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of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory. "I had to wait in the station for ten days an eternity. lived in a hut in the yard. To be out of the chaos I would sometimes get into the accountant's office. It was built of horizontal planks, and so badly put together that, as he bent over his high desk, he was barred from neck to heels with narrow strips of sunlight. There was no need to open the big shutter to see. It was hot there too; big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting, but stabbed. I sat generally on the floor, while, of faultless appearance (and even slightly scented), perching on a high stool, he wrote, he wrote. Sometimes he stood up for exercise. When a truckle-bed with a sick man (some invalided agent from upcountry) was put in there, he exhibited a gentle annoyance. 'The groans of this sick person,' he said, 'distract my attention. And without that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.'

"One day he remarked, without lifting his head, 'In the interior you will no doubt meet Mr Kurtz.' On my asking who Mr Kurtz was, he said he was a first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at this information, he added slowly, laying down his pen, 'He is a very remarkable person.' Further questions elicited from him that Mr Kurtz was at present in charge of a trading post, a very important one, in the true ivory-country, at the very bottom of there. Sends in as much

ivory as all the others put together. . . He began to write again. The sick man was too ill to groan. The flies buzzed in a great peace.

"Suddenly there was a growing murmur of voices and a great tramping of feet. A caravan had come in. A violent babble of uncouth sounds. burst out on the other side of the planks. All the carriers were speaking together, and in the midst of the uproar the lamentable voice of the chief agent was heard 'giving it up' tearfully for the twentieth time that day. He rose slowly. What a frightful row,' he said. He crossed the room gently to look at the sick man, and returning, said to me, 'He does not hear.' 'What! Dead?' I asked, startled. 'No, not yet,' he answered, with great composure. Then, alluding with a toss of the head to the tumult in the station-yard, 'When one has got to make correct entries, one comes to hate those savages

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hate them to the death.' He remained thoughtful for a moment. "When you see Mr Kurtz,' he went on, tell him from me that everything here'

he glanced at the desk-'is very satisfactory. I don't like to write to him—with those messengers of ours you never know who may get your letter

at that Central Station.' He stared at me for a moment with 'Oh,

his mild, bulging eyes. he will go far, very far,' he began again. He will be a somebody in the Administration before long. They, above-the Council in Europe, you know -mean him to be.'

"He turned to his work. The cook, sleep, strike camp, march. noise outside had ceased, and Now and then a carrier dead presently as I went out I in harness, at rest in the long stopped at the door. In the grass near the path, with an steady buzz of flies the home- empty water-gourd and his ward-bound agent was lying long staff lying by his side. A flushed and insensible; the great silence around and above. other, bent over his books, was Perhaps on some quiet night making correct entries of per- the tremor of far-off drums, fectly correct transactions; and sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, fifty feet below the doorstep I faint; a sound weird, appealcould see the still tree-tops of ing, suggestive, and wild-and the grove of death. perhaps with as respectable a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country. Once a white man in an unbuttoned uniform, camping on the path with an armed escort of lank Zanzibaris, very hospitable and festive, not to say drunk. Was looking after the upkeep of the road, he declared. Can't say

"Next day I left that station at last, with a caravan of sixty men, for a two-hundred- mile tramp.

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"No use telling you much about that. Paths, paths, everywhere; a stamped-in network of paths spreading over the empty land, through long grass, through burnt grass, I saw any road or any upthrough thickets, down and keep, unless the body of a up chilly ravines, up and down middle-aged negro, with а stony hills ablaze with heat; bullet hole in the forehead, and a solitude, a solitude, upon which I absolutely nobody, not a hut. The pop- stumbled three miles farther ulation had cleared out a long on, may be considered as a time ago. Well, if a lot of permanent improvement. mysterious niggers armed with had a white companion too, all kinds of fearful weapons not a bad chap, but rather suddenly took to travelling on too fleshy and with the exthe road between Deal and asperating habit of fainting Gravesend, catching the yokels on the hot hillsides, miles right and left to carry heavy away from the least bit of loads for them, I fancy every shade and water. Annoying, farm and cottage thereabouts you know, to hold your own would get empty very soon. coat like a parasol over Only here the dwellings were man's head while he is comgone too. Still I passed ing-to. I couldn't help askthrough several abandoned ing him once what he meant villages. There's something by coming there at all. pathetically childish in the make money, of course. ruins of grass walls. Day do you think?' he said, scornafter day, with the stamp fully. Then he got fever, and and shuffle of sixty pair of had to be carried in a hambare feet behind me, each pair mock slung on a pole. As he under a 60-lb. load. Camp, weighed sixteen stone I had




