so -- what shall I say? -- so -- unappetizing: a touch of
fantastic vanity which fitted well with the dream-sen-
sation that pervaded all my days at that time. Perhaps
I had a little fever, too. One can't live with one's finger
everlastingly on one's pulse. I had often 'a little
fever,' or a little touch of other things -- the playful
paw-strokes of the wilderness, the preliminary trifling
before the more serious onslaught which came in due
course. Yes; I looked at them as you would on any
human 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, no patience can wear it out,
disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as
to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call princi-
ples, they are less than chaff in a breeze. Don't you
know the devilry of lingering starvation, its exasperat-
ing torment, its black thoughts, its sombre and brood-
ing 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 of
one's soul -- than this kind of prolonged hunger. Sad,
but true. And these chaps, too, had no earthly reason
for any kind of scruple. Restraint! I would just as
soon have expected restraint from a hyena prowling
amongst the corpses of a battlefield. But there was the
fact facing me -- the fact dazzling, to be seen, like the
foam on the depths of the sea, like a ripple on an un-
fathomable enigma, a mystery greater -- when I
thought of it -- than the curious, inexplicable note of
desperate grief in this savage clamour that had swept
by us on the river-bank, behind the blind whiteness of
the fog.
"Two pilgrims were quarrelling in hurried whis-
pers 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 we came
up.' I looked at him, and had not the slightest doubt
he was sincere. He was just the kind of man who
would wish to preserve appearances. That was his re-
straint. 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 was impossible.
Were we to let go our hold of the bottom, we would
be absolutely in the air -- in space. We wouldn't be
able to tell where we were going to -- whether up or
down stream, or across -- till we fetched against one
bank 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't imagine a more
deadly place for a shipwreck. Whether drowned at
once or not, we were sure to perish speedily in one
way or another. 'I authorize you to take all the risks,'
he said, after a short silence. 'I refuse to take any,' I
said shortly; which was just the answer he expected,
though its tone might have surprised him. 'Well, I
must defer to your judgment. You are captain,' he
said with marked civility. I turned my shoulder to him
in sign of my appreciation, and looked into the fog.
How long would it last? It was the most hopeless
lookout. The approach to this Kurtz grubbing for
ivory in the wretched bush was beset by as many dan-
gers as though he had been an enchanted princess
sleeping in a fabulous castle. 'Will they attack, do you
think?' asked the manager, in a confidential tone.
"I did not think they would attack, for several
obvious reasons. The thick fog was one. If they left
the bank in their canoes they would get lost in it, as
we would be if we attempted to move. Still, I had
also judged the jungle of both banks quite impene-
trable -- and yet eyes were in it, eyes that had seen us.
The riverside bushes were certainly very thick; but
the undergrowth behind was evidently penetrable.
However, during the short lift I had seen no canoes
anywhere in the reach -- certainly not abreast of the
steamer. But what made the idea of attack inconceiv-
able to me was the nature of the noise -- of the cries
we had heard. They had not the fierce character
boding immediate hostile intention. Unexpected,
wild, and violent as they had been, they had given
me an irresistible impression of sorrow. The glimpse
of the steamboat had for some reason filled those
savages with unrestrained grief. The danger, if any,
I expounded, was from our proximity to a great
human passion let loose. Even extreme grief may ul-
timately vent itself in violence -- but more generally
takes the form of apathy....
"You should have seen the pilgrims stare! They
had no heart to grin, or even to revile me: but I be-
lieve 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 lifting as a cat
watches a mouse; but for anything else our eyes were
of no more use to us than if we had been buried miles
deep in a heap of cotton-wool. It feIt like it, too --
choking, warm, stifling. Besides, all I said, though it
sounded extravagant, was absolutely true to fact.
What we afterwards alluded to as an attack was
really an attempt at repulse. The action was very far
from being aggressive -- it was not even defensive, in
the usual sense: it was undertaken under the stress of
desperation, and in its essence was purely protective.
"It developed itself, I should say, two hours after
the fog lifted, and its commencement was at a spot,
roughly speaking, about a mile and a half below
Kurtz's station. We had just floundered and flopped
round a bend, when I saw an islet, a mere grassy hum-
mock of bright green, in the middle of the stream.
It was the only thing of the kind; but as we opened
the reach more, I perceived it was the head of a long
sand-bank, or rather of a chain of shallow patches
stretching down the middle of the river. They were
discoloured, just awash, and the whole lot was seen
just under the water, exactly as a man's backbone is
seen running down the middle of his back under the
skin. 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 well alike, the depth
appeared the same; but as I had been informed the
station was on the west side, I naturally headed for
the western passage.
"No sooner had we fairly entered it than I became
aware it was much narrower than I had supposed. To
the left of us there was the long uninterrupted shoal,
and to the right a high, steep bank heavily overgrown
with bushes. Above the bush the trees stood in serried
ranks. The twigs overhung the current thickly, and
from distance to distance a large limb of some tree
projected rigidly over the stream. It was then well on
in the afternoon, the face of the forest was gloomy,
and a broad strip of shadow had already fallen on the
water. In this shadow we steamed up -- very slowly, as
you may imagine. I sheered her well inshore -- the
water being deepest near the bank, as the sounding-
pole informed me.
"One of my hungry and forbearing friends was
sounding in the bows just below me. This steamboat
was exactly like a decked scow. On the deck, there
were two little teakwood houses, with doors and win-
dows. The boiler was in the fore-end, and the ma-
chinery right astern. Over the whole there was a light
roof, supported on stanchions. The funnel projected
through that roof, and in front of the funnel a small
cabin built of light planks served for a pilot-house. It
contained a couch, two camp-stools, a loaded Martini-
Henry leaning in one corner, a tiny table, and the
steering-wheel. It had a wide door in 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 that roof, before the
door. At night I slept, or tried to, on the couch. An
athletic black belonging to some coast tribe and edu-
cated by my poor predecessor, was the helmsman. He
sported a pair of brass earrings, wore a blue cloth
wrapper from the waist to the ankles, and thought all
the world of himself. He was the most unstable kind
of fool I had ever seen. He steered with no end of a
swagger while you were by; but if he lost sight of
you, he became instantly the prey of an abject funk,
and would let that cripple of a steamboat get the upper
hand of him in a minute.
"I was looking down at the sounding-pole, and
feeling much annoyed to see at each try a little more
of it stick out of that river, when I saw my poleman
give up the business suddenly, and stretch himself flat
on the deck, without even taking the trouble to haul his
pole in. He kept hold on it though, and it trailed in
the water. At the same time the fireman, whom I
could also see below me, 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 the fairway. Sticks, little sticks, were
flying about -- thick: they were whizzing before my
nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against
my pilot-house. All this time the river, the shore, the
woods, were very quiet -- perfectly quiet. I could only
hear the heavy splashing thump of the stern-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 the shutter on the land-
side. That fool-helmsman, his hands on the spokes,
was lifting his knees high, stamping his feet, champing
his mouth, like a reined-in horse. Confound him! And
we were staggering within ten feet of the bank. I
had to lean right out to swing the heavy shutter, and I
saw a face amongst the leaves on the level with my
own, looking at me very fierce and steady; and then
suddenly, as though a veil had been removed from
my eyes, I made out, deep in the tangled gloom,
naked breasts, arms, legs, glaring eyes -- the bush was
swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening,
of bronze colour. The twigs shook, swayed, and
rustled, the arrows flew out of them, and then the
shutter came to. 'Steer her straight,' I said to the
helmsman. He held his head rigid, face forward; but
his eyes rolled, he kept on lifting and setting down
his feet gently, his mouth foamed a little. 'Keep
quiet!' I said in a fury. I might just as well have
ordered a tree not to sway in the wind. I darted out.
Below me there was a great scuffle of feet on the iron
deck; confused exclamations; a voice screamed, 'Can
you turn back?' I caught sight of a V-shaped ripple on
the water ahead. What? Another snag! A fusillade
burst out under my feet. The pilgrims had opened
with their Winchesters, and were simply squirting
lead into that bush. A deuce of a lot of smoke came
up and drove slowly forward. I swore at it. Now I
couldn't see the ripple or the snag either. I stood in
the doorway, peering, and the arrows came in swarms.
They might have been poisoned, but they looked as
though they wouldn't kill a cat. The bush began to
howl. Our wood-cutters raised a warlike whoop; the
report of a rifle just at my back deafened me. I glanced
over my shoulder, and the pilot-house was yet full of
noise and smoke when I made a dash at the wheel.
