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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Part 2 out of 3

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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 approach cautiously
were to be followed, we must approach 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 ex-
pression 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 immobility sat on the banks. The
living trees, lashed together 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
suddenly, 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 tower-
ing 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 running with a
muffled rattle, a cry, a very loud cry, as of infinite
desolation, soared slowly in the opaque air. It ceased.
A complaining clamor, 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 mournful uproar
arise. It culminated in a hurried outbreak of almost
intolerably excessive shrieking, which stopped short, leav-
ing us stiffened in a variety of silly attitudes, and ob-
stinately listening to the nearly as appalling and ex-
cessive 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
side-spring boots, and pink pyjamas tucked into his
socks. Two others remained open-mouthed a whole min-
ute, then dashed into the little cabin, to rush out in-
continently and stand darting scared glances, with Win-
chesters 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 no-
where, 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 all be 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 ex-
pressions 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 besides a curious look of being painfully shocked
by such an outrageous row. The others had an alert,
naturally interested expression; but their faces were es-
sentially 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 dark-blue fringed
cloths, with fierce nostrils and his hair all done up art-
fully 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 profoundly
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 be-
longed to the beginnings of time--had no inherited ex-
perience to teach them as it were), and of course, as
long as there was a piece of paper written over in ac-
cordance 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 proceed-
ing; but it was really a case of legitimate self-defense.
You can't breathe dead hippo waking, sleeping, and
eating, and at the same time keep your precarious grip
on existence. 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 pro-
visions with that currency in river-side 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 swallowed 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 honorable trading company. For the
rest, the only thing to eat--though it didn't look eat-
able in the least--I saw in their possession was a few
lumps of some stuff like half-cooked dough, of a dirty
lavender color, 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 seri-
ous 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 con-
sequences, with courage, 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 quicken-
ing 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-sensation 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 wilder-
ness, 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 supersti-
tion, disgust, patience, fear--or some kind of primitive
honor? 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 principles, they are less than chaff in a breeze.
Don't you know the devilry of lingering starvation, its
exasperating torment, its black thoughts, its somber and
brooding ferocity? Well, I do. It takes a man all his
inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It's really
easier to face bereavement, dishonor, 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 clamor that had swept by us on the
river-bank, behind the blind whiteness of the fog.

"Two pilgrims were quarreling in hurried whispers
as to which bank. 'Left.' 'No, no; how can you?
Right, right, of course.' 'It is very serious,' said the
manager's voice behind me; 'I would be desolated if
anything should happen to Mr. Kurtz before 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 restraint.
But when he muttered something about going on at once,
I did not even take the trouble to answer him. I knew,
and he knew, that it 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 cap-
tain,' he said, with marked civility. I turned my shoul-
der to him in sign of my appreciation, and looked into
the fog. How long would it last? It was the most hope-
less look-out. The approach to this Kurtz grubbing
for ivory in the wretched bush was beset by as many
dangers 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 impenetrable--and yet eyes
were in it, eyes that had seen us. The river-side 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--cer-
tainly not abreast of the steamer. But what made the
idea of attack inconceivable to me was the nature of the
noise--of the cries we had heard. They had not the
fierce character boding of 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 hu-
man passion let loose. Even extreme grief may ulti-
mately 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 believe they
thought me gone mad--with fright, maybe. I delivered
a regular lecture. My dear boys, it was no good bother-
ing. Keep a look-out? 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 felt 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 hummock 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 sandbank, or rather of a chain
of shallow patches stretching down the middle of the
river. They were discolored, 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 pro-
jected 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 sound-
ing in the bows just below me. This steamboat was
exactly like a decked scow. On the deck there were two
little teak-wood houses, with doors and windows. The
boiler was in the fore-end, and the machinery 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 educated 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 feel-
ing 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 be-
low 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. Con-
found 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 color. 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 shape
of a V-shaped ripple on the water ahead. What? An-
other 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 fusillade
below stopped short, as I had foreseen it would when
the squirts got empty. I threw my head back to a glint-
ing whizz that traversed the pilot-house, in at one shutter-
hole and out at the other. Looking past that mad helms-
man, who was shaking the empty rifle and yelling at
the shore, I saw vague forms of men running bent double,
leaping, gliding, distinct, incomplete, evanescent. Some-
thing 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, pro-
found, familiar manner, 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 wrench-
ing 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 luster. The fusillade burst out again. He
looked at me anxiously, gripping the spear like some-
thing 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-whistled, and jerked out screech after screech hur-
riedly. 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 mourn-
ful 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 dropping 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-star-
board at the moment 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 man.

