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THE HEART OF DARKNESS.
BY JOSEPH CONRAD.
“One evening, as I was lying fat on the deck of my steamboat, I heard voices approaching-and there was the nephew and the uncle strolling along the bank. I laid my head on my arm again, and had ne lost myself in a doze, when somebody said in my ear, as it were: 'I am as harmless as a little child, but I don't like to be dictated to. Am I a manager-or am I not? I was ordered to send him there. It's incredible.' ...I became aware that the two were standing on the shore alongside the forepart of the steamboat, just below my head. I did not move; it did not occur to me to move. I was sleepy. 'It is unpleasant,' grunted the uncle. 'He has asked the administration to be sent there,' said the other, 'with the idea of showing what he could do; and I was instructed accordingly. Look at the influence that man must have. Is it not frighful? They both agreed it was frightful, then made several bizarre remarks: ‘Make rain and fine weather-one man -the council-by the nose'-bits of absurd sentences that got the better of my drowsiness, so that I had pretty near the whole of my wits about me when the uncle said, "The climate may do away with this difficulty for you. Is he alone there?' 'Yes,' answered the manager; he sent his assistant down the river with a note to me in these terms: “Clear this poor devil out of the country, and don't bother sending more of that sort. I had rather be alone than have the kind of men you can dispose of with me." It was more than a year ago. Can you imagine such impu
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dence?' 'Anything since then ?' asked the other, hoarsely. "Ivory,' jerked the nephew; 'lots of it-prime sort-lots most annoying, from him.' 'And with that?' questioned the heavy rumble. 'Invoice,' was the reply, fired out, so to speak. Then silence. They had been talking about Kurtz.
"I was broad awake by this time, but lying perfectly at ease, remained still, having no inducement to change my position. 'How did that ivory come all this way?' growled the elder man, who seemed very vexed. The other explained that it had come with a fleet of canoes in charge of an English halfcaste clerk Kurtz had with him, that Kurtz had apparently intended to return himself, the station being by that time bare of goods and stores; but after coming 300 miles had suddenly decided to go back, which he started to do alone in a small dugout with four paddlers, leaving the half-caste to continue down the river with the ivory. The two fellows there seemed astounded at anybody attempting such a thing. They were at a loss for an adequate motive. As to me, I seemed to see Kurtz for the first time. It was a distinct glimpse. The dugout, four paddling savages and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home-perhaps; setting his face toward the depths of the wilderness, toward his empty and desolate station. I did not know the motive. Perhaps he was just simply a fine fellow who stuck to his work for its own sake. His name, you understand, had not been pronounced once. He was 'that man.' The half-caste who, as far as I could see, had conducted a difficult trip with great pru
dence and pluck, was invariably alluded slender twig. His sagacious relative to as 'that scoundrel.' The 'scoundrel lifted his head. You have been well had said the 'man' had been ill—had since you came out this time?' he asked. recovered. The two below The other gave a start. 'Who? I? O, moved away then a few paces and like a charm-like a charm. But the strolled back and forth at some little rest-0, my goodness! All sick. They distance. I heard: 'Military post-doc- die so quick, too, that I haven't the tor-200 miles-quite alone now-un- time to send them out of the countryavoidable delays-nine months-no it's incredible!' 'H'h. Just so,' grunted news-strange rumors.' They
the uncle. 'Ah, my boy, trust to thisproached again just as the manager I say trust to this.' I saw him extend was saying, 'Nobody unless a species of his short flipper of an arm for a semiwandering trader-a pestilential fellow, circular gesture that took in the forest, snapping ivory from the natives.' Who the creek, the mud, the river, seemed was it they were talking about now? I to beckon with a dishonoring flourish gathered in snatches that this was before the sunlit face of the land a some man supposed to be in Kurtz's treacherous appeal to the lurking death, district, and of whom the manager did to the hidden evil, to the profound not approve.
'We will not be free darkness of its heart. It was so startfrom unfair competition until one of ling that I leaped to my feet and looked these fellows is hanged for an back at the edge of the forest, as ample,' he said. "Certainly,' grunted the though I had expected an answer of other; 'get him hanged! Why not? Any- some sort to that black display of conthing-anything can be done in this fidence. You know the foolish notions country. That's what I say; nobody that come to one sometimes. The high here, you understand, here, can stillness confronted these two figures danger your position. And why? You with its ominous patience, waiting for stand the climate-you outlast them all. the passing away of a fantastic invaThe danger is in Europe; but there be- sion. fore I left I took care to- They moved “They swore aloud together-out of off and whispered, then their voices sheer fright, I believe-then, pretending rose again. The extraordinary series not to know anything of my existence, of delays is not my fault. I did my pos- turned back to the station. The sun sible.' The fat man sighed, “Very sad.' was low, and, leaning forward side by 'And the pestiferous absurdity of his side, they seemed to be tugging paintalk,' continued the other; "he bothered fully uphill their two ridiculous shadme enough when he was here. Each ows of unequal length, that trailed bestation should be like a beacon on the hind them slowly over the tall grass road towards better things, a centre without bending a single blade. for trade, of course, but also for hu- “In a few days the Eldorado expedi. manizing, improving, instructing. Con- tion went into the patient wilderness, ceive you—that ass! And he wants to that closed upon them as the be manager! No, its—' Here he got closes over a diver. Long afterward choked by excessive indignation, and I the news came that all the donkeys lifted my head the least bit. I was were dead. I know nothing as to the surprised to see how near they were- fate of the less valuable animals. They, right under me; I could have spat upon no doubt, like the rest of us, found their hats. They were looking on the what they deserved. I did not inquire. ground absorbed in thought. The man- I was then rather excited at the prosager was switching his leg with a pect of meeting Kurtz very soon. When
I say very soon, I mean comparatively. a lookout for the signs of dead wood It was just two months from the day we could cut up in the night for next we left the creek when we came to the day's steaming. When you have to bank below Kurtz's station.