The fool-nigger had dropped everything, to throw
the shutter 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 sudden
twist 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
no time 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 twigs and flying leaves. The fusil-
lade below stopped short, as I had foreseen it would
when the squirts got empty. I threw my head back to
a glinting whizz that traversed the pilot-house, in at
one shutter-hole and out at the other. Looking past that
mad helmsman, who was shaking the empty rifle and
yelling at the shore, I saw vague forms of men run-
ning bent double, leaping, gliding, distinct, incom-
plete, evanescent. Something big appeared in the air
before the shutter, the rifle went overboard, and the
man stepped back swiftly, looked at me over his
shoulder in an extraordinary, profound, familiar man-
ner, and fell upon my feet. The side of his head hit
the wheel twice, and the end of what appeared a long
cane clattered round and knocked over a little camp-
stool. It looked as though after wrenching that thing
from somebody ashore he had lost his balance in the
effort. The thin smoke had blown away, we were clear
of the snag, and looking ahead I could see that in
another hundred yards or so I would be free to sheer
off, away from the bank; but my feet felt so very
warm and wet that I had to look down. The man had
rolled on his back and stared straight up at me; both
his hands clutched that cane. It was the shaft of a
spear that, either thrown or lunged through the open-
ing, had caught him in the side just below the ribs;
the blade had gone in out of sight, after making a
frightful gash; my shoes were full; a pool of blood
lay very still, gleaming dark-red under the wheel; his
eyes shone with an amazing lustre. The fusillade burst
out again. 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
make an effort to free my eyes from his gaze and
attend to the steering. With one hand I felt above my
head for the line of the steam whistle, and jerked out
screech after screech hurriedly. The tumult of angry
and warlike yells was checked instantly, and then from
the depths of the woods went out such a tremulous
and prolonged wail of mournful fear and utter despair
as may be imagined to follow the flight of the last
hope from the earth. There was a great commotion in
the bush; the shower of arrows stopped, a few drop-
ping shots rang out sharply -- then silence, in which
the languid beat of the stern-wheel came plainly to
my ears. I put the helm hard a-starboard at the mo-
ment when the pilgrim in pink pyjamas, very hot and
agitated, appeared in the doorway. 'The manager
sends me --' he began in an official tone, and stopped
short. 'Good God!' he said, glaring at the wounded
"We two whites stood over him, and his lustrous
and inquiring glance enveloped us both. I declare it
looked as though he would presently put to us some
question in an understandable language; but he died
without uttering a sound, without moving a limb,
without twitching a muscle. Only in the very last
moment, as though in response to some sign we could
not see, to some whisper we could not hear, he
frowned heavily, and that frown gave to his black
death-mask an inconceivably sombre, brooding, and
menacing expression. The lustre of inquiring glance
faded swiftly into vacant glassiness. 'Can you steer?'
I asked the agent eagerly. He looked very dubious; but
I made a grab 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. 'No doubt about it,' said I, tugging like
mad at the shoe laces. 'And by 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 of extreme disappointment, as
though I had found out I had been striving after some-
thing altogether without a substance. I couldn't have
been more disgusted if I had travelled all this way
for the sole purpose of talking with Mr. Kurtz. Talk-
ing with . . . I flung one shoe overboard, and became
aware that that was exactly what I had been looking
forward to -- a talk with Kurtz. I made 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 see him,' 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't I 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 to-
gether? That was not the point. The point was in his
being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the
one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it
a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his
words -- the gift of expression, the bewildering, the
illuminating, the most exalted and the most con-
temptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceit-
ful flow from the heart 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 -- the gift has vanished, by
means of some spear, arrow, or club. I will never hear
that chap speak after all' -- and my sorrow had a star-
tling extravagance of emotion, even such as I had
noticed in the howling sorrow of these savages in the
bush. I couldn't have felt more of lonely desolation
somehow, had I been robbed of a belief or had missed
my destiny in lite.... Why do you sigh in this
beastly way, somebody? Absurd? Well, absurd. Good
Lord! mustn't a man ever -- Here, give me some
There was a pause of profourd stillness, then a
match flared, and Marlow's lean face appeared, worn,
hollow, with downward folds and dropped eyelids,
with an aspect of concentrated abtention; and as he
took vigorous draws at his pipe, it seemed to retreat
and advance out of the night in 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 two anchors, a butcher
round one corner, a policeman round another, excel-
lent appetites, and temperature normal -- you hear --
normal from year's end 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 had just flung overboard a pair of
new shoes! Now I think of it, it is amazing I did not
shed tears. I am, upon the whole, proud of my forti-
tude. I was cut to the quick at the idea of having lost
the inestimable privilege of listening to the 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 very little more
than a voice. And I heard -- him -- it -- this voice -- other
voices -- all of them were so little more than voices --
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
girl herself -- 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 of it -- completely. They -- the women
I mean -- are out of it -- should be out of it. We must
help them to stay in that beautiful world of their own,
lest ours gets worse. Oh, she had to be out of it. You
should have heard the disinterred body of Mr. Kurtz
saying, 'My Intended.' You would have perceived
directly then how completely she was out of it. And
the lofty frontal bone of Mr. Kurtz! They say the
hair goes on growing sometimes, but this -- ah -- speci-
men, was impressively bald. The wilderness had
patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball
-- an ivory ball; it had caressed him, and -- lo! -- he
had withered; it had taken him, loved him, embraced
him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed
his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of
some devilish initiation. He was its spoiled and pam-
pered favourite. Ivory? I should think so. Heaps of
it, stacks of it. The old mud shanty was bursting with
it. You would think there was not a single tusk left
either above or below the ground in the whole
country. 'Mostly fossil,' the manager had remarked,
disparagingly. It was no more fossil than I am; but
they call it fossil when it is dug up. It appears these
niggers do bury the tusks sometimes -- but evidently
they couldn't bury this parcel deep enough to save the
gifted Mr. Kurtz from his fate. We filled the steam-
boat with it, and had to pile a lot on the deck. Thus
he could see and enjoy as long as he could see, because
the appreciation of this favour had remained with him
to the last. You should have heard him say, 'My
ivory.' Oh, yes, I heard him. 'My Intended, my ivory,
my station, my river, my --' everything belonged
to him. It made me hold my breath in expectation of
hearing the wilderness burst into a prodigious peal
of laughter that would shake the fixed stars in their
places. Everything belonged to him -- but that was a
trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to,
how many powers of darkness claimed him for their
own. That was the reflection that made you creepy all
over. It was impossible -- it was not good for one either
-- trying to imagine. He had taken a high seat amongst
the devils of the land -- I mean literally. You can't
understand. How could you? -- with solid pavement
under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours
ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping deli-
cately between the butcher and the policeman, in
the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic
asylums -- how can you imagine what particular region
of the first ages a man's untrammelled feet may take
him into by the way of solitude -- utter solitude
without a policeman -- by the way of silence -- utter
silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbour
can be heard whispering of public opinion? These
little things make all the great difference. When they
are gone you must fall back upon your own innate
strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness. Of
course you may be too much of a fool to go wrong --
too dull even to know you are being assulted by the
powers of darkness. I take it, no fool ever made a
bargain for his soul with the devil; the fool is too
much of a fool, or the devil too much of a devil
-- I don't know which. Or you may be such a
thunderingly exalted creature as to be altogether
deaf and blind to anything but heavenly sights and
sounds. Then the earth for you is only a standing
place -- and whether to be like this is your loss or
your gain I won't pretend to say. But most of us are
neither one nor the other. The earth for us is a
place to live in, where we must put up with sights,
with sounds, with smells, too, by Jove! -- breathe
dead hippo, so to speak, and not be contaminated. And
there, don't you see? Your strength comes in, the
faith in your ability for the digging of unostentatious
holes to bury the stuff in -- your power of devotion,
not to yourself, but to an obscure back-breaking busi-
ness. And that's difficult enough. Mind, I am not
trying to excuse or even explain -- I am trying to ac-
count to myself for -- for -- Mr. Kurtz -- for the shade
of Mr. Kurtz. This initiated wraith from the back of
Nowhere honoured me with its amazing confidence
before it vanished altogether. This was because it
could speak English to me. The original Kurtz had
been educated partly in England, and -- as he was
good enough to say himself -- his sympathies were in
the right place. His mother was half-English, his
father was half-French. All Europe contributed to
the making of Kurtz; and by and by I learned
that, most appropriately, the International Society
for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted
him with the making of a report, for its future guid-
ance. And he had written it, too. I've seen it. I've
read it. It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence,
but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of
close writing he had found time for! But this must
have been before his -- let us say -- nerves, went
wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight
dances ending with unspeakable rites, which -- as far
as I reluctantly gathered from what I heard at various
times -- were offered up to him -- do you under-
stand? -- to Mr. Kurtz himself. But it was a beautiful
piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however,
in the light of later information, strikes me now as
ominous. He began with the argument that we whites,
from the point of development we had arrived at,
'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the
nature of supernatural beings -- we approach them
with the might as of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By
the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power
for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that
point he soared and took me with him. The peroration
was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you
know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity
ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle
with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of
eloquence -- of words -- of burning noble words. There
were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current
of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last
page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady
hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method.
