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“Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone. “There were two more dying men nearby. One sat with his chin on his knees, staring at nothing. The other man was resting his head like he was worn out. All around them were the bodies of other workers who had collapsed. It looked like a massacre or a plague. I was horrified. One of the men crawled on all fours down to the river to drink. He lapped the water from his hand, then sat up and slumped over in the sunlight.
“I didn’t want any more loitering in the shade, and I made haste towards the station. When near the buildings I met a white man, in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing, and had a penholder behind his ear. “I couldn’t take it anymore so I hurried to the station office. Near the buildings, I ran into a white man who was so well dressed that I thought I was dreaming. His clothes were clean and white and his boots were shined. He wasn’t wearing a hat and his hair was slicked down. He carried an umbrella to protect himself from the sun. He had a pen behind his ear. I was amazed.
“I shook hands with this miracle, and I learned he was the Company’s chief accountant, and that all the book-keeping was done at this station. He had come out for a moment, he said, ‘to get a breath of fresh air. The expression sounded wonderfully odd, with its suggestion of sedentary desk-life. I wouldn’t have mentioned the fellow to you at all, only it was from his lips that I first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character. He had been out nearly three years; and, later, I could not help asking him how he managed to sport such linen. He had just the faintest blush, and said modestly, ‘I’ve been teaching one of the native women about the station. It was difficult. She had a distaste for the work.’ Thus this man had verily accomplished something. And he was devoted to his books, which were in apple-pie order. “We shook hands. He was the Company’s chief accountant. He said that he