"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 utter-
ing 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 somber,
brooding, and menacing expression. The luster of in-
quiring 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 under-
stood 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 fel-
low, 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 something al-
together without a substance. I couldn't have been more
disgusted if I had traveled all this way for the sole
purpose of talking with Mr. Kurtz. Talking 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 pre-
sented 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 together. 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 pre-
eminently, 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 contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or
the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable

"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 startling
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 life. . . . Why do you sigh in this beastly way,
somebody? Absurd? Well, absurd. Good Lord!
mustn't a man ever-- Here, give me some to-
bacco." . . .

There was a pause of profound stillness, then a match
flared, and Marlow's lean face appeared, worn, hollow,
with downward folds and dropped eyelids, with an aspect
of concentrated attention; and as he took vigorous draws
at his pipe, it seemed to retreat and advance out of the
night in the regular flicker of the 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, excellent
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 nervous-
ness 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 fortitude. 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 per-
ceived 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--
specimen, 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 pampered
favorite. 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 steamboat 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 favor 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 be-
longed 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 neigh-
bors ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping
delicately 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 untrammeled feet may take him into
by the way of solitude--utter solitude without a police-
man--by the way of silence, utter silence, where no
warning voice of a kind neighbor can be heard whisper-
ing 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 assaulted 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 business. And that's difficult
enough. Mind, I am not trying to excuse or even ex-
plain--I am trying to account to myself for--for--Mr.
Kurtz--for the shade of Mr. Kurtz. This initiated
wraith from the back of Nowhere honored 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 Sup-
pression of Savage Customs had intrusted him with the
making of a report, for its future guidance. And he
had written it too. I've seen it. I've read it. It was
eloquent, vibrating 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
understand?--to Mr. Kurtz himself. But it was a beau-
tiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, how-
ever, 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,' &c., &c. From that point he
soared and took me with him. The peroration was mag-
nificent, 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 en-
thusiasm. 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 valu-
able 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 everlast-
ing 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 com-
mon. He had the power to charm or frighten rudi-
mentary souls into an aggravated witch-dance in his
honor; 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
profundity 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 door-step; 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 tempta-
tion, and possibly cause some startling trouble. Besides,
I was anxious to take the wheel, the man in pink pyjamas
showing himself a hopeless duffer at the business.

"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 revenged. '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, any-
how.' 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 confi-
dentially 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 river-side 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 inclosure
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 orna-
mented with round carved balls. The rails, or what-
ever there had been between, had disappeared. Of
course the forest surrounded all that. The river-bank
was clear, and on the water-side I saw a white man under
a hat like a cart-wheel beckoning persistently with his
whole arm. Examining 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 attacked,' screamed the man-
ager. '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 maneuvered
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 yel-
low,--patches on the back, patches on front, patches on
elbows, on knees; colored binding round his jacket, scar-
let edging at the bottom of his trousers; and the sun-
shine 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 harle-
quin 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 encourag-
ingly. '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