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no end of rows with the car- volubility and many digresriers. They jibbed, ran away, sions, as soon as I told him sneaked off with their loads who I was, that my steamer in the night-quite a mutiny. was at the bottom of the So, one evening, I made a river. I was thunderstruck. speech in English with ges- What, how, why? Oh, it was tures, not one of which was 'all right.' The manager himlost to the sixty pairs of eyes self' was there. All quite corbefore me, and the next morn- rect. Everybody had behaved ing I started the hammock splendidly! splendidly!'—' you off in front all right. An must,' he said in agitation, 'go hour afterwards I came upon and see the general manager the whole concern wrecked in at once. He is waiting!' a bush-man, hammock, groans, blankets, horrors. The heavy pole had skinned his poor nose. He was very anxious for me to kill somebody, but there wasn't the shadow of a carrier near. I remembered the old doctor, 'It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot.' I felt I was becoming scientifically interesting. However, all that is to no purpose. On the fifteenth day I came in sight of the big river again, and hobbled into the Central Station. It was on a back water surrounded by scrub and forest, with a pretty border of smelly mud on one side, and on the three others enclosed by a crazy fence of rushes. A neglected gap was all the gate it had, and the first glance at the place was enough to let you see the flabby devil was running that show. White men with long staves in their hands appeared languidly from amongst the buildings, strolling up to take a look at me, and then retired out of sight somewhere. One of them, a stout, excitable chap with black moustaches, informed me with great

"I did not see the real significance of that wreck at once. I fancy I see it now, but I am not sure not at all. Certainly the affair was too stupid-when I think of it to be altogether natural. Still... at the moment it presented itself simply as a confounded nuisance. The steamer was sunk. They had started two days before in a sudden hurry up the river with the manager on board, in charge of some volunteer skipper, and before they had been out three hours they tore the bottom out of her on stones, and she sank near the south bank. I asked myself what I was to do there, now my boat was lost. As a matter of fact, I had plenty to do in fishing my command out of the river. I had to set about it the very next day. That, and the repairs when I brought the pieces to the station, took some months.

"My first interview with the manager was curious. He did not ask me to sit down after my twenty mile walk that morning. He was commonplace in complexion, in feature, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual

he could keep the routine going -that's all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause for out there there were no external checks. Once when various tropical diseases had laid low almost every 'agent' in the station, he was heard to say, 'Men who come out here should have no entrails.' He sealed the utterance with that smile of his, as though it had been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping. You fancied you had seen things

blue, were perhaps remarkably talk. He originated nothing, cold, and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe. But even at these times the rest of his person seemed to disclaim the intention. Otherwise there was only an indefinable faint expression of his lips, something stealthy-a smilenot a smile-I remember it, but I can't explain. It was unconscious, this smile was, though just after he had said something it got intensified for an instant. It came at the end of his speeches like a seal applied on the words to make the meaning of the commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable. He was a common trader, from his youth up, employed in these parts-nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness-nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a... a. . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organising, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the station. He had no learning, no intelligence. His position had come to him-why? Perhaps because he was never ill... He had served three terms of three years out there . . . Because triumphant health in the general rout of constitutions is a wait. Had to start without kind of power in itself. When me. The up-river stations had he went home on leave he rioted to be relieved. There had been on a large scale - pompously. so many delays already that he Jack ashore-with a difference did not know who was dead -in externals only. and who was alive, and how could gather from his casual they got on-and so on, and so

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but the seal was on. When annoyed at meal-times by the constant quarrels of the white men about precedence, he orThat dered an immense round table to be made, for which a special · house had to be built. This was the station's mess Where he sat was the first place the rest were nowhere. One felt this to be his unalterable conviction. He was neither civil nor uncivil. He was quiet. He allowed his 'boy'—an overfed young negro from the coast

This one

to treat the white men, under his very eyes, with provoking insolence.


"He began to as he saw me. long on the road.

speak as soon had been very He could not



He paid no attention to my explanations, and, playing with a stick of sealing-wax, repeated several times that the situation was 'very grave, very grave.' There were rumours that a very important station was in jeopardy, and its chief, Mr Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not true. Mr Kurtz was I felt weary and irritable. Hang Kurtz, I thought. interrupted him by saying I had heard of Mr Kurtz on the coast. Ah! So they talk of him down there,' he murmured to himself. Then he began again, assuring me Mr Kurtz was the best agent he had, an exceptional man, of the greatest importance to the Company; therefore I could understand his anxiety. He was, he said, 'very, very uneasy.' Certainly he fidgeted on his chair a good deal, exclaimed, Ah, Mr Kurtz!' broke the stick of sealing-wax and seemed dumbfounded by the accident. Next thing he wanted to know how long it would take to' . . I interrupted him again. Being hungry, you know, and kept on my feet too, I was getting savage. 'How could I tell,' I said. 'I hadn't even seen the wreck yet some months, no doubt.' All this talk seemed to me so futile. Some months,' he said. 'Well, let us say three months before we can make a start. Yes. That ought to do the affair.' I flung out of his hut (he lived all alone in a clay hut with a sort of verandah) muttering to myself my opinion of him. He was a chattering idiot. Afterwards I took it back when it was borne in upon

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"I went to work the next

day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant? They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a fence. The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I've never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic invasion.


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