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Heart of Darkness

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“When the manager, escorted by the pilgrims, all of them armed to the teeth, had gone to the house this chap came on board. ‘I say, I don’t like this. These natives are in the bush,’ I said. He assured me earnestly it was all right. ‘They are simple people,’ he added; ‘well, I am glad you came. It took me all my time to keep them off.’ ‘But you said it was all right,’ I cried. ‘Oh, they meant no harm,’ he said; and as I stared he corrected himself, ‘Not exactly.’ Then vivaciously, ‘My faith, your pilot-house wants a clean-up!’ In the next breath he advised me to keep enough steam on the boiler to blow the whistle in case of any trouble. ‘One good screech will do more for you than all your rifles. They are simple people,’ he repeated. He rattled away at such a rate he quite overwhelmed me. He seemed to be trying to make up for lots of silence, and actually hinted, laughing, that such was the case. ‘Don’t you talk with Mr. Kurtz?’ I said. ‘You don’t talk with that man—you listen to him,’ he exclaimed with severe exaltation. ‘But now—’ He waved his arm, and in the twinkling of an eye was in the uttermost depths of despondency. In a moment he came up again with a jump, possessed himself of both my hands, shook them continuously, while he gabbled: ‘Brother sailor... honour... pleasure... delight... introduce myself... Russian... son of an arch-priest... Government of Tambov... What? Tobacco! English tobacco; the excellent English tobacco! Now, that’s brotherly. Smoke? Where’s a sailor that does not smoke?” “The manager and the agents gathered up their guns and went up toward the building. The clown got on board. ‘I don’t like this. There are natives in the bush,’ I said. He told me that everything was ok. ‘They’re simple people,’ he said. ‘And I’m glad you came. It took up all of my time keeping them away.’ ‘But you said everything’s ok!’ I said. ‘Oh, they don’t mean any harm,’ he said. I stared hard at him, and he corrected himself: ‘Not really, anyway.’ Then he broke into a smile. ‘Boy, your cabin’s a real mess!’ Then he told me to be ready to blow the whistle in case of trouble. ‘One good screech will work better than all your rifles. They’re simple people.’ He rattled on like this, talking so fast that I felt overwhelmed. It was like he was making up for a long period of silence. ‘Don’t you talk with Mr. Kurtz?’ I said. ‘You don’t talk with that man, you listen to him,’ he said severely. ‘But now—’ He waved his arm and looked depressed. A second later he perked back up, grabbing my hands and shaking them, saying, ‘Brother sailor … honor … pleasure … delight … introduce myself … Russian … son of an arch-priest … Government of Tambov … What? Tobacco! English tobacco! That’s brotherly of you! Smoke? What sailor doesn’t smoke?’
“The pipe soothed him, and gradually I made out he had run away from school, had gone to sea in a Russian ship; ran away again; served some time in English ships; was now reconciled with the arch-priest. He made a point of that. ‘But when one is young one must see things, gather experience, ideas; enlarge the mind.’ ‘Here!’ I interrupted. ‘You can never tell! Here I met Mr. Kurtz,’ he said, youthfully solemn and reproachful. I held my tongue after that. It appears he had persuaded a Dutch trading-house on the coast to fit him out with stores and goods, and had started for the interior with a light heart and no more idea of what would happen to him than a baby. He had been wandering about that river for nearly two years alone, cut off from everybody and everything. ‘I am not so young as I look. I am twenty-five,’ he said. ‘At first old Van Shuyten would tell me to go to the devil,’ he narrated with keen enjoyment; ‘but I stuck to him, and talked and talked, till at last he got afraid I would talk the hind-leg off his favourite dog, so he gave me some cheap things and a few guns, and told me he hoped he would never see my face again. Good old Dutchman, Van Shuyten. I’ve sent him one small lot of ivory a year ago, so that he can’t call me a little thief when I get back. I hope he got it. And for the rest I don’t care. I had some wood stacked for you. That was my old house. Did you see?’ “The pipe seemed to calm him down. He told me how he had run away from school, went to sea on a Russian ship, ran away from that, served on some English ships, and then made up with his father, the arch-priest. He emphasized that part. ‘But when you’re young, you have to see the world for yourself and enlarge your mind,’ he said. ‘Here?’ I asked. ‘You can never tell. This is where I met Mr. Kurtz,’ he replied. I held my tongue. Apparently he convinced a Dutch trading company near the coast to give him some goods to sell in the interior. He didn’t have any plan, and had been wandering around the river for two years, cut off from everybody and everything. ‘I’m not as young as I look. I’m 25,’ he said. ‘At first the Dutch traders told me to go to hell, but I kept pestering them, so they gave me some cheap things and a few guns and said they hoped to never see me again. I sent them a little ivory a year ago, so they wouldn’t call me a thief when I get back. I hope they got it. Did you find the wood I left for you down the river? That was my old house.’

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