It was very simple, and at the end of that moving
appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you,
luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a
serene sky: 'Exterminate all the brutes!' The curious
part was that he had apparently forgotten all about
that valuable postscriptum, because, later on, when he
in a sense came to himself, he repeatedly entreated me
to take good care of 'my pamphlet' (he called it), as it
was sure to have in the future a good influence 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've done 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 sweepings and, figuratively speaking,
all the dead cats of civilization. But then, you see, I
can't choose. He won't be forgotten. Whatever he
was, he was not common. He had the power to charm
or frighten rudimentary souls into an aggravated
witch-dance in his honour; he could also fill the small
souls of the pilgrims with bitter misgivings: he had
one devoted friend at least, and he had conquered one
soul in the world that was neither rudimentary nor
tainted with self-seeking. No; I can't forget him,
though I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was
exactly worth the life we lost in getting to him. I
missed my late helmsman awfully -- I missed him
even while his body was still lying in the pilot-house.
Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret
for a savage 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 had
him 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 his deficiencies, and thus a subtle
bond had been created, of which I only became aware
when it was suddenly broken. And the intimate pro-
fundity of that look he gave me when he received his
hurt remains to this day in my memory -- like a claim
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 as I had put on a dry
pair of slippers, I dragged him out, after first jerking
the spear out of his side, which operation I confess I
performed with my eyes shut tight. His heels leaped
together over the little doorstep; his shoulders were
pressed to my breast; I hugged him from behind des-
perately. Oh! he was heavy, heavy; heavier than any
man on earth, I should imagine. Then without more
ado I tipped him overboard. The current snatched
him as though he had been a wisp of grass, 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 about the pilot-house,
chattering at each other like a flock of excited magpies,
and there was a scandalized murmur at my heartless
promptitude. What they wanted to keep that body
hanging about for I can't guess. Embalm it, maybe.
But I had also heard another, and a very ominous,
murmur on the deck below. My friends the wood-
cutters were likewise scandalized, and with a better
show of reason -- 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, the
fishes alone should have him. He had been a very
second-rate helmsman while alive, but now he was
dead he might have become a first-class temptation,
and possibly cause some startling trouble. Besides, I
was anxious to take the wheel, the man in pink py-
jamas showing himself a hopeless duffer at the busi-
"This I did directly the simple funeral was over.
We were going half-speed, keeping right in the middle
of the stream, and I listened to the talk about me.
They had given up Kurtz, they had given up the
station; Kurtz was dead, and the station had been
burnt -- and so on -- and so on. The red-haired pilgrim
was beside himself with the thought that at least this
poor Kurtz had been properly avenged. 'Say! We
must have made a glorious slaughter of them in the
bush. Eh? What do you think? Say?' He positively
danced, the bloodthirsty little gingery beggar. And
he had nearly fainted when he saw the wounded man!
I could not help saying, 'You made a glorious lot of
smoke, anyhow.' I had seen, from the way the tops
of the bushes rustled and flew, that almost all the
shots had gone too high. You can't hit anything unless
you take aim and fire from the shoulder; but these
chaps fired from the hip with their eyes shut. The
retreat, I maintained -- and I was right -- was caused
by the screeching of the steam whistle. Upon this
they forgot Kurtz, and began to howl at me with
indignant protests.
"The manager stood by the wheel murmuring con-
fidentially about the necessity of getting well away
down the river before dark at all events, when I saw
in the distance a clearing on the riverside and the
outlines of some sort of building. 'What's this?' I
asked. He clapped his hands in wonder. 'The station!'
he cried. I edged in at once, still going half-speed.
"Through my glasses I saw the slope of a hill inter-
spersed with rare trees and perfectly free from under-
growth. A long decaying building on the summit was
half buried in the high grass; the large holes in the
peaked roof gaped black from afar; the jungle and
the woods made a background. There was no en-
closure or fence of any kind; but there had been one
apparently, for near the house half-a-dozen slim posts
remained in a row, roughly trimmed, and with their
upper ends ornamented with round carved balls. The
rails, or whatever there had been between, had dis-
appeared. Of course the forest surrounded all that.
The river-bank was clear, and on the waterside I saw
a white man under a hat like a cartwheel beckoning
persistently with his whole arm. Examinig the edge
of the forest above and below, I was almost certain I
could see movements -- 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 to shout, urging us to land. 'We have been at-
tacked,' screamed the manager. 'I know -- I know. It's
all right,' yelled back the 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 I had seen somewhere. As I
manoeuvred to get alongside, I was asking myself,
'What does this fellow look like?' Suddenly I got it.
He looked like a harlequin. His clothes had been
made of some stuff that was brown holland probably,
but it was covered with patches all over, with bright
patches, blue, red, and yellow -- patches on the back,
patches on the front, patches on elbows, on knees;
coloured binding around his jacket, scarlet edging at
the bottom of his trousers; and the sunshine made
him look extremely gay and wonderfully neat withal,
because you could see how beautifully all this patching
had been done. A beardless, boyish face, very fair, no
features to speak of, nose peeling, little blue eyes,
smiles and frowns chasing each other over that open
countenance like sunshine and shadow on a wind-
swept plain. 'Look out, captain!' he cried; 'there's a
snag lodged in here last night.' What! Another snag?
I confess I swore shamefully. I had nearly holed my
cripple, to finish off that charming trip. The harlequin
on the bank turned his little pug-nose up to me. 'You
English?' he asked, all smiles. 'Are you?' I shouted
from the wheel. The smiles vanished, and he shook
his head as if sorry for my disappointment. Then he
brightened up. 'Never mind!' he cried encouragingly.
'Are we in time?' I asked. 'He is up there,' he replied,
with a toss of the head up the hill, and becoming
gloomy all of a sudden. His face was like the autumn
sky, overcast one moment and bright the next.
"When the manager, escorted by the pilgrims, all
of them armed to the teeth, had gone to the house
this chap came on board. 'I say, I don't like this.
These natives are in the bush,' I said. He assured me
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 them off.' '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 viva-
ciously, 'My faith, your pilot-house wants a clean-up!'
In the next breath he advised me to keep enough
steam on the boiler to blow the whistle in case of
any trouble. 'One good screech will do more for you
than all your rifles. They are simple people,' he
repeated. He rattled away at such a rate he quite over-
whelmed me. 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 -- you listen to him,'
he exclaimed with severe exaltation. 'But now --' He
waved his arm, and in the twinkling of an eye was in
the uttermost 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 from school, had gone to sea in a
Russian ship; ran away again; served some time in
English ships; was now reconciled with the arch-
priest. He made a point of that. 'But when one is
young one must see things, gather experience, ideas;
enlarge the mind.' 'Here!' I interrupted. 'You can
never tell! Here I met Mr. Kurtz,' he said, youth
fully solemn and reproachful. I held my tongue after
that. It appears he had persuaded a Dutch trading-
house on the coast to fit him out with stores and goods,
and had started for the interior with a light heart
and no more idea of what would happen to him than
a baby. He had been wandering about that river for
nearly two years alone, cut off from everybody and
everything. 'I am not so young as I look. I am twenty-
five,' he said. 'At first old Van Shuyten would tell me
to go to the devil,' he narrated with keen enjoyment;
'but I stuck to him, and talked and talked, till at last
he got afraid I would talk the hind-leg off his favour-
ite dog, so he gave me some cheap things and a few
guns, and told me he hoped he would never see my
face again. Good old Dutchman, Van Shuyten. I've
sent him one small lot of ivory a year ago, so that he
can't call me a little thief when I get back. I hope he
got it. And for the rest I don't care. I had some wood
stacked for you. That was my old house. Did you see?'
"I gave him Towson's book. He made as though he
would kiss me, but restrained himself. 'The only book
I had left, and I thought I had lost it,' he said, looking
at it ecstatically. 'So many accidents happen to a man
going about alone, you know. Canoes get upset some-
times -- and sometimes you've got to clear out so quick
when the people get angry.' He thumbed the pages.
'You made notes in Russian?' I asked. He nodded. 'I
thought they were written in cipher,' I said. He
laughed, then became serious. 'I had lots of trouble
to keep these people off,' he said. 'Did they want to
kill you?' I asked. 'Oh, no!' he cried, and checked
himself. 'Why did they attack us?' I pursued. He
hesitated, then said shamefacedly, 'They don't want
him to go.'Don't they?' I said curiously. He nodded
a nod full of mystery and wisdom. 'I tell you,' he
cried, 'this man has enlarged my mind.' He opened
his arms wide, staring at me with his little blue eyes
that were perfectly round."