attend to things of that sort, to the "Going up that river was like trav- mere incidents of the surface, the realelling back to the earliest beginnings ity-the reality, I tell you-fades. The of the world, when vegetation rioted inner truth is hidden-luckily, luckily. on the earth, and the big trees were But I felt it all the same; I felt often kings. An empty stream, a great si. its mysterious stillness watching me at lence, an impenetrable forest. The air my monkey tricks, just as it watches
warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. you fellows performing on your reThere was no joy in the brilliance of spective tight ropes for-what is it? sunshine. The long stretches of the Half a crown a tumble" waterway ran on, deserted, into the “Try to be civil, Marlow," growled á gloom of overshadowed distances. On voice, and I knew there was at least silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators one listener awake beside myself. sunned themselves side by side; the “I beg your pardon. I forgot the broadening waters flowed through a heartache which makes up the rest of the mob of wooded islands. You lost your price. And, indeed, what does the price way on that river as you would in a matter if the trick be well done? You desert, and butted all day long against do your tricks very well. And I don't shoals, trying to find the channel, till do badly, either, since I managed not you thought yourself bewitched and cut to sink that steamboat on my first trip. off forever from everything you had It's a wonder to me yet. Imagine a known once-somewhere-far away-in blindfolded man set to drive a van over another existence, perhaps. There a bad road. I sweated and shivered were moments when one's past came over that business considerably, I can back to one, as it will sometimes when
After all, for a seaman to you have not a moment to spare to scrape the bottom of the thing that's yourself; but it came in the shape of an supposed to float all the time under his unrestful and noisy dream, remembered care, is the unpardonable sin.
No one with wonder among the overwhelming may know of it, but you never forget realities of this strange world of plants, the thump-eh? A blow on the very water and silence. And this stillness heart. You remember it, you dream of of life did not in the least resemble a it, you wake up at night and think of peace. It was the stillness of an im- it-years after and go hot and cold all placable force brooding over an inscru. over. I don't pretend to say that steamtable intention. It looked at you with boat floated all the time. More than a vengeful aspect. I got used to it once she had to wade for a bit with 20 afterward; I did not see it any more; cannibals splashing around and pushI had no time. I had to keep guessing ing. We had enlisted these chaps on at the channel; I had to discern, mostly the way for a crew. Fine fellows-canby inspiration, the signs of hidden nibals in their place. They were men banks; I watched for sunken stones; I one could work with, and I am grate. was learning to clap my teeth smartly ful to them. And, after all, they did before my heart flew out, when I not eat each other before my face; they · shaved, by a fluke, some infernal sly had brought along a provision of hippo old snag that would have ripped the meat, which went rotten and made the life out of the tinpot steamboat and mystery of the wilderness stink in my drowned all the pilgrims; I had to keep nostrils. Phoo! I can snift it now. I
had the manager on board and three or you start. We were wanderers on a four pilgrims with their staves—all prehistoric earth-on an earth that wore complete. Sometimes we came upon the aspect of an unknown planet. We a station close by the bank, clinging to could fancy ourselves the first of men the skirts of the unknown, and the taking possession of an accursed in. white men, rushing out of a tumble- heritance to be subdued at the cost of down hovel with great gestures of joy profound anguish and of excessive toil. and surprise and welcome, seemed But suddenly, as we struggled round a very strange, had the appearance of be- bend, there would be a glimpse of rush ing held there captive by a spell. The walls, of peaked grass roofs, a burst of word ivory would ring in the air for a yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of while—and on we went again into the hands clapping, of feet stamping, of silence, along empty reaches, round the bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under still bends, between the high walls of the droop of heavy and motionless foli. our winding way, reverberating in hol- age. The steamer toiled along slowly low claps the ponderous beat of the on the edge of a black and incomprestern wheel. Trees, trees, millions of hensible frenzy. The prehistoric man trees, massive, immense, running up was cursing us, praying to us, welcomhigh; and at their foot, hugging the bank ing us, who could tell? We were cut against the stream, crept the little be- off from the comprehension of our surgrimed steamboat, like sluggish roundings; we glided past like phanbeetle crawling on the floor of a lofty toms, wondering and secretly appalled, portico. It made you feel very small, as sane men would be before an envery lost, and yet it was not altogether astic outbreak in a madhouse. We depressing that feeling. After all, if could not understand, because we were you were small, the grimy beetle too far, and could not remember, becrawled on—which was just what you cause we were travelling in the night wanted it to do. Where the pilgrims of first ages, of those ages that are imagined it crawled to I don't know. gone, leaving hardly a sign and no To some place where they expected to memories. get something, I bet! For me, it crawled "The earth seemed unearthly. We are towards Kurtz-exclusively, but when accustomed to look upon the shackled the steam-pipes started leaking . we form of a conquered monster, but there crawled very slow. The reaches opened —there you could look at a thing monbefore us and closed behind, as if the strous and free. It was unearthly, and forest had stepped leisurely across the
the men were ...
