Heart of Darkness(2)

By Don Mcdonald,2014-05-22 21:51
14 views 0
Heart of Darkness(2)Hear


    ??One evening as I was lying flat on the deck of my steamboat, I heard voices approaching?ªand there were the nephew and the uncle strolling along the bank. I laid my head on my arm again, and had nearly lost myself in a doze, when somebody said in my ear, as it were: ??I am as harmless as a little child, but I don??t like to be dictated to. Am I the manager?ªor 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 frightful??? They both agreed it was frightful, then made several bizarre remarks: ??Make rain and fine weather?ªone man?ªthe Council?ªby the nose???ªbits 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 impudence!?? ??Anything since then??? asked the other hoarsely. ??Ivory,?? jerked the nephew; ??lots of it?ªprime sort?ªlots?ªmost 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 half?Ccaste clerk Kurtz had with him; that Kurtz had apparently intended to return himself, the station being by that time bare of goods and stores, but after coming three hundred miles, had suddenly decided to go back, which he started to do alone in a small dugout with four paddlers, leaving the half?Ccaste 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, yon relief, on thoughts of home?ªperhaps; setting his face towards the depths of the

    wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station. I did not knosome man supposed to be in Kurtz??s district, and of whom the manager did not approve. ??We will not be free from unfair competition till one of these fellows is hanged for an example,?? he said. ??Certainly,?? grunted the other; ??get him hanged! Why not? Anything?ªanything can be done in this country. That??s what I say; nobody here, you understand, HERE, can endanger your position. And why? You stand the climate?ªyou outlast them all. The danger is in Europe; but there before I left I took care to?ª?? They moved off and whispered, then their voices rose again. ??The extraordinary series of delays is not my fault. I did my best.?? The fat man sighed. ??Very sad.?? ??And the pestiferous absurdity of his talk,?? continued the other; ??he bothered me enough when he was here. ??Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.?? Conceive you?ªthat ass! And he wants to be manager! No, it??s?ª?? Here he got choked by excessive indignation, and I lifted my head the least bit. I was surprised to see how near they were?ªright under me. I could have spat upon their hats. They were looking on the ground, absorbed in thought. The manager was switching his leg with a slender twig: his sagacious relative lifted his head. ??You have been well since you came out this time??? he asked. The other gave a start. ??Who? I? Oh! Like a charm?ªlike a charm. But the rest?ªoh, my goodness! All sick. They die so quick, too, that I haven??t the time to send them out of the country?ªit??s incredible!?? ??Hm??m. Just so,?? grunted the uncle. ??Ah! my boy, trust to this?ªI say, trust to this.?? I saw him extend his short flipper of an arm for a gesture that took in the forest, the creek, the mud, the river?ªseemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart. It was so startling that I leap ??They swore aloud together?ªout of sheer fright, I believe?ªthen pretending not to know anything of my existence, turned back to the station. The sun was low; and leaning forward side by side, they seemed to be tugging painfully uphill their two ridiculous shadows of unequal length, that trailed behind them slowly over the tall grass without bending a single blade.

    ??In a few days the Eldorado Expedition went into the patient wilderness, that closed upon it as the sea closes over a diver. Long afterwards the news came that all the donkeys were dead. I know nothing as to the fate of the less valuable animals. They, no doubt, like the rest of us, found what they deserved. I did not inquire. I was then rather excited at the prospect of meeting Kurtz very soon. When I say very soon I mean it comparatively. It was just two months from the day we left the creek

when we came to the bank below Kurtz??s station.

    ??Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sand?Cbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once?ªsomewhere?ªfar away?ªin another existence perhaps. There were moments when one??s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect. I got used to it afterwards; I did not see it any more; I had no time. I had to keep guessing at the channel; I had to discern, mostly by inspiration, the signs of hidden banks; I watched for sunken stones; I was learning to clap my teeth smartly before my heart flew out, when I shaved by a fluke some infernal sly old snag that would have ripped the life out of the tin?Cpot steamboat and drowned all the pilgrims; I had to keep a lookouits mysterious stillness watching me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your respective tight?Cropes for?ªwhat is it? half?Ca?Ccrown a tumble?ª??