"I looked at him, lost in astonishment. There he
was before me, in motley, as though he had absconded
from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic, fabulous. His
very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and alto-
gether bewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It
was inconceivable how he had existed, how he had
succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to
remain -- why he did not instantly disappear. 'I went
a little farther,' he said, 'then still a little farther --
till I had gone 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 tell you.' The
glamour of youth enveloped his parti-coloured rags,
his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation
of his futile wanderings. For months -- for years -- his
life hadn't been worth a day's purchase; and there he
was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearance
indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and
of his unreflecting audacity. I was seduced into some-
thing like admiration -- like envy. Glamour urged him
on, glamour kept him unscathed. He surely wanted
nothing from the wilderness but space to breathe in
and to push on through. His need was to exist, and to
move onwards at the greatest possible risk, and with
a maximum of privation. If the absolutely pure, un-
calculating, unpractical spirit of adventure had ever
ruled a human being, it ruled this bepatched youth.
I almost envied him the possession of this modest and
clear flame. It seemed to have consumed all thought
of self so completely, that even while he was talking
to you, you forgot that it was he -- the man before
your eyes -- who had gone through these things. I
did not envy him his devotion to Kurtz, though. He
had not meditated over it. It came to him, and he ac-
cepted it with a sort of eager fatalism. I must say that
to me it appeared about the most dangerous thing in
every way he had come upon so far.
"They had come together unavoidably, like two
ships becalmed near each other, 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 all night, or more probably Kurtz
had talked. 'We talked of everything,' he said, quite
transported at the recollection. 'I forgot 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 of love!' I said, much
amused. 'It isn't what you think,' he cried, almost
passionately. 'It was in general. He made me see
things -- things.'
"He threw his arms up. We were on deck at the
time, and the headman of my wood 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, never before, did this land,
this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing
sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impene-
trable to human thought, so pitiless to human weak-
ness. 'And, ever since, you have been with him, of
course?' I said.
"On the contrary. It appears their intercourse had
been very much broken by various causes. He had, as
he informed me proudly, managed to nurse Kurtz
through two illnesses (he alluded to it as you would
to some risky feat), but as a rule Kurtz wandered
alone, far in the depths of the forest. 'Very often
coming to this station, I had to wait days and days
before he would turn up,' he said. 'Ah, it was worth
waiting for! -- sometimes.' 'What was he doing? ex-
ploring or what?' I asked. 'Oh, yes, of course', he
had discovered lots of villages, a lake, too -- he did not
know exactly in what direction; it was dangerous to
inquire too much -- but mostly his expeditions had
been for ivory. 'But he had no goods to trade with by
that time,' I objected. 'There's a good lot of cartridges
left even yet,' he answered, looking away. 'To speak
plainly, he raided the country,' I said. He nodded.
'Not alone, surely!' He muttered something about
the villages round that lake. 'Kurtz got the tribe to
follow him, did he?' I suggested. He fidgeted a little.
'They adored him,' he said. The tone of these words
was so extraordinary that I looked at him searchingly.
It was curious to see his mingled eagerness and reluc-
tance to speak of Kurtz. The man filled his life, occu-
pied his thoughts, swayed his emotions. 'What can
you expect?' he burst out; 'he came to them with
thunder and lightning, you know -- and they had never
seen anything like it -- and very terrible. He could be
very terrible. You can'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, he wanted
to shoot me, too, one day -- but I don't judge him.'
'Shoot you!' I cried 'What for?' 'Well, I had a small
lot of ivory the chief of that village near my house
gave me. You see I used to shoot game for them.
Well, he wanted it, and wouldn't hear reason. He
declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the
ivory and then cleared out of the country, because
he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there 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't clear 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
living for the most part in those villages on the lake.
When he came down to the river, sometimes he would
take to me, and sometimes it was better for me to be
careful. This man suffered too much. He hated all
this, and somehow he couldn't get away. When I had
a chance I begged him to try and leave while there was
time; I offered to go back with him. And he would
say yes, and then he would remain; go off on another
ivory hunt; disappear for weeks; forget himself
amongst these people -- forget himself -- you know.'
'Why! he's mad,' I said. He protested indignantly.
Mr. Kurtz couldn't be mad. If I hald heard him talk,
only two days ago, I wouldn't dare hint at such a
thing. . . . I had taken up my binoculars while we
talked, and was looking at the shore, sweeping the
limit of the forest at each side and at the back of the
house. The consciousness of there being people in that
bush, so silent, so quiet -- as silent and quiet as the
ruined house on the hill -- made me uneasy. There was
no sign on the face of nature of this amazing tale that
was not so much told as suggested to me in desolate
exclamations, completed by shrugs, in interrupted
phrases, in hints ending in deep sighs. The woods
were unmoved, like a mask -- heavy, like the closed
door of a prison -- they looked with their air of hidden
knowledge, of patient expectation, of unapproachable
silence. The Russian was explaining to me that it was
only lately that Mr. Kurtz had come down to the
river, bringing along with him all the fighting men
of that lake tribe. He had been absent for several
months -- getting himself adored, I suppose -- and had
come down unexpectedly, with the intention to all
appearance of making a raid either across the river or
down stream. Evidently the appetite for more ivory
had got the 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, he
is bad, very bad.' I directed my glass to the house.
There were no signs of life, but there was the ruined
roof, the long mud wall peeping above the grass,
with three little square window-holes, no two of the
same size; all this brought within reach of my hand,
as it were. And then I made a brusque movement, and
one of the remaining posts of that vanished fence
leaped up in the field of my glass. You remember I
told you I had been struck at the distance by certain
attempts at ornamentation, rather remarkable in the
ruinous aspect of the place. Now I had suddenly a
nearer view, and its first result was to make me throw
my head back as if before a blow. Then I went care-
fully from post to post with my glass, and I saw my
mistake. These round knobs were not ornamental but
symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking
and disturbing -- food for thought and also for vul-
tures if there had been any looking down from the
sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious
enough to ascend the pole. They would have been
even more impressive, those heads 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 may think. The start back
I had given was really nothing but a movement of
surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there,
you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had
seen -- and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with
dosed eyelids -- a head that seemed to sleep at the top
of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing
a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too,
smiling continuously at some endless and jocose
dream of that eternal slumber.
"I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the
manager said afretwards that Mr. Kurtz's methods
had ruined the district. I have no opinion on that
point, but I want you clearly to understand that there
was nothing exactly profitable in these heads being
there. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked re-
straint in the gratification of his various lusts, that
there was something wanting in him -- some small
matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not
be found under his magnificent eloquence. Whether
he knew of his deficiency himself I can't say. I think
the knowledge came to him at last -- only at the very
last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and
had taken on him a terrible vegeance for the fantastic
invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about
himself which he did not know, things of which he
had no conception till he took counsel with this great
solitude -- and the whisper had proved irresistibly fas-
cinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was
hollow at the core.... I put down the glass, and
the head that had appeared near enough to be spoken
to seemed at once to have leaped away from me into
inaccessible distance.
"The admirer of Mr. Kurtz was a bit crestfallen. In
a hurried, indistinct voice 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 till Mr.
Kurtz gave the word. His ascendancy was extraor-
dinary. The camps of the people surrounded the
place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. They
would crawl.... 'I don't want to know anything of
the ceremonies used when approaching Mr. Kurtz,'
I shouted. Curious, this feeling that came over me
that such details would be more intolerable than
those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz's
windows. After a]l, that was only a savage sight, while
I seemed at one bound to have been transported into
some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure,
uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being
something that had a right to exist -- obviously -- in the
sunshine. The young man looked at me with surprise.
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 was it? on love, jus-
tice, conduct of life -- or what not. If it had come to
crawling before Mr. Kurtz, he crawled as much as the
veriest savage of them all. I had no idea of the condi-
tions, he said: these heads were the heads of rebels. I
shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What
would be the next definition I was to hear? There had
been enemies, criminals, workers -- and these were
rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to
me on their sticks. 'You don't know how such a life
tries a man like Kurtz,' cried Kurtz's last disciple.
'Well, and you?' I said. 'I! I! I am a simple man. I
have no great thoughts. I want nothing from anybody.
How can you compare me to . . . ?' His feelings
were too much for speech, and suddenly he broke
down. 'I don't understand,' he groaned. 'I've been
doing my best to keep him alive, and that's enough.
I had no hand in all this. I have no abilities. There
hasn't been a drop of medicine or a mouthful of in-
valid food for months here. He was shamefully aban-
doned. A man like this, with such ideas. Shamefully!
Shamefully! I -- I -- haven't slept for the last ten
nights . . .'
"His voice lost itself in the calm of the evening.
