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 uneasy 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 overwhelming outbreak of
a pent-up and mysterious frenzy, woke me up in a bewildered wonder. It was
cut short all at once, and the low droning went on with an effect of
audible and soothing silence. I glanced casually into the little cabin. A
light was burning within, but Mr. Kurtz was not there.
"I think I would have raised an outcry if I had believed my eyes. But I
didn't believe them at first—the thing seemed so impossible. The
fact is I was 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 something 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 me. The yells had not awakened him; he snored
very slightly; I left him to his slumbers and leaped ashore. I did not
betray Mr. Kurtz—it was ordered I should never betray him—it
was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious
to deal with this shadow by myself alone—and to this day I don't
know why I was so jealous of sharing with any one the peculiar blackness
of that experience.
"As soon as I got on the bank I saw a trail—a broad trail through
the grass. I remember the exultation with which I said to myself, 'He
can't walk—he is crawling on all-fours—I've got him.' The
grass was wet with dew. I strode rapidly with clenched fists. I fancy I
had some vague notion of falling upon him and giving him a drubbing. I
don't know. I had some imbecile thoughts. The knitting old woman with the
cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most 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 semicircle (I verily believe chuckling to
myself) so as to get in front of that stir, of that motion I had seen—if
indeed I had seen anything. I was circumventing Kurtz as though it had
been a boyish game.
"I came upon him, and, if he had not heard me coming, I would have fallen
over him, too, but he got up in time. He rose, unsteady, long, pale,
indistinct, like a vapour exhaled by the earth, and swayed slightly, misty
and silent before me; while at my back the fires loomed between the trees,
and the murmur of many voices issued from the forest. I had cut him off
cleverly; but when actually confronting him I seemed to come to my senses,
I saw the danger in its right proportion. It was by no means over yet.
Suppose he began to shout? Though he could hardly stand, there was still
plenty of vigour in his voice. 'Go away—hide yourself,' he said, in
that profound tone. It was very awful. I glanced back. We were within
thirty yards from the nearest fire. A black figure stood up, strode on
long black legs, waving long black arms, across the glow. It had horns—antelope
horns, I think—on its head. Some sorcerer, some witch-man, no doubt:
it looked fiendlike enough. 'Do you know what you are doing?' I whispered.
'Perfectly,' he answered, raising his voice for that single word: it
sounded to me far off and yet loud, like a hail through a
speaking-trumpet. 'If he makes a row we are lost,' I thought to myself.
This clearly was not a case for fisticuffs, even apart from the very
natural aversion I had to beat that Shadow—this wandering and
tormented thing. 'You will be lost,' I said—'utterly lost.' One gets
sometimes such a flash of inspiration, you know. I did say the right
thing, though indeed he could not have been more irretrievably lost than
he was at this very moment, when the foundations of our intimacy were
being laid—to endure—to endure—even to the end—even
"'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 affirmed steadily. I did not want to have the throttling of him, you
understand—and indeed it would have been very little use for any
practical purpose. I tried to break the spell—the heavy, mute spell
of the wilderness—that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by
the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of
gratified and 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 behind them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of
words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares. Soul! If anybody
ever struggled with a soul, I am the man. And I wasn't arguing with a
lunatic either. Believe me or not, his intelligence was perfectly clear—concentrated,
it is true, upon himself with horrible intensity, yet clear; and therein
was my only chance—barring, of course, the killing him there and
then, which wasn't so good, on account of unavoidable noise. But his soul
was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and,
by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. I had—for my sins, I
suppose—to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. No
eloquence could have been so withering to one's belief in mankind as his
final burst of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it—I
heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no
restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet 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 a dried gourd; they shouted periodically together strings of
amazing words that resembled no sounds of human language; and the deep
murmurs of the crowd, interrupted suddenly, were like the responses of
some satanic litany.
"We had carried Kurtz into the pilot-house: there was more air there.
Lying on the couch, he stared through the open shutter. There was an eddy
in the mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny
cheeks rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands,
shouted 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 indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a
moment after twitched convulsively. 'Do I not?' he said slowly, gasping,
as if the words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power.
"I pulled the string of the whistle, and I did this because I saw the
pilgrims on deck getting out their rifles with an air of anticipating a
jolly lark. At the sudden screech there was a movement of abject terror
through that wedged mass of bodies. 'Don't! don't you frighten them away,'
cried some one on deck disconsolately. I pulled the string time after
time. They broke and ran, they leaped, they crouched, they swerved, they
dodged the flying terror of the sound. The three red chaps had fallen
flat, face down on the shore, as though they had been shot dead. Only the
barbarous and superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched
tragically her bare arms after us over the sombre and glittering river.