.. No, they were not water to bar the way for our return. inhuman. Well, you know, that was We penetrated deeper and deeper into the worst of it, this suspicion of their the heart of darkness. It was very not being inhuman. It would come quiet there. At night, sometimes, the slowly to one. They bowled and leaped roll of drums behind the curtain of and spun, and made horrid faces; but trees would run up the river and re- what thrilled you was just the thought main sustained faintly, as if hovering of their humanity-like yours—the in the air high over our heads, till the thought of your remote kinship with first break of day. Whether it meant
this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. war, peace or prayer we could not tell. Yes, it was ugly enough, but if you The dawns were heralded by the de. were man enough you would admit to scent of a chill stillness. The wood- yourself that there was in you just the cutters slept, their fires burned low. faintest trace of a response to the ter. The snapping of a twig would make rible frankness of that noise, a dim sus
picion of there being a meaning in it and he had filed teeth, too, the poor which you-you so remote from the devil, and the wool of his pate shaved night of first ages—could comprehend. into queer patterns, and three ornaAnd why not? The mind of man is mental weals on each of his cheeks. capable of anything–because every- He ought to have been clapping his thing is in it-all the past as well as all hands and stamping his feet on the the future. What was there, after all? bank, instead of which he was hard at Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valor, rage work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, —who
tell?-but truth-truth full of improving knowledge. He was stripped of its cloak of time. Let the useful because he had been instructed; fool gape and shudder—the man knows and what he knew was this—that, and can look on without a wink. But should the water in that transparent he must, at least, be as much of a man thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the as these on the shore. He must meet the boiler would get angry through the truth with his own true stuft-with his greatness of his thirst, and take a terown inborn strength. Principles? prin- rible vengeance. So he sweated and ciples won't do. Acquisitions, clothes, fired up and watched the glass fearpretty rags-rags that would fly off at fully (with an impromptu charm, made the first good shake. No you want a de- of rags, tied to his arm, and a piece of liberate belief. An appeal to me in this polished bone, as big as a watch, stuck fiendish row-is there? Very well. I flatways through his lower lip), while have a voice, too, and for good or evil the wooded banks slipped past us mine is the speech that cannot be si- slowly, the short noise was left behind, lenced. Of course a fool, what with the interminable miles of silence and sheer fright and fine sentiments, is al- we crept on, toward Kurtz. But the ways safe. Who's that grunting? You snags were thick, the water was treachwonder I didn't go ashore for a howl erous and shallow, the boiler seemed, and a dance? Well, no-I didn't. Fine indeed, to have a sulky devil in it, and sentiments, you say? Fine sentiments thus neither fireman nor I had any be hanged! I had no time. I had to spare time to peer into
creepy mess about with white lead and strips of thoughts. woollen blanket helping to put ban- "Some 50 miles below the inner stadages on those leaky steampipes—I tell tion we came upon a hut of reeds, an you. I had to watch the steering and inclined and melancholy pole, with the circumvent those snags, and get the unrecognizable tatters of what had been tinpot along by hook or by crook. a flag of some sort flying from it, and There was surface-truth enough in a neatly stacked woodpile. This was these things to save a wiser man. And unexpected. We came to the bank, and between whiles, I had to look after on the stack of firewood found a flat the savage who was fireman. He was piece of board with some faded pencilan improved specimen. He could fire writing on it. When deciphered, it up a vertical boiler. He was there be- said: “Wood for you. Hurry up. Aplow me, and, upon my word, to look proach cautiously.' There was a sigat him was as edifying as seeing a dog nature, but it was illegible—not Kurtz in a parody of breeches and a feather -a much longer word. Hurry up. hat, walking on its hind legs. A few Where? Up the river? ‘Approach caumonths of training had done for that tiously.' We had not done so. But the really fine chap. He squinted at the warning could not have been meant for steam gauge and at the water gauge the place wbere it could be only found with an evident effort at intrepidity, after approach. Something was wrong