    ??Try to be civil, Marlow,?? growled a voice, and I knew there was at least one listener awake besides myself.

    ??I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which makes up the rest of the price. And indeed what does the price matter, if the trick be well done? You do your tricks very well. And I didn??t do badly either, since I managed not to sink that steamboat on my first trip. It??s a wonder to me yet. Imagine a blindfolded man set to drive a van over a bad road. I sweated and shivered over that business considerably, I can tell you. After all, for a seaman, to scrape the bottom of the thing that??s supposed to float all the time under his care is the unpardonable sin. No one may know of it, but you never forget the thump?ªeh? A blow on the very heart. You remember it, you dream of it,

    you wake up at night and think of it?ªyears after?ªand go hot and cold all over. I don??t pretend to say that steamboat floated all the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing. We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows?ªcannibals?ªin their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo?Cmeat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils. Phoo! I can sniff it now. I had the manager on board and three or four pilgrims with their staves?ªall complete. Sometimes we came upon a station close by the bank, clinging to the skirts of the unknown, and the white men rushing out of a tumble?Cdown hovel, with great gestures of joy and surprise and welcome, seemed very strange?ªhad the appearance of being held there captive by a spell. The word ivory would ring in the air for a while?ªand on we went again into the silence, along empty reaches, round the still bends, between the high walls of our winding way, reverberating in hollow claps the ponderous beat of the stern?Cwheel. Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing, that feeling. After all, if you were small, the grimy beetle crawled on?ªwhich was just what you wanted it to do. Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled toheralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood?Ccutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. Were were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass?Croofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping. of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us?ªwho could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign?ªand no memories.

    ??The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled

    form of a conquered monster, but there?ªthere you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were?ªNo, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it?ªthis suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity?ªlike yours?ªthe thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there ywas in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you?ªyou so remote from the night of first ages?ªcould comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything?ªbecause everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. What was there after all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valour, rage?ªwho can tell??ªbut truth?ªto watch the steering, and circumvent those snags, and get the tin?Cpot along by hook or by crook. There was surface?Ctruth enough in these things to save a wiser man. And between whiles I had to look after the savage who was fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind?Clegs. A few months of training had done for that really fine chap. He squinted at the steam?Cgauge and at the water?Cgauge with an evident effort of intrepidity?ªand he had filed teeth, too, the poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer patterns, and three ornamental scars on each of his cheeks. He ought to have been clapping his hands and stamping his feet on the bank, instead of which he was hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge. He was useful because he had been instructed; and what he knew was this?ªthat should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance. So he sweated and fired up and watched the glass fearfully (with an impromptu charm, made of rags, tied to his arm, and a piece of polished bone, as big as a watch, stuck flatways through his lower lip), while the wooded banks slipped past us slowly, the short noise was left behind, the interminable miles of silence?ªand we crept on, towards Kurtz. But the snags were thick, the water was treacherous and shallow, the boiler seemed indeed to have a sulky devil in it, and thus neither that fireman nor I had any time to peer into our creepy thoughts.

    ??Some fifty miles below the Inner Station we came upon a hut of reeds, an inclined and melancholy pole, with the unrecognizable tatters of what had been a flag of some sort flying from it, and a neatly stacked

    wood?Cpile. This was unexpected. We came to the bank, and on the stack of filing was dismantled; but we could see a white man had lived there not very long ago. There remained a rude table?ªa plank on two posts; a heap of rubbish reposed in a dark corner, and by the door I picked up a book. It had lost its covers, and the pages had been thumbed into a state of extremely dirty softness; but the back had been lovingly stitched afresh with white cotton thread, which looked clean yet. It was an extraordinary find. Its title was, AN INQUIRY INTO SOME POINTS OF SEAMANSHIP, by a man Towser, Towson?ªsome such name?ªMaster in his Majesty??s Navy. The matter looked dreary reading enough, with illustrative diagrams and repulsive tables of figures, and the copy was sixty years old. I handled this amazing antiquity with the greatest possible tenderness, lest it should dissolve in my hands. Within, Towson or Towser was inquiring earnestly into the breaking strain of ships?? chains and tackle, and other such matters. Not a very enthralling book; but at the first glance you could see there a singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work, which made these humble pages, thought out so many years ago, luminous with another than a professional light. The simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases, made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably real. Such a book being there was wonderful enough; but still more astounding were the notes pencilled in the margin, and plainly referring to the text. I couldn??t believe my eyes! They were in cipher! Yes, it looked like cipher. Fancy a man lugging with him a book of that description into this nowhere and studying it?ªand making notes?ªin cipher at that! It was an extravagant mystery.

