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Heart of Darkness

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“I was not surprised to see somebody sitting aft, on the deck, with his legs dangling over the mud. You see I rather chummed with the few mechanics there were in that station, whom the other pilgrims naturally despised—on account of their imperfect manners, I suppose. This was the foreman—a boiler-maker by trade—a good worker. He was a lank, bony, yellow-faced man, with big intense eyes. His aspect was worried, and his head was as bald as the palm of my hand; but his hair in falling seemed to have stuck to his chin, and had prospered in the new locality, for his beard hung down to his waist. He was a widower with six young children (he had left them in charge of a sister of his to come out there), and the passion of his life was pigeon-flying. He was an enthusiast and a connoisseur. He would rave about pigeons. After work hours he used sometimes to come over from his hut for a talk about his children and his pigeons; at work, when he had to crawl in the mud under the bottom of the steamboat, he would tie up that beard of his in a kind of white serviette he brought for the purpose. It had loops to go over his ears. In the evening he could be seen squatted on the bank rinsing that wrapper in the creek with great care, then spreading it solemnly on a bush to dry. “I was not surprised to see someone sitting on the boat with his legs dangling over the side. I’d started hanging around with the mechanics who worked at the station, even though the agents looked down on them. The man on the boat, a boilermaker by trade, was the head mechanic. He was a good worker. He was a lanky and bony man with a yellow face and big, intense eyes. He always looked worried. His head was as bald as my palm, but he had a beard that hung down to his waist. His wife was dead and he had six young children back home (his sister watched over them). His greatest love in life was pigeon-flying, which he talked about constantly. After work he would come over and talk about his pigeons and his children. At work, when he had to crawl through the mud under the steamboat, he would tie up his beard in loops over his ears using a white cloth. In the evenings he would carefully wash the cloth in the river then spread it over the grass to dry.
“I slapped him on the back and shouted, ‘We shall have rivets!’ He scrambled to his feet exclaiming, ‘No! Rivets!’ as though he couldn’t believe his ears. Then in a low voice, ‘You... eh?’ I don’t know why we behaved like lunatics. I put my finger to the side of my nose and nodded mysteriously. ‘Good for you!’ he cried, snapped his fingers above his head, lifting one foot. I tried a jig. We capered on the iron deck. A frightful clatter came out of that hulk, and the virgin forest on the other bank of the creek sent it back in a thundering roll upon the sleeping station. It must have made some of the pilgrims sit up in their hovels. A dark figure obscured the lighted doorway of the manager’s hut, vanished, then, a second or so after, the doorway itself vanished, too. We stopped, and the silence driven away by the stamping of our feet flowed back again from the recesses of the land. The great wall of vegetation, an exuberant and entangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves, boughs, festoons, motionless in the moonlight, was like a rioting invasion of soundless life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to topple over the creek, to sweep every little man of us out of his little existence. And it moved not. A deadened burst of mighty splashes and snorts reached us from afar, as though an icthyosaurus had been taking a bath of glitter in the great river. ‘After all,’ said the boiler-maker in a reasonable tone, ‘why shouldn’t we get the rivets?’ Why not, indeed! I did not know of any reason why we shouldn’t. ‘They’ll come in three weeks,’ I said confidently. “I slapped him on the back and shouted, ‘We’re getting rivets!’ He stood up and said, ‘No! Rivets!’ like he couldn’t believe his ears. Then he whispered, ‘You did it, huh?’ I don’t know why we were acting like lunatics. I put my finger on the side of my nose and nodded, like I was giving him a secret signal. ‘Good for you!’ he said, and we did a little dance on the deck. It made a big racket, which echoed off the other bank of the river. It must have made some of the men in the station sit up in their beds. The manager came to the door of his hut, then closed it. We stopped dancing, and everything got quiet again. The jungle was like an invasion of silence. The trees and leaves looked like a wave that was about to sweep us all away. But it didn’t move. We heard snorts and splashes from the river, as though a dinosaur was taking a bath. ‘After all,’ said the mechanic, ‘why shouldn’t we get the rivets?’ I didn’t see any reason why not. ‘They’ll come in three weeks,’ I predicted.

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