The long shadows of the forest had slipped downhill
while we talked, had gone far beyond the ruined
hovel, beyond the symbolic row of stakes. All this
was in the gloom, while we down there were yet in
the sunshine, and the stretch of the river abreast of
the clearing glittered in a still and dazzling splendour,
with a murky and overshadowed bend above and
below. Not a living soul was seen on the shore. The
bushes did not rustle.
"Suddenly round the corner of the house a group
of men appeared, as though they had come up from
the ground. They waded waist-deep in the grass, in a
compact body, bearing an improvised stretcher in their
midst. Instantly, in the emptiness of the landscape, a
cry arose whose shrillness pierced the still air like a
sharp arrow flying straight to the very heart of the
land; and, as if by enchantment, streams of human
beings -- of naked human beings -- with spears in their
hands, with bows, with shields, with wild glances and
savage movements, were poured into the dearing by
the dark-faced and pensive forest. The bushes shook,
the grass swayed for a time, and then everything
stood still in attentive immobility.
" 'Now, if he does not say the right thing to them
we are all done for,' said the Russian at my elbow.
The knot of men with the stretcher had stopped, too,
halfway to the steamer, as if petrified. I saw the man
on the stretcher sit up, lank and with an uplifted arm,
above the shoulders of the bearers. 'Let us hope that
the man who can talk so well of love in general will
find some particular reason to spare us this time,' I
said. I resented bitterly the absurd danger of our situ-
ation, as if to be at the mercy of that atrocious phan-
tom had been a dishonouring necessity. I could not
hear 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 its
bony head that nodded with grotesque jerks. Kurtz --
Kurtz -- that means short in German -- don't it? Well,
the name was as true as everything else in his life --
and death. He loolked at least seven feet long. His
covering had fallen off, and his body emerged from it
pitiful and appalling as from a winding-sheet. I could
see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones of his arm
waving. It was as though an animated image of death
carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with
menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark
and glittering bronze. I saw him open his mouth wide
-- it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he
had wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the
men before him. A deep voice reached me faintly. He
must have been shouting. He fell back suddenly. The
stretcher shook as the bearers staggered forward
again, and almost at the same time I noticed that the
crowd of savages was vanishing without any percepti-
ble movement of retreat, as if the forest that had
ejected these beings so suddenly had drawn them in
again as the breath is drawn in a long aspiration.
"Some of the pilgrims behind the stretcher carried
his arms -- two shot-guns, a heavy rifle, and a light
revolver-carbine -- the thunderbolts of that pitiful
Jupiter. The manager bent over him murmuring as
he walked beside his head. They laid him down in one
of the little cabins -- just a room for a bed place and a
camp-stool or two, you know. We had brought his
belated correspondence, and a lot of torn envelopes
and open letters littered his bed. His hand roamed
feebly amongst these papers. I was struck by the fire
of his eyes and the composed languor of his expres-
sion. It was not so much the exhaustion of disease. He
did not seem in pain. This shadow looked satiated and
calm, 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 writ-
ing to him about me. These special recommendations
were turning up again. The volume of tone he emitted
without effort, almost without the trouble of moving
his lips, amazed me. A voice! a voice! It was grave,
profound, vibrating, while the man did not seem cap-
able of a whisper. However, he had enough strength
in him -- factitious no 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 and he drew the curtain after me.
The Russian, eyed curiously by the pilgrims, was star-
ing at the shore. I followed the direction of his glance.
"Dark human shapes could be made out in the dis-
tance, flitting indistinctly against the gloomy border
of the forest, and near the river two bronze figures,
leaning on tall spears, stood in the sunlight under fan-
tastic head-dresses of spotted skins, warlike and still in
statuesque repose. And from right to left along the
lighted shore moved a wild and gorgeous apparition
of a woman.
"She walked with measured steps, draped in striped
and fringed clothes, treading the earth proudly, with
a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She
carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape
of a helmet; 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
her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men,
that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every
step. She must have had the value of several elephant
tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed
and magnificent; there was something ominous and
stately in her deliberate progress. And in the hush
that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful
land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the
fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her,
pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of
its own tenebrous and passionate soul.
"She came abreast of the steamer, stood still, and
faced us. Her long shadow fell to the water's edge.
Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of 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 the wilderness itself, with an
air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose. A whole
minute passed, and then she made a step forward.
There was a low jingle, a glint of yellow metal, a
sway of fringed draperies, and she stopped as if her
heart had failed her. The young fellow by my side
growled. The pilgrims murmured at my back. She
looked at us all as if her life had depended upon the
unswerving steadiness of her glance. Suddenly she
opened her bared arms and threw them up rigid
above her head, as though in an uncontrollable desire
to touch the sky, and at the same time the swift shad-
ows darted out on the earth, swept around on the
river, gathering the steamer into a shadowy embrace.
A formidable silence hung over the scene.
"She turned away slowly, walked on, following the
bank, and passed into the bushes to the left. Once
only her eyes gleamed back at us in the dusk of the
thickets before she disappeared.
" 'If she had offered to come aboard I really think
I would have tried to shoot her,' said the man of
patches, nervously. 'I have been risking my life every
day for the last fortnight to keep her out of the house.
She got in one day and kicked up a row about those
miserable rags I picked up in the storeroom to mend
my clothes with. I wasn't decent. At least 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 under-
stand the dialect of this tribe. Luckily for me, I fancy
Kurtz felt too ill that day to care, or there would have
been mischief. I don't understand.... No -- it's too
much 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. Save me! 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'll
carry my ideas out yet -- I will return. I'll show you
what can be done. You with your little peddling no-
tions -- you are interfering with me. I will return.
"The manager came out. He did me the honour to
take me under the arm and lead me aside. 'He is very
low, very low,' he said. He considered it necessary to
sigh, but neglected to be consistently sorrowful. 'We
have done all we could for him -- haven't we? But
there is no disguising the fact, Mr. Kurtz has done
more harm than good to the Company. He did not
see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cau-
tiously, cautiously -- that's my principle. We must be
cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time.
Deplorable! Upon the whole, the trade will suffer.
I don't deny there is a remarkable quantity of ivory --
mostly fossil. We must save it, at all events -- but look
how precarious the position is -- and why? Because the
method is unsound.' 'Do you,' said I, looking at the
shore, 'call it "unsound method?" ' 'Without doubt,'
he exclaimed hotly. 'Don't you?' . . . 'No method at
all,' I murmured after a while. 'Exactly,' he exulted.
'I anticipated this. Shows a complete want of judg-
ment. It is my duty to point it out in the proper quar-
ter.' 'Oh,' said I, 'that fellow -- what's his name? -- the
brickmaker, will make a readable report for you.' He
appeared confounded for a moment. It seemed to me
I had never breathed an atmosphere so vile, and I
turned mentally to Kurtz for relief -- positively for
relief. 'Nevertheless I think Mr. Kurtz is a remark-
able man,' I said with emphasis. He started, dropped
on me a cold heavy glance, said very quietly, 'he was~
and turned his back on me. My hour of favour was
over; I found myself lumped along with Kurtz as a
partisan of methods for which the time was not ripe:
I was unsound! Ah! but it was something to have at
least a choice of nightmares.
"I had turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr.
Kurtz, who, I was ready to admit, was as good as
buried. And for a moment it seemed to me as if I also
were buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets.
I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the
smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of vic-
torious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable
night.... The Russian tapped me on the shoulder.
I heard him mumbling and stammering something
about 'brother seaman -- couldn't conceal -- knowledge
of matters that would affect Mr. Kurtz's reputation.'
I waited. For him evidently Mr. Kurtz was not in his
grave; I suspect that for him Mr. Kuutz was one of
the immortals. 'Well!' said I at last, 'speak out. As it
happens, I am Mr. Kurtz's friend -- in a way.'
"He stated with a good deal of formality that had
we not been 'of the same profession,' he would have
kept the matter to himself without regard to conse-
quences. 'He suspected there was an active ill will to-
wards him on the part of these white men that --'
'You are right,' I said, remembering a certain conver-
sation I had overheard. 'The manager thinks you
ought to be hanged.' He showed a concern at this
intelligence which amused me at first. 'I had better
get out of the way 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's a military
post three hundred miles from here.' 'Well, upon my
word,' said I, 'perhaps you had better go if you have
any friends amongst the savages near by.' 'Plenty,' he
said. 'They are simple people -- and I want nothing,
you know.' He stood biting his lip, then: 'I didn't want
any harm to happen to these whites here, but of course
I was thinking of Mr. Kurtz's reputation -- but you
are a brother seaman and --' 'All right,' said I, after
a time. 'Mr. Kurtz's reputation is safe with me.' I did
not know how truly I spoke.