"And then that imbecile crowd down on the deck started their little fun,
and I could see nothing more for smoke.
"The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us
down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and
Kurtz's life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart
into the sea of inexorable time. The manager was very placid, he had no
vital anxieties now, he took us both in with a comprehensive and satisfied
glance: the 'affair' had come off as well as could be wished. I saw the
time approaching when I would be left alone of the party of 'unsound
method.' The pilgrims looked upon me with disfavour. I was, so to speak,
numbered with the dead. It is strange how I accepted this unforeseen
partnership, this choice of nightmares forced upon me in the tenebrous
land invaded by these mean and greedy phantoms.
"Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. It
survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the
barren darkness of his heart. Oh, he struggled! he struggled! The wastes
of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now—images of
wealth and fame revolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of
noble and lofty expression. My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas—these
were the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments.
The shade of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham,
whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mould of primeval earth.
But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had
penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive
emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances
of success and power.
"Sometimes he was contemptibly childish. He desired to have kings meet him
at railway-stations on his return from some ghastly Nowhere, where he
intended to accomplish great things. 'You show them you have in you
something that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to
the recognition of your ability,' he would say. 'Of course you must take
care of the motives—right motives—always.' The long reaches
that were like one and the same reach, monotonous bends that were exactly
alike, slipped past the steamer with their multitude of secular trees
looking patiently after this grimy fragment of 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
photograph—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
fragment 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
"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 sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of
an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every
detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that 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 pilgrims 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 continuous shower of small flies streamed upon
the lamp, upon the cloth, upon our hands and faces. Suddenly the manager's
boy put his insolent black head in the doorway, and said in a tone of
"'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 something in a muddy
"And then they very nearly buried me.
"However, as you see, I did not go to join Kurtz there and then. I did
not. I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my
loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is—that
mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most
you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too
late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death.
It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an
impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without
spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of
victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid
scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that
of your adversary. If such is the form of 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 pronouncement, and I found with
humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason
why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He
said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I 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 darkness. He had summed up—he had
judged. 'The horror!' He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the
expression of some sort of belief; it had candour, it had conviction, it
had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face
of a glimpsed truth—the strange commingling of desire and hate. And
it is not my own extremity I remember best—a vision of greyness
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 perhaps in this is the whole difference;
perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just
compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over
the threshold of the invisible. Perhaps! I like to think my summing-up
would not have been a word of careless contempt. Better his cry—much
better. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable
defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a
victory! That is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even
beyond, when a long time after I heard once more, not his own voice, but
the echo of his magnificent eloquence thrown to me from a soul as
translucently pure as a cliff of crystal.
"No, they did not bury me, though there is a period of time which I
remember mistily, with a shuddering wonder, like a passage through some
inconceivable world that had no hope in it and no desire. I found myself
back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through
the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their
infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their
insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They
were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence,
because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew.
Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals
going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was
offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a
danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten
them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in
their faces so full of stupid importance. I daresay I was not very well at
that time. I tottered about the streets—there were various affairs
to settle—grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable persons. I
admit my behaviour was inexcusable, but then my temperature was seldom
normal in these days. My dear aunt's endeavours to 'nurse up my strength'
seemed altogether beside the mark. It was not my strength that wanted
nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing. I kept the bundle of
papers given me by Kurtz, not knowing exactly what to do with it. His
mother had died lately, watched over, as I was told, by his Intended. A
clean-shaved man, with an official manner and wearing gold-rimmed
spectacles, called on me one day and made inquiries, at first circuitous,
afterwards suavely pressing, about what he was pleased to denominate
certain 'documents.' I was not surprised, because I had had two rows with
the manager on the subject out there. I had refused to give up the
smallest scrap out of that package, and I took the same attitude with the
spectacled man. He became darkly menacing at last, and with much heat
argued that the Company had the right to every bit of information about
its 'territories.' And said he, 'Mr. Kurtz's 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,' etc., etc. I offered him the report on the
'Suppression of Savage Customs,' with the postscriptum torn off. He took
it up eagerly, but ended by sniffing at it with an air of contempt. 'This
is not what we had a right to expect,' he remarked. 'Expect nothing else,'
I said. 'There are only private letters.' He withdrew upon some threat of
legal proceedings, and I saw him no more; but another fellow, calling
himself Kurtz's cousin, appeared two days later, and was anxious to hear
all the details about his dear relative's last moments. Incidentally he
gave me to understand that Kurtz had been essentially a great musician.