    ??I had been dimly aware for some time of a worrying noise, and when I lifted my eyes I saw the wood?Cpile was gone, and the manager, aided by all the pilgrims, was shouting at me from the riverside. I slipped the book into my pocket. I assure you to leave off reading was like tearing myself away from the shelter of an old and solid friendship.

    ??I started the lame engine ahead. ??It must be this miserable trader?Cthis intruder,?? exclaimed the manager, looking back malevo ??The current was more rapid now, the steamer seemed at her last gasp, the stern?Cwheel flopped languidly, and I caught myself listening on tiptoe for the next beat of the boat, for in sober truth I expected the wretched thing to give up every moment. It was like watching the last flickers of a life. But still we crawled. Sometimes I would pick out a tree a little way ahead to measure our progress towards Kurtz by, but I lost it invariably before we got abreast. To keep the eyes so long on one thing was too much for human patience. The manager

    displayed a beautiful resignation. I fretted and fumed and took to arguing with myself whether or no I would talk openly with Kurtz; but before I could come to any conclusion it occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility. What did it matter what any one knew or ignored? What did it matter who was manager? One gets sometimes such a flash of insight. The essentials of this affair lay deep under the surface, beyond my reach, and beyond my power of meddling.

    ??Towards the evening of the second day we judged ourselves about eight miles from Kurtz??s station. I wanted to push on; but the manager looked grave, and told me the navigation up there was so dangerous that it would be advisable, the sun being very low already, to wait where we were till next morning. Moreover, he pointed out that if the warning to approach cautiously were to be followed, we must approach in daylight?ªnot at dusk or in the dark. This was sensible enough. Eight miles meant nearly three hours?? steaming for us, and I could also see suspicious ripples at the upper end of the reach. Nevertheless, I was annoyed beyond expression at the delay, and most unreasonably, too, since one night more could not matter much after so many months. As we had plenty of wood, and caution was the word, I brought up in the middle of the stream. The reach was narrow, straight, with high sides like a railway cutting. The dusk came gliding into it long before the sun had set. The current ran smooth and swift, but a dumb 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?ªit 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?ªthen 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 bliagain, 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 clamour, modulated in savage discords, filled our ears. The sheer unexpectedness of it made my hair stir under my cap. I don??t know how it struck the others: to me it seemed as though the mist itself had screamed, so suddenly, and apparently from all sides at once, did this tumultuous and mournful uproar arise. It culminated in a hurried outbreak of almost intolerably excessive shrieking, which stopped short, leaving us stiffened in a variety of silly attitudes, and obstinately

    listening to the nearly as appalling and excessive silence. ??Good God! What is the meaning?ª?? stammered at my elbow one of the pilgrims?ªa little fat man, with sandy hair and red whiskers, who wore sidespring boots, and pink pyjamas tucked into his socks. Two others remained open?Cmouthed a while minute, then dashed into the little cabin, to rush out incontinently and stand darting scared glances, with Winchesters at ??ready?? in their hands. What we could see was just the steamer we were on, her outlines blurred as though she had been on the point of dissolving, and a misty strip of water, perhaps two feet broad, around her?ªand that was all. The rest of the world was nowhere, as far as our eyes and ears were concerned. Just nowhere. Gone, disappeared; swept off without leaving a whisper or a shadow behind.

