“I looked at him, lost in astonishment. There he was before me, in motley,
as though he had absconded from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic, fabulous.
His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering.
He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he had existed, how he
had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to remain—why he did not
instantly disappear. ‘I went a little farther,’ he said, ‘then still a
little farther—till I had gone so far that I don’t know how I’ll ever get
back. Never mind. Plenty time. I can manage. You take Kurtz away
quick—quick—I tell you.’ The glamour of youth enveloped his parti-coloured
rags, his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his
futile wanderings. For months—for years—his life hadn’t been worth a day’s
purchase; and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all
appearances indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his
unreflecting audacity. I was seduced into something like admiration—like
envy. Glamour urged him on, glamour kept him unscathed. He surely wanted
nothing from the wilderness but space to breathe in and to push on through.
His need was to exist, and to move onwards at the greatest possible risk,
and with a maximum of privation. If the absolutely pure, uncalculating,
unpractical spirit of adventure had ever ruled a human being, it ruled this
bepatched youth. I almost envied him the possession of this modest and clear
flame. It seemed to have consumed all thought of self so completely, that
even while he was talking to you, you forgot that it was he—the man before
your eyes—who had gone through these things. I did not envy him his devotion
to Kurtz, though. He had not meditated over it. It came to him, and he
accepted it with a sort of eager fatalism. I must say that to me it appeared
about the most dangerous thing in every way he had come upon so far.
“I stared at him, stunned. He looked like a runaway from the circus. His
existence was impossible to explain. I couldn’t believe that he had made it
so far, that he was still here. ‘I went a little farther into the jungle,’
he said. ‘Then even farther, till I had gone so far that I don’t know how
I’ll ever get back. Never mind. I can manage. Take Kurtz away to get
help—quickly.’ He still had his youthful liveliness despite his mismatched
clothes and ragged, lonely life. For months—for years—his life had been
worthless, but there he was, so thoughtlessly and eagerly alive that he
seemed indestructible. I had to admire the man, even envy him. Excitement
urged him on, excitement kept him safe. He wanted nothing from the
wilderness but space to breathe. His only need was to exist and to move
onward at the greatest possible risk and with a maximum of hardship. If
there was ever a person ruled by an absolutely pure spirit of adventure, it
was this ragged youth. I was almost jealous of his passion. It was so
intense that even while he was talking to you, you forgot that he really was
the person who had gone through these things. I did not envy his devotion to
Kurtz, though. He hadn’t thought it through. Rather, he accepted it like
fate. I thought his devotion to Kurtz was far and away the most dangerous
thing he had come upon so far.
“They had come together unavoidably, like two ships becalmed near each
other, and lay rubbing sides at last. I suppose Kurtz wanted an audience,
because on a certain occasion, when encamped in the forest, they had talked
all night, or more probably Kurtz had talked. ‘We talked of everything,’ he
said, quite transported at the recollection. ‘I forgot there was such a
thing as sleep. The night did not seem to last an hour. Everything!
Everything!... Of love, too.’ ‘Ah, he talked to you of love!’ I said, much
amused. ‘It isn’t what you think,’ he cried, almost passionately. ‘It was in
general. He made me see things—things.’
“They drifted together like two ships, and they touched at last. I suppose
Kurtz wanted an audience, because once they were alone together in the
forest, they had talked all night. Rather, it sounded like Kurtz talked and
the Russian listened. ‘We talked about everything,’ he said, losing himself
in the memory. ‘I forgot about sleep. The night went by so fast. Everything!
Everything! . . . Of love, too.’ ‘Ah, he talked to you about love!’ I said,
laughing. ‘It isn’t what you think,’ he cried. ‘It was in general. He made
me see things—things.’
“He threw his arms up. We were on deck at the time, and the headman of my
wood-cutters, lounging near by, turned upon him his heavy and glittering
eyes. I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I assure you that never,
never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this
blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human
thought, so pitiless to human weakness. ‘And, ever since, you have been with
him, of course?’ I said.
“He threw his arms up. We were on deck at the time, and one my
crewmembers, lounging near by, looked at him with heavy and glittering eyes.
I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I swear that the land, the river,
the jungle, and even the sky had never looked so hopeless and so dark.’ And
you’ve been with him ever since?’ I said.