"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 vivaciously,
'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 overwhelmed 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 . . .
honor . . . 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
have met Mr. Kurtz,' he said, youthfully 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 wan-
dering 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 favorite 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 him-
self. 'Why did they attack us?' I pursued. He hesi-
tated, 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 suc-
ceeded 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 particolored rags, his destitution, his
loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wander-
ings. 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 something like admiration
--like envy. Glamour urged him on, glamour kept him
unscathed. He surely wanted nothing from the wilder-
ness but space to breathe in and to push on through.
His need was to exist, and to move onwards at the great-
est possible risk, and with a maximum of privation. If
the absolutely pure, uncalculating, unpractical spirit of
adventure had ever ruled a human being, it ruled this
be-patched youth. I almost envied him the possession
of this modest and clear flame. It seemed to have con-
sumed 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 accepted 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 cer-
tain 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. Every-
thing! 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 hope-
less and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so
pitiless to human weakness. '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? exploring 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, look-
ing 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 eager-
ness and reluctance to speak of Kurtz. The man filled
his life, occupied 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 had 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, com-
pleted 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 fight-
ing 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 ma-
terial 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 remain-
ing 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 ornamenta-
tion, 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 carefully 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 the vultures 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 sur-
prise. 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 closed eye-
lids,--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 afterwards 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 restraint in the
gratification of his various lusts, that there was some-
thing wanting in him--some small matter which, when
the pressing need arose, could not be found under his
magnificent eloquence. Whether he knew of this de-
ficiency himself I can't say. I think the knowledge came
to him at last--only at the very last. But the wilder-
ness had found him out early, and had taken on him
a terrible vengeance 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 fascinating. 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 ascendency was extraor-
dinary. The camps of these 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
all, 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 Mr. Kurtz was no idol of mine.
He forgot I hadn't heard any of these splendid mono-
logues on, what was it? on love, justice, 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 conditions, 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, work-
ers--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 invalid
food for months here. He was shamefully abandoned.
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 down hill while
we talked, had gone far beyond the ruined hovel, be-
yond 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 splendor, with a murky
and over-shadowed 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 move-
ments, were poured into the clearing by the dark-faced
and pensive forest. The bushes shook, the grass swayed
for a time, and then everything stood still in attentive

"'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, half-way
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 situation, as
if to be at the mercy of that atrocious phantom had
been a dishonoring 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
looked 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 perceptible 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 expression. It was not so much the ex-
haustion 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, pro-
found, vibrating, while the man did not seem capable
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 distance,
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 fantastic 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 cloths, 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 magnifi-
cent; 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 mys-
terious 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 brood-
ing 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 draper-
ies, and she stopped as if her heart had failed her. The
young fellow by my side growled. The pilgrims mur-
mured 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 uncon-
trollable desire to touch the sky, and at the same time
the swift shadows darted out on the earth, swept around
on the river, gathering the steamer into a shadowy em-
brace. 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 had 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 miser-
able 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, point-
ing at me now and then. I don't understand the dia-
lect of this tribe. Luckily for me, I fancy Kurtz felt
too ill that day to care, or there would have been mis-
chief. 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.
I . . .'

"The manager came out. He did me the honor 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. Cautiously, cau-
tiously--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 posi-
tion 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 judgment. It is my
duty to point it out in the proper quarter.' 'Oh,' said
I, 'that fellow--what's his name?--the brickmaker, will
make a readable report for you.' He appeared con-
founded 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. 'Neverthe-
less I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable 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 favor 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 victorious
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. Kurtz 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 conversa-
tion 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 hun-
dred 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 lips, then: 'I don't want any harm to
happen to these whites here, but of course I was think-
ing 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 con-
vinced 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 waiting 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 sandal-wise under his bare feet. I rooted
out an old pair, at which he looked with admiration be-
fore 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,' &c., &c.
He seemed to think himself excellently well equipped
for a renewed 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-
by,' 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 phenome-
non! . . .

"When I woke up shortly after midnight his warning
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 un-
easy vigil. The monotonous beating of a big drum filled
the air with muffled 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 over-
whelming 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 be-
lieved my eyes. But I didn't believe them at first--the
thing seemed so impossible. The fact is I was completely
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 received, as if something
altogether monstrous, intolerable 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 some-
thing of the kind, which I saw impending, was positively
welcome 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
e. 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 ob-
truded herself upon my memory as a most improper
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 semi-
circle (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
vapor 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. Suppose he began to shout? Though
he could hardly stand, there was still plenty of vigor
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--ante-
lope horns, I think--on its head. Some sorcerer, some
witch-man, no doubt: it looked fiend-like enough. 'Do
you know what you are doing?' I whispered. 'Per-
fectly,' 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 immense 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 scoundrel--'
'Your success in Europe is assured in any case,' I af-
firmed, 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 purpose. I tried to
break the spell--the heavy, mute spell of the wilder-
ness--that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by
the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the
memory of gratified and monstrous 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 position 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 pronounced,
--but what's the good? They were common everyday
words,--the familiar, vague sounds exchanged on every
waking day of life. But what of that? They had be-
hind them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of
words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in night-
mares. Soul! If anybody had ever struggled with a
soul, I am the man. And I wasn't arguing with a luna-
tic either. Believe me or not, his intelligence was per-
fectly 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 unavoidable
noise. But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilder-
ness, 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 in-
conceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no
faith, and no fear, yet struggling 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 splashing, 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 bodies; 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 lan-
guage; and the deep murmurs of the crowd, inter-
rupted suddenly, were like the response of some satanic

"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 something, and all that
wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of
articulated, rapid, breathless utterance.