"He informed me, lowering his voice, that it was
Kurtz who had ordered the attack to be made on the
steamer. 'He hated sometimes the idea of being taken
away -- and then again.... But I don't understand
these matters. I am a simple man. He thought it
would scare you away -- that you would give it up,
thinking him dead. I could not stop him. Oh, I had an
awful time of it this last month.' 'Very well,' I said.
'He is all right now.' 'Ye-e-es,' he muttered, not very
convinced apparently. 'Thanks,' said I; 'I shall keep
my eyes open.' 'But quiet -- eh?' he urged anxiously.
'It would be awful for his reputation if anybody
here --' I promised a complete discretion with great
gravity. 'I have a canoe and three black fellows wait-
ing not very far. I am off. Could you give me a few
Martini-Henry cartridges?' I could, and did, with
proper secrecy. He helped himself, with a wink at me,
to a handful of my tobacco. 'Between sailors -- you
know -- good English tobacco.' At the door of the
pilot-house he turned round -- 'I say, haven't you a
pair of shoes you could spare?' He raised one leg.
'Look' The soles were tied with knotted strings san-
dalwise under his bare feet. I rooted out an old pair,
at which he looked with admiration before tucking it
under his left arm. One of his pockets (bright red)
was bulging with cartridges, from the other (dark
blue) peeped 'Towson's Inquiry,' ctc., etc. He seemed
to think himself excellently well equipped for a re-
newed encounter with the wilderness. 'Ah! I'll never,
never meet such a man again. You ought to 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 shook hands and vanished in the
night. Sometimes I ask myself whether I had ever
really seen him -- whether it was possible to meet such
a phenomenon! . . .
"When I woke up shortly after midnight his warn-
ing came to my mind with its hint of danger that
seemed, in the starred darkness, real enough to make
me get 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 agents
with a picket of a few of our blacks, armed for the
purpose, was keeping guard over the ivory; but deep
within the forest, red gleams that wavered, that
seemed to sink and rise from the ground amongst
confused columnar shapes of intense blackness, showed
the exact position of the camp where Mr. Kurtz's
adorers were keeping their uneasy vigil. The monoto-
nous beating of a big drum filled the air with muf-
fled shocks and a lingering vibration. A steady
droning sound of many men chanting each to himself
some weird incantation came out from the black, flat
wall of the woods as the humming of bees comes out
of a hive, and had a strange narcotic effect upon my
half-awake senses. I believe I dozed off leaning over
the rail, till an abrupt burst of yells, an overwhelming
outbreak of a pent-up and mysterious frenzy, woke me
up in a bewildered wonder. It was cut short all at
once, and the low droning went on with an effect of
audible and soothing silence. I glanced casually into
the little 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 I didn't believe them at first --
the thing seemed so impossible. The fact is I was com-
pletely unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstract
terror, unconnected with any distinct shape of physical
danger. What made this emotion so overpowering
was -- how shall I define it? -- the moral shock I re-
ceived, as if something altogether monstrous, intoler-
able to thought and odious to the soul, had been
thrust upon me unexpectedly. This lasted of course
the merest fraction of a second, and then the usual
sense of commonplace, deadly danger, the possibility
of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or something of
the kind, which I saw impending, was positively wel-
come and composing. It pacified 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 chair on deck within three feet of
me. The yells had not awakened him; he snored very
slightly; 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 I should be loyal to
the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious to deal
with this shadow by myself alone -- and to this day I
don't know why I was so jealous 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 through the grass. I remember the exultation
with which I said to myself, 'He can't walk -- he is
crawling on all-fours -- I've got him.' The grass was
wet with dew. I strode rapidly with clenched fists. I
fancy I had some vague notion of falling upon him
and giving him a drubbing. I don't know. I had some
imbecile thoughts. The knitting old woman with the
cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most im-
proper person to be sitting at the other end of such an
affair. I saw a row of pilgrims squirting lead in the air
out of Winchesters held to the hip. I thought I would
never get back to the steamer, and imagined myself
living alone and unarmed in the woods to an advanced
age. Such silly things -- you know. And I remember I
confounded the beat of the drum with the beating of
my heart, and was pleased at its calm regularity.
"I kept to the track though -- then stopped to listen.
The night was very clear; a dark blue space, sparkling
with dew and starlight, in which black things stood
very still. I thought I could see a kind of motion
ahead of me. I was strangely cocksure of everything
that night. I actually left the track and ran in a wide
semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to myself) so as
to get in front of that stir, of that motion I had seen
-- if indeed I had seen anything. 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 fallen over 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 and silent before me; while at my back
the fires loomed between the trees, and the murmur
of many voices issued from the forest. I had cut him
off cleverly; but when actually confronting him I
seemed to come to my senses, I saw the danger in its
right proportion. It was by no means over yet. Sup-
pose he began to shout? Though he could hardly
stand, there was still plenty of vigour in his voice. 'Go
away -- hide yourself,' he said, in that profound tone.
It was very awful. I glanced back. We were within
thirty yards from the nearest fire. A black figure stood
up, strode on long black legs, waving long black arms,
across the glow. It had horns -- antelope horns, I think
-- on its head. Some sorcerer, some witch-man, no
doubt: it looked fiendlike 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 clearly was not a case for fisticuffs, even
apart from the very natural aversion I had to beat
that Shadow -- this wandering and tormented thing.
'You will be lost,' I said -- 'utterly lost.' One gets
sometimes such a flash of inspiration, you know. I did
say the right thing, though indeed he 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 -- to endure -- even to the end --
even beyond.
" 'I had irnmense plans,' he muttered irresolutely.
'Yes,' said I; 'but if you try to shout I'll smash your
head with --' There was not a stick or a stone near.
'I will throttle you for good,' I corrected myself. 'I
was on the threshold of great things,' he pleaded, in a
voice of longing, with a wistfulness of tone that made
my blood run cold. 'And now for this stupid scoun-
drel --' 'Your success in Europe is assured in any
case,' 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 any practical pur-
pose. I tried to break the spell -- the heavy, mute spell
of the wilderness -- that seemed to draw him to its
pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and
brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and mon-
strous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had
driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush,
towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the
drone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled
his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted
aspirations. And, don't you see, the terror of the posi-
tion was not in being knocked on the head -- though I
had a very lively sense of that danger, too -- but in
this, that I had to deal with a being 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 and incredible degradation. There was
nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He
had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the
man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was
alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood
on the ground or floated in the air. I've been telling
you what we said -- repeating the phrases we pro-
nounced -- but what's the good? They were common
everyday words -- the familiar, vague sounds ex-
changed on every 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 in nightmares. Soul! If anybody ever struggled
with a soul, I am the man. And I wasn't arguing with
a lunatic either. Believe me or not, his intelligence was
perfectly clear concentrated, it is true, upon himself
with horrible intensity, yet clear; and therein was my
only chance -- barring, of course, the killing him there
and then, which wasn't so good, on account of un-
avoidable noise. But his soul was mad. Being alone in
the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by
heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had -- for my
sins, I suppose -- to go through the ordeal of looking
into it myself. No eloquence could have been so
withering to one's belief in mankind as his final burst
of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it --
I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul
that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet strug-
gling blindly with itself. I kept my head pretty well;
but when I had him at last stretched on the couch, I
wiped my forehead, while my legs shook under me as
though I had carried half a ton on my back down that
hill. And yet I had only supported him, his bony arm
clasped round my neck -- and he was not much heavier
than a child.
"When next day we left at noon, the crowd, of
whose presence behind the curtain of trees I had been
acutely conscious all the time, flowed out of the woods
again, filled the clearing, covered the slope with a
mass of naked, breathing, quivering, bronze bodies. I
steamed up a bit, then swung down stream, and two
thousand eyes followed the evolutions of the splash-
ing, thumping, fierce river-demon beating the water
with its terrible tail and breathing black smoke into
the air. In front of the first rank, along the river,
three men, plastered with bright red earth from head
to foot, strutted to and fro restlessly. When we came
abreast again, they faced the river, stamped their feet,
nodded their horned heads, swayed their scarlet bod-
ies; they shook towards the fierce river-demon a
bunch of black feathers, a mangy skin with a pendent
tail -- something that looked like a dried gourd; they
shouted periodically together strings of amazing words
that resembled no sounds of human language; and
the deep murmurs of the crowd, interrupted sud-
denly, 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 in the
mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted
head and tawny cheeks rushed out to the very brink
of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted some-
thing, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a
roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless ut-
" 'Do you understand this?' I asked.