'There was the making of an immense success,' said the man, who was an
organist, I believe, with lank grey hair flowing over a greasy
coat-collar. I had no reason to doubt his statement; and to this day I am
unable to say what was Kurtz's profession, whether he ever had any—which
was the greatest of his talents. I had taken him for a painter who wrote
for the papers, or else for a journalist who could paint—but even
the cousin (who took snuff during the interview) could not tell me what he
had been—exactly. He was a universal genius—on that point I
agreed with the old chap, who thereupon blew his nose noisily into a large
cotton handkerchief and withdrew in senile agitation, 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 eyeglass on a broad ribbon, and, becoming expansive,
confessed his opinion that Kurtz really couldn't write a bit—'but
heavens! how that man could talk. He electrified large meetings. He had
faith—don't you see?—he had the faith. He could get himself to
believe anything—anything. He would have been a splendid leader of
an extreme party.' 'What party?' I asked. 'Any party,' answered the other.
'He was an—an—extremist.' Did I not think so? I assented. Did
I know, he asked, with a sudden flash of curiosity, 'what it was that had
induced him to go out there?' 'Yes,' said I, and forthwith handed him the
famous Report for publication, if he thought fit. He glanced through it
hurriedly, mumbling all the time, judged 'it would do,' and took himself
off with this plunder.
"Thus I was left at last with a slim packet of 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, without suspicion, without a thought for
herself. I concluded I would go and give her back her portrait and those
letters myself. Curiosity? Yes; and also some other feeling perhaps. All
that had been Kurtz's had passed out of my hands: his soul, his body, his
station, his plans, his ivory, his career. There remained only his memory
and his Intended—and I wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in
a way—to surrender personally all that remained of him with me to
that oblivion which is the last word of our common fate. I don't defend
myself. I had no clear perception of what it was I really wanted. Perhaps
it was an impulse of unconscious loyalty, or the fulfilment of one of
those ironic necessities that lurk in the facts of human existence. I
don't know. I can't tell. But I went.
"I thought his memory was like the other 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 worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of
the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and
muffled like the beating of a heart—the heart of a conquering
darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and
vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for
the salvation of another soul. And the memory of what I had heard him say
afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back, in the glow of
fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases came back to me,
were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remembered
his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile
desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul.
And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said
one day, 'This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay
for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid
they will try to claim it as theirs though. H'm. It is a difficult case.
What do you think I ought to do—resist? Eh? I want no more than
justice.'... He wanted no more than justice—no more than justice. I
rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I
waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel—stare with
that wide and immense stare embracing, 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 drawing-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 massively in a corner; with dark gleams on
the flat surfaces like a sombre and polished sarcophagus. A high door
opened—closed. I rose.
"She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in
the dusk. She was in mourning. It was more than a year since his death,
more than a year since the news came; she seemed as though she would
remember and mourn forever. She took both my hands in hers and murmured,
'I had heard you were coming.' I noticed she was not very young—I
mean not girlish. She had a mature capacity for 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—I
alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.' But while we were still
shaking hands, such a look of awful desolation came upon her face that I
perceived she was one of those creatures that are not the playthings of
Time. For her he had died only yesterday. And, by Jove! the impression was
so powerful that for me, too, he seemed to have died only yesterday—nay,
this very minute. I saw her and him in the same instant of time—his
death and her sorrow—I saw her sorrow in the very moment of his
death. Do you understand? I saw them together—I heard them together.
She had said, with a deep catch of the breath, 'I have survived' while my
strained ears seemed to hear distinctly, mingled with her tone of
despairing regret, the summing up whisper of his eternal condemnation. I
asked myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart
as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not
fit for a human being to behold. She motioned me to a chair. We sat down.
I laid the packet gently on the little table, and she put her hand over
it.... 'You knew him well,' she murmured, after a moment of mourning
"'Intimacy grows quickly out there,' I said. 'I knew him as well as it is
possible for one man to know another.'
"'And you admired him,' she said. 'It was impossible to know him and not
to admire him. Was it?'
"'He was a remarkable man,' I said, unsteadily. Then before the appealing
fixity of her gaze, that seemed to watch for more words on my lips, I went
on, 'It was impossible not to—'
"'Love him,' she finished eagerly, silencing me into an appalled dumbness.