    ??I went forward, and ordered the chain to be hauled in short, so as to be ready to trip the anchor and move the steamboat at once if necessary. ??Will they attack??? whispered an awed voice. ??We will be all butchered in this fog,?? murmured another. The faces twitched with the strain, the hands trembled slightly, the eyes forgot to wink. It was very curious to see the contrast of expressions of the white men and of the black fellows of our crew, who were as much strangers to that part of the river as we, though their homes were only eight hundred miles away. The whites, of course greatly discomposed, had 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 essentially quiet, even those of the one or two who grinned as they hauled at the chain. Several exchanged short, grunting phrases, which seemed to settle the matter to their satisfaction. Their headman, a young, broad?Cchested black, severely draped iover in accordance with some farcical law or other made down the river, it didn??t enter anybody??s head to trouble how they would live. Certainly they had brought with them some rotten hippo?Cmeat, 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?Chanded proceeding; but it was really a case of legitimate self?Cdefence. 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 provisions with that currency in riverside villages. You can see how THAT worked. There were either no villages, or the people were hostile, or the director, who like the rest of us fed out of tins, with an occasional old he?Cgoat 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 honourable trading company. For the rest, the only thing to eat?ªthough it didn??t look eatable in the least?ªI saw in their possession was a few lumps of some stuff like half?Ccooked dough, of a dirty lavender colour, they kept wrapped in leaves, and now and then swallowed a piece of, but so small that it seemed done more for the looks of the thing than for any serious purpose of sustenance. Why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger they didn??t go for us?ªthey were thirty to five?ªand have a good tuck?Cin for once, amazes me now when I think of it. They were big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences, with courage, with strength, even yet, though their skins werethat something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play there. I looked at them with a swift quickening of interest?ªnot because it occurred to me I might be eaten by them before very long, though I own to you that just then I perceived?ªin a new light, as it were?ªhow unwholesome the pilgrims looked, and I hoped, yes, I positively hoped, that my aspect was not so?ªwhat shall I say??ªso?ªunappetizing: a touch of fantastic vanity which fitted well with the dream?Csensation 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?ªthe playful paw?Cstrokes of the wilderness, the preliminary trifling before the more serious onslaught which came in due course. Yes; I looked at them as you would on any human being, with a curiosity of their impulses, motives, capacities, weaknesses, when brought to the test of an inexorable physical necessity. Restraint! What possible restraint? Was it superstition, disgust, patience, fear?ªor some kind of primitive honour? No fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs, and what you may call 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 sombre and brooding ferocity? Well, I do. It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It??s really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition of one??s soul?ªthan 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?ªthe fact dazzling, to be seen, like the foam on the depths of the sea, like a ripple on an unfathomable enigma, a mystery greater?ªwhen I thought of it?ªthan the curious, inexplicable note of desperate grief in this savage clamour that had swept by us on the

river?Cbank, behind the blind whiteness of the fog.

    ??Two pilgrims were quarrelling in hurried whispers as to which bank. ??Left.?? ??no, no; how can you? Right, right, of course.?? ??It is very serious,?? said the manager??s voice behind me; ??I would be desolated if anything should happen to Mr. Kurtz before 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 airwe were sure to perish speedily in one way or another. ??I authorize you to take all the risks,?? he said, after a short silence. ??I refuse to take any,?? I said shortly; which was just the answer he expected, though its tone might have surprised him. ??Well, I must defer to your judgment. You are captain,?? he said with marked civility. I turned my shoulder to him in sign of my appreciation, and looked into the fog. How long would it last? It was the most hopeless lookout. The approach to this Kurtz grubbing for ivory in the wretched bush was beset by as many 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?ªand yet eyes were in it, eyes that had seen us. The riverside bushes were certainly very thick; but the undergrowth behind was evidently penetrable. However, during the short lift I had seen no canoes anywhere in the reach?ªcertainly not abreast of the steamer. But what made the idea of attack inconceivable to me was the nature of the noise?ªof the cries we had heard. They had not the fierce character boding immediate hostile intention. Unexpected, wild, and violent as they had been, they had given me an irresistible impression of sorrow. The glimpse of the steamboat had for some reason filled those savages with unrestrained grief. The danger, if any, I expounded, was from our proximity to a great human passion let loose. Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence?ªbut 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?ªwith fright, maybe. I delivered a regular lecture. My dear boys, it was no good bothering. Keep a lookout? Well, you may guess I watched the fog for

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email