"He kept on looking out past me with fiery, long-
ing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and
hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of
indefinable meaning, appearing on his colourless lips
that a moment after twitched convulsively. 'Do I
not?' he said slowly, gasping, as if the 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 the pilgrims on deck getting out their
rifles with an air of anticipating a jolly lark. At the
sudden screech there was a movement of abject terror
through that wedged mass of bodies. 'Don't! don't you
frighten them away,' cried some one on deck discon-
solately. I pulled the string time after time. They
broke and ran, they leaped, they crouched, they
swerved, they dodged 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
barbarous and superb woman did not so much as
flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms 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 us down towards the sea with twice
the speed of our upward progress; and Kurtz's life
was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his
heart into the sea of inexorable time. The manager
was very placid, he had no vital anxieties 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 the time approaching when I would be left alone
of the party of 'unsound method.' The pilgrims
looked upon me with disfavour. I was, so to speak,
numbered with the dead. It is strange how I accepted
this unforeseen partnership, this choice of nightmares
forced upon me in the tenebrous land invaded by
these mean and greedy phantoms.
"Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to
the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the
magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of
his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes
of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images
now -- images of wealth and fame revolving obse-
quiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and
lofty expression. My Intended, my station, my career,
my ideas -- these were the subjects for the occasional
utterances of elevated sentiments. The shade of the
original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow
sham, whose fate it was to be buried presently in the
mould of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love
and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had pene-
trated fought for the possession 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 de-
sired to have kings meet him at railway-stations on his
return from some ghastly Nowhere, where he in-
tended to accomplish great things. 'You show them
you have in you something that is really profitable,
and then there will be no limits to the recognition of
your ability,' he would say. 'Of course you must take
care of the motives -- right motives -- always.' The
long reaches that were like one and the same reach,
monotonous bends that were exactly alike, slipped
past the steamer with their multitude of secular trees
looking patiently after this grimy fragment of an-
other world, the forerunner of change, of conquest,
of trade, of massacres, of blessings. I looked ahead --
piloting. 'Close the shutter,' said Kurtz suddenly one
day; 'I can't bear to look at this.' I did so. There was
a silence. 'Oh, but I will wring your heart yet!' he
cried at the invisible wilderness.
"We broke down -- as I had expected -- and had to
lie up for repairs at the head of an island. This delay
was the first thing that shook Kurtz's confidence. One
morning he gave me a packet of papers and a photo-
graph -- the lot tied together with a shoe-string. 'Keep
this for me,' he said. 'This noxious fool' (meaning the
manager) 'is capable of prying into my boxes when I
am not looking.' In the afternoon I saw him. He was
lying on his back with closed eyes, and I withdrew
quietly, but I heard him mutter, 'Live rightly, die, die
. . .' I listened. There was nothing more. Was he
rehearsing some speech in his sleep, or was it a frag-
ment of a phrase from some newspaper article? He
had been writing for the papers and meant to do so
again, 'for the furthering of my ideas. It's a duty.'
"His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him
as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom
of a precipice where the sun never shines. But I had
not much time to give him, because I was helping the
engine-driver to take to pieces the leaky cylinders, to
straighten a bent connecting-rod, and in other such
matters. I lived in an infernal mess of rust, filings,
nuts, bolts, spanners, hammers, ratchet drills -- things
I abominate, because I don't get on with them. I
tended the little forge we fortunately had aboard; I
toiled wearily in a wretched scrap-heap -- unless I had
the shakes too bad to stand.
"One evening coming in with a candle I was star-
tled to hear him say a little tremulously, 'I am lying
here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was
within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur,
'Oh, nonsense!' and stood over him as if transfixed.
"Anything approaching the change that came over
his features I have never seen before, and hope never
to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated.
It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that
ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless
power, of craven terror -- of an intense and hopeless
despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of
desire, temptation, and surrender during that su-
preme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in
a whisper at some image, at some vision -- he cried out
twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
" 'The horror! The horror!'
"I blew the candle out and left the cabin. The pil-
grims were dining in the mess-room, and I took my
place opposite the manager, who lifted his eyes to
give me a questioning glance, which I successfully ig-
nored. He leaned back, serene, with that peculiar
smile of his sealing the unexpressed depths of his
meanness. A continuous shower of small flies streamed
upon the lamp, upon the cloth, upon our hands and
faces. Suddenly the manager's boy put his insolent
black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of scath-
ing contempt:
" 'Mistah Kurtz -- he dead.'
"All the pilgrims rushed out to see. I remained,
and went on with my dinner. I believe that I was con-
sidered brutally callous. However, I did not eat much.
There was a lamp in there -- light, don't you know --
and outside it was so beastly, beastly dark. I went no
more near the remarkable man who 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 that next 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 did not. I remained to dream the
nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to
Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing
life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic
for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it
is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late --
a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled
with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can
imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness,
with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without
spectators, without clamour, without glory, without
the great desire of victory, without the great fear of
defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism,
without much belief in your own right, and still less
in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ulti-
mate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some
of us think it to be. I was within a hair's breadth of the
last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with
humiliation that probably I would have nothing to
say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a
remarkable man. He had something to say. He said
it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I under-
stand better the meaning of his stare, that could not
see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to
embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to pene-
trate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had
summed up -- he had judged. 'The horror!' He was a
remarkable man. 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
the appalling face of a glimpsed truth -- the strange
commingling of desire and hate. And it is not my own
extremity I remember best -- a vision of greyness with-
out form filled with physical pain, and a careless con-
tempt for the evanescence of all things -- even of this
pain itself. No! It is his extremity that I seem to have
lived through. True, he had made that last stride, he
had stepped over the edge, while I had been permit-
ted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in
this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom,
and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed
into that inappreciable moment of time in which we
step over the threshold of the invisible. Perhaps! I
like to think my summing-up would not have been a
word of careless contempt. Better his cry -- much bet-
ter. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by
innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abomi-
nable satisfactions. But it was a victory! That is why I
have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even
beyond, when a long time after I heard once more,
not his own voice, but the echo of his magnificent elo-
quence thrown to 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 I remember mistily, with a shuddering
wonder, like a passage through some inconceivable
world that had no hope in it and no desire. I found
myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight
of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little
money from each other, to devour their infamous
cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream
their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed
upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowl-
edge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I
felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I
knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of
commonplace individuals going about their business in
the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me
like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a
danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular
desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in
restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full
of stupid importance. I daresay I was not very well at
that time. I tottered about the streets -- there were
various affairs to settle -- grinning bitterly at perfectly
respectable persons. I atmit my behaviour was inex-
cusable, but then my temperature was seldom normal
in these days. 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 given me by Kurtz, not knowing exactly
what to do with it. His mother had died lately,
watched over, as I was told, by his Intended. A clean-
shaved man, with an official manner and wearing
gold-rimmed spectacles, called on me one day and
made inquiries, at first circuitous, afterwards suavely
pressing, about what he was pleased to denominate
certain 'documents.' I was not surprised, because I had
had two rows with the manager on the subject out
there. I had refused to give up the smallest scrap out
of that package, and I took the same attitude with the
spectacled man. He became darkly menacing at Last,
and with much heat argued that the Company had the
right to every bit of information about its 'territories.'
And said he, 'Mr. Kurtz's knowkdge of unexplored
regions must have been necessarily extensive and pe-
culiar -- owing to his great abilities and to the deplor-
able circumstances in which he had been placed:
therefore --' I assured him Mr. Kurtz's knowledge,
however extensive, did not bear upon the problems of
commerce or administration. He invoked then the
name of science. 'It would be an incalculable loss if,'
etc., etc. I offered him the report on the 'Suppression
of Savage Customs,' with the postscriptum torn off.
He took it up eagerly, but ended by sniffing at it with
an air of contempt. 'This is not what we had a right to
expect,' he remarked. 'Expect nothing else,' I said.
'There are only private letters.' He withdrew upon
some threat of legal proceedings, and I saw him no
more; but another fellow, calling himself Kurtz's
cousin, appeared two days later, and was anxious to
hear all the details about his dear relative's last mo-
ments. Incidentally he gave me to understand that
Kurtz had been essentially a great musician. 'There
was the making of an immense success,' said the man,
who was an organist, I believe, with lank grey hair
flowing over a greasy coat-collar. I had no reason to
doubt his statement, and to this day I am unable to
say what was Kurtz's profession, whether he ever had
any -- which was the greatest of his talents. I had taken
him for a painter who wrote for the papers, or else for
a journalist who could paint -- but even the cousin
(who took snuff during the interview) could not tell
me what he had been -- exactly. He was a universal
genius -- on that point I agreed with the old chap, who
thereupon blew his nose noisily into a large cotton
handkerchief and withdrew in senile agitation, bear-
ing off some family letters and memoranda without
importance. Ultimately a journalist anxious to know
something of the fate of his 'dear colleague' turned
up. This visitor informed me Kurtz's proper sphere
ought to have been politics 'on the popular side.' He
had furry straight eyebrows, bristly hair cropped
short, an eyeglass on a broad ribbon, and, becoming
expansive, confessed his opinion that Kurtz really
couldn't write a bit -- 'but heavens! how that man
could talk. He electrified large meetings. He had
faith -- don't you see? -- he had the faith. He could get
himself to believe anything -- anything. He would
have been a splendid leader of an extreme party.'