'How true! how true! But when you think that no one knew him so well as I!
I had all his noble confidence. I knew him best.'
"'You knew him best,' I repeated. And perhaps she did. But with every word
spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and
white, remained illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief and
"'You were his friend,' she went on. 'His friend,' she repeated, a little
louder. 'You must have been, if he had given you this, and sent you to me.
I feel I can speak to you—and oh! I must speak. I want you—you
who have heard his last words—to know I have been worthy of him....
It is not pride.... Yes! I am proud to know I understood him better than
any one on earth—he told me so himself. And since his mother died I
have had no one—no one—to—to—'
"I listened. The darkness deepened. I was not even sure whether he had
given me the right bundle. I rather suspect he wanted me to take care of
another batch of his papers which, after his death, I saw the manager
examining under the lamp. And the girl talked, easing her pain in the
certitude of my sympathy; she talked as thirsty men drink. I had heard
that her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by her people. He
wasn't rich enough or something. And indeed I don't know whether he had
not been a pauper all his life. He had given me some reason to infer that
it was his impatience of comparative poverty that drove him out there.
"'... Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?' she was
saying. 'He drew men towards him by what was best in them.' She looked at
me with intensity. 'It is the gift of the great,' she went on, and the
sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other
sounds, full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had ever heard—the
ripple of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the wind, the
murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from
afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an
eternal darkness. 'But you have heard him! You know!' she cried.
"'Yes, I know,' I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing
my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving
illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the
triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from
which I could not even defend myself.
"'What a loss to me—to us!'—she corrected herself with
beautiful generosity; then added in a murmur, 'To the world.' By the last
gleams of twilight I could see the glitter of her eyes, full of tears—of
tears that would not fall.
"'I have been very happy—very fortunate—very proud,' she went
on. 'Too fortunate. Too happy for a little while. And now I am unhappy for—for
"She stood up; her fair hair seemed to catch all the remaining light in a
glimmer of gold. I rose, too.
"'And of all this,' she went on mournfully, 'of all his promise, and of
all his greatness, of his generous mind, of his noble heart, nothing
remains—nothing but a memory. You and I—'
"'We shall always remember him,' I said hastily.
"'No!' she cried. 'It is impossible that all this should be lost—that
such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing—but sorrow. You
know what vast plans he had. I knew of them, too—I could not perhaps
understand—but others knew of them. Something must remain. His
words, at least, have not died.'
"'His words will remain,' I said.
"'And his example,' she whispered to herself. 'Men looked up to him—his
goodness shone in every act. His example—'
"'True,' I said; 'his example, too. Yes, his example. I forgot that.'
"But I do not. I cannot—I cannot believe—not yet. I cannot
believe that I shall never see him again, that nobody will see him again,
never, never, never.'
"She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them
back and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of the
window. Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this
eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her, too, a tragic and
familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and
bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the
glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness. She said suddenly
very low, 'He died as he lived.'
"'His end,' said I, with dull anger stirring in me, 'was in every way
worthy of his life.'
"'And I was not with him,' she murmured. My anger subsided before a
feeling of infinite pity.
"'Everything that could be done—' I mumbled.
"'Ah, but I believed in him more than any one on earth—more than his
own mother, more than—himself. He needed me! Me! I would have
treasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.'
"I felt like a chill grip on my chest. 'Don't,' I said, in a muffled
"'Forgive me. I—I have mourned so long in silence—in
silence.... You were with him—to the last? I think of his
loneliness. Nobody near to understand him as I would have understood.
Perhaps no one to hear....'
"'To the very end,' I said, shakily. 'I heard his very last words....' I
stopped in a fright.
"'Repeat them,' she murmured in a heart-broken tone. 'I want—I want—something—something—to—to
"I was on the point of crying at her, 'Don't you hear them?' The dusk was
repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that
seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. 'The
horror! The horror!'
"'His last word—to live with,' she insisted. 'Don't you understand I
loved him—I loved him—I loved him!'
"I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.
"'The last word he pronounced was—your name.'
"I heard a light sigh and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by
an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of
unspeakable pain. 'I knew it—I was sure!'... She knew. She was sure.
I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me
that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens
would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for
such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz
that justice which was his due? Hadn't he said he wanted only justice? But
I couldn't. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—too
Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a
meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. "We have lost the first of the
ebb," said the Director suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred
by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the
uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed
to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.