"'Do you understand this?' I asked.

"He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing
eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate.
He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of inde-
finable meaning, appear on his colorless lips that a mo-
ment 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 someone on deck dis-
consolately. 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
somber 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
disfavor. I was, so to speak, numbered with the dead.
It is strange how I accepted this unforeseen partner-
ship, this choice of nightmares forced upon me in the
tenebrous land invaded by these mean and greedy phan-

"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
obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble
and lofty expression. My Intended, my station, my
career, my ideas--these were the subjects for the occa-
sional 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
mold of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love and
the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated
fought for the possession of that soul satiated with
primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham dis-
tinction, of all the appearances of success and power.

"Sometimes he was contemptibly childish. He desired
to have kings meet him at railway-stations on his return
from some ghastly Nowhere, where he intended to ac-
complish 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 mo-
tives--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 another 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 startled
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 somber 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 supreme
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 ignored.
He leaned back, serene, with that peculiar smile of his
sealing the unexpressed depths of his meanness. A con-
tinuous 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 scathing contempt--

"'Mistah Kurtz--he dead.'

"All the pilgrims rushed out to see. I remained, and
went on with my dinner. I believe I was considered
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 some-
thing 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 grayness, with nothing
underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators,
without clamor, without glory, without the great desire
of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly
atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in
your own right, and still less in that of your adversary.
If such is the form of ultimate 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 pro-
nouncement, 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 some-
thing to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the
edge myself, I understand 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 penetrate all the hearts that beat in the dark-
ness. 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 candor,
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
grayness without form filled with physical pain, and a
careless contempt 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
permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And per-
haps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wis-
dom, 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 better. It was
an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable
defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfac-
tions. But it was a victory! That is why I have re-
mained 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 eloquence thrown
to me from a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of

"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 knowledge of life was to me an
irritating pretense, 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 flaunt-
ings 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 impor-
tance. I dare say I was not very well at that time. I
tottered about the streets--there were various affairs to
settle--grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable per-
sons. I admit my behavior was inexcusable, but then my
temperature was seldom normal in these days. My dear
aunt's endeavors to 'nurse up my strength' seemed alto-
gether 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, after-
wards 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 'ter-
ritories.' And, said he, 'Mr. Kurtz's knowledge of
unexplored regions must have been necessarily extensive
and peculiar--owing to his great abilities and to the
deplorable 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,' &c., &c.
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 an-
other fellow, calling himself Kurtz's cousin, appeared
two days later, and was anxious to hear all the details
about his dear relative's last moments. Incidentally he
gave me to understand that Kurtz had been essentially
a great musician. 'There was the making of an im-
mense success,' said the man, who was an organist, I
believe, with lank gray 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 pro-
fession, 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 inter-
view) 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 agita-
tion, bearing 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 eye-glass 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 letters
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 conveyed the
delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features. She
seemed ready to listen without mental reservation, with-
out suspicion, without a thought for herself. I con-
cluded 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 uncon-
scious loyalty, or the fulfillment of one of these 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 memories
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 insatiable 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 worshipers, the gloom of the
forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends,
the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beat-
ing of a heart--the heart of a conquering darkness. It
was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invad-
ing 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 remembered
his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale
of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tem-
pestuous 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, condemning, 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 draw-
ing-room 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 mas-
sively in a corner, with dark gleams on the flat sur-
faces like a somber 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 for ever. 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 fidelity,
for belief, for suffering. The room seemed to have
grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy
evening 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, confident, and
trustful. She carried her sorrowful head as though she
were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, I

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