'What party?' I asked. 'Any party,' answered the
other. 'He was an -- an -- extremist.' Did I not think
so? I assented. Did I know, he asked, with a sudden
flash of curiosity, 'what it was that had induced him
to go out there?' 'Yes,' said I, and forthwith handed
him the famous Report for publication, if he thought
fit. He glanced through 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 let-
ters and the girl's portrait. She struck me as beautiful
-- I mean she had a beautiful expression. I know that
the sunlight can be made to lie, too, yet one felt that
no manipulation of light and pose could have con-
veyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those
features. She seemed ready to listen without mental
reservation, without suspicion, without a thought for
herself. I conclucled I would go and give her back her
portrait and those letters myself. Curiosity? Yes; and
also some other feeling perhaps. All that had been
Kurtz's had passed out of my hands: his soul, his
body, his station, his plans, his ivory, his career. There
remained only his memory and his Intended -- and I
wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in a way -- to
surrender personally all that remained of him with
me to that oblivion which is the last word of our
common fate. I don't defend myself. I had no clear
perception of what it was I really wanted. Perhaps it
was an impulse of unconscious loyalty, or the fulfil-
ment of one of those ironic necessities that lurk in the
facts of human existence. I don't know. I can't tell.
But I went.
"I thought his memory was like the other memo-
ries of the dead that accumulate in every man's life --
a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had
fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before
the high and ponderous door, between the tall houses
of a street as still and decorous as a well-kept alley in
a cemetery, I had a vision of him on the stretcher,
opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the
earth with all its mankind. He lived then before me;
he lived as much as he had ever lived -- a shadow in-
satiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities;
a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and
draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence.
The vision seemed to enter the house with me -- the
stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of
obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the
glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat
of thle drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a
heart -- the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a
moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading
and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would
have to keep back alone for the salvation of another
soul. And the memory of what I had heard him say
afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back,
in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those
broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in
their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remem-
bered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colos-
sal scale of his vile 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 one day, 'This lot of ivory now is really mine.
The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself
at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try
to claim it as theirs though. H'm. It is a difficult case.
What do you think I ought to do -- resist? Eh? I want
no more than justice.' . . . He wanted no more than
justice -- no more than justice. I rang the bell before a
mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited
he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel -- stare
with that wide and immense stare embracing, con-
demning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear
the whispered cry, 'The horror! The horror! '
"The dusk was falling. I had to wait in a lofty
drawingroom with three long windows from floor to
ceiling that were like three luminous and bedraped
columns. The bent gilt legs and backs of the furniture
shone in indistinct curves. The tall marble fireplace
had a cold and monumental whiteness. A grand piano
stood massively in a corner; with dark gleams on the
flat surfaces like a sombre and polished sarcophagus.
A high door opened closed I rose.
"She came forward, all in black, with a pale head,
floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning.
It was more than a year since his death, more than a
year since the news came; she seemed as though she
would remember and mourn forever. She took both
my hands in hers and murmured, 'I had heard you
were coming.' I noticed she was not very young -- I
mean not girlish. She had a mature capacity for fidel-
ity, for belief, for suffering. The room seemed to have
grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy eve-
ning had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair,
this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded
by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out
at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confi-
dent, and trustful. She carried her sorrowful head as
though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she
would say, '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 came upon her face
that I perceived she was one of those creatures that
are not the playthings of Time. For her he had died
only yesterday. And, by Jove! the impression was so
powerful that for me, too, he seemed to have died
only yesterday -- nay, this very minute. I saw her and
him in the same instant of time -- his death and her
sorrow -- I saw her sorrow in the very moment of his
death. Do you understand? I saw them together - I
heard them together. She had said, with a deep catch
of the breath, 'I have survived' while my strained ears
seemed to hear distinctly, mingled with her tone of
despairing regret, the summing up whisper of his
eternal condemnation. I asked myself what I was
doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart as
though I had blundered into a place of cruel and
absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold.
She motioned me to a chair. We sat down. I laid the
packet gently on the little table, and she put her hand
over it.... 'You knew him well,' she murmured,
after a moment of mourning silence.
" 'Intimacy grows quickly out there,' I said. 'I
knew him as well as it is possible for one man to know
" 'And you admired him,' she said. 'It was impos-
sible to know him and not to admire him. Was it?'
" 'He was a remarkable man,' I said, unsteadily.
Then before the appealing fixity of her gaze, that
seemed to watch for more words on my lips, I went
on, 'It was impossible not to --'
" 'Love him,' she finished eagerly, silencing me
into an appalled dumbness. 'How true! how truel
But when you think that no one knew 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. But with every word spoken the room was
growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and
white, remained illumined by the unextinguishable
light of belief and love.
" 'You were his friend,' she went on. 'His friend,'
she repeated, a little louder. 'You must have been, if
he had 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 know I have been
worthy of him.... It is not pride.... Yes! I am
proud to know I understood him better than any one
on earth -- he told me so himself. And since his mother
died I have had no one -- no one -- to -- to --'
"I listened. The darkness deepened. I was not even
sure whether he had given me the right bundle. I
rather suspect he wanted me to take care of another
batch of his papers which, after his death, I saw the
manager examining under the lamp. And the girl
talked, easing her pain in the certitude of my sympa-
thy; she talked as thirsty men drink. I had heard that
her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by
her people. He wasn't rich enough or something. And
indeed I don't know whether he had not been a pau-
per all his life. He had given me some reason to infer
that it was his impatience of comparative 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,' she went on, and
the sound of her low voice seemed to have the ac-
companiment of all the other sounds, full of mystery,
desolation, and sorrow, I had ever heard -- the ripple
of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the
wind, the murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of
incomprehensible words cried from afar, the whisper
of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an
eternal darkness. 'But you have heard him! You
know!' she cried.
" 'Yes, I know,' I said with something like despair
in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that
was in her, before that great and saving illusion
that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in
the triumphant darkness from which I could not have
defended her -- from which I could not even defend
" 'What a loss to me -- to us!' -- she corrected her-
self with beautiful generosity; then added in a mur-
mur, 'To the world.' By the last gleams of twilight I
could see the glitter of her eyes, full of tears -- of tears
that would not fall.
" 'I have been very happy -- very fortunate -- very
proud,' 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 a glimmer of gold. I rose, too.
" 'And of all this,' she went on mournfully, 'of all
his promise, 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 this
should be lost -- that such a life should be sacrificed to
leave nothing -- 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. 'Men
looked up to him -- his goodness shone in every act.
His example --'
" 'True,' I said; 'his example, too. Yes, his example.
I forgot that.'
" 'But I do not. I cannot -- I cannot believe -- not
yet. I cannot believe that I sha]l never see him again,
that nobody will see him again, never, never, never.'
"She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure,
stretching them back and with clasped pale hands
across the fading and narrow sheen of the window.
Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I
shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and
I shall see her, too, a tragic and familiar Shade,
resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also,
and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare
brown arms over the glitter cf the infernal stream,
the stream of darkness. She said suddenly very low,
'He died as he 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 subsided before a feeling of infinite pity.
" 'Everything that could be done --' I mumbled.
" 'Ah, but I believed in him more than any one on
earth -- more than his own mother, more than -- him-
self. He needed me! Me! I would have treasured
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 -- in silence.... You were with him -- to the
last? I think of his loneliness. Nobody near to under-
stand him as I would have understood. Perhaps no
one to hear....'
" 'To the very end,' I said, shakily. 'I heard his
very last words....' I stopped in a fright.
" 'Repeat them,' she murmured in a heart-broken
tone. 'I want -- I want -- something -- something -- to --
to live with.'
"I was on the point of crying at her, 'Don't you
hear them?' The dusk was repeating them in a per-
sistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed
to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising
wind. 'The horror! The horror!'
" 'His last word -- to live with,' she insisted. 'Don't
you understand I loved him -- I loved him -- I loved
"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 short by an exulting and terrible cry, by
the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable
pain. 'I knew it -- I was sure!' . . . She knew. She was
sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face
in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would
collapse before I could escape, that the heavens
would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The
heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have
fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice
which was his due? Hadn't he said he wanted only
justice? But I couldn't. I could not tell her. It would
have been too dark -- too dark altogether...."
Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent,
in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved
for a time. "We have lost the first of the ebb," said
the Director suddenly. I raised my head. The offing
was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tran-
quil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the
earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky -- seemed
to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

 December 30, 2017  Add comments

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>