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Heart of Darkness

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“His voice lost itself in the calm of the evening. The long shadows of the forest had slipped downhill while we talked, had gone far beyond the ruined hovel, beyond the symbolic row of stakes. All this was in the gloom, while we down there were yet in the sunshine, and the stretch of the river abreast of the clearing glittered in a still and dazzling splendour, with a murky and overshadowed bend above and below. Not a living soul was seen on the shore. The bushes did not rustle. “His voice died out. The shadows had been growing while we talked and now they covered the row of stakes, though we were still in the sunshine. The river glittered behind us. We couldn’t see a living soul on shore. There was no movement anywhere.
“Suddenly round the corner of the house a group of men appeared, as though they had come up from the ground. They waded waist-deep in the grass, in a compact body, bearing an improvised stretcher in their midst. Instantly, in the emptiness of the landscape, a cry arose whose shrillness pierced the still air like a sharp arrow flying straight to the very heart of the land; and, as if by enchantment, streams of human beings—of naked human beings—with spears in their hands, with bows, with shields, with wild glances and savage movements, were poured into the clearing by the dark-faced and pensive forest. The bushes shook, the grass swayed for a time, and then everything stood still in attentive immobility. “Suddenly a group of men came around the corner of the house. They waded through the high grass, carrying a makeshift stretcher. A shrill cry pierced the air like an arrow shooting into the heart of the land. Streams of naked human beings carrying spears, bows, and shields came pouring into the clearing. The bushes shook and the grass swayed, then everything became still.
“‘Now, if he does not say the right thing to them we are all done for,’ said the Russian at my elbow. The knot of men with the stretcher had stopped, too, halfway to the steamer, as if petrified. I saw the man on the stretcher sit up, lank and with an uplifted arm, above the shoulders of the bearers. ‘Let us hope that the man who can talk so well of love in general will find some particular reason to spare us this time,’ I said. I resented bitterly the absurd danger of our situation, as if to be at the mercy of that atrocious phantom had been a dishonouring necessity. I could not hear a sound, but through my glasses I saw the thin arm extended commandingly, the lower jaw moving, the eyes of that apparition shining darkly far in its bony head that nodded with grotesque jerks. Kurtz—Kurtz—that means short in German—don’t it? Well, the name was as true as everything else in his life—and death. He looked at least seven feet long. His covering had fallen off, and his body emerged from it pitiful and appalling as from a winding-sheet. I could see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones of his arm waving. It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze. I saw him open his mouth wide—it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he had wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him. A deep voice reached me faintly. He must have been shouting. He fell back suddenly. The stretcher shook as the bearers staggered forward again, and almost at the same time I noticed that the crowd of savages was vanishing without any perceptible movement of retreat, as if the forest that had ejected these beings so suddenly had drawn them in again as the breath is drawn in a long aspiration. “‘If he says the wrong thing to them, we’re all done for,’ said the Russian. The group of men carrying the stretched froze in place. The man on the stretcher sat up and held his skinny arm high. ‘Let’s hope that this man who can talk so well about love in general will find some particular reason to spare our lives,’ I said. I was bitter about the absurd danger of our situation. Being at the mercy of that awful ghostly figure of a man was dishonorable. I couldn’t hear anything, but through my binoculars I could see his jaw moving, his arm waving in command, and his eyes shining in his bony head. Kurtz. Doesn’t ‘Kurtz’ mean ‘short’ in German? His name was as true as everything else in his life. He looked at least seven feet long. His blanket had fallen off and his body looked as pitiful and disgusting as a corpse. I could see his ribcage moving and the bones moving in his arm. It looked like a skeleton carved out of ivory was shaking its hand at men made of bronze. He opened his mouth so wide it looked like he wanted to swallow all the men in front of him and the earth and air as well. I heard the faint sound of a deep voice. He was shouting. He fell back into the stretcher. The men carrying him started toward us again. The crowd of savages disappeared back into the forest as though they were the breath of the jungle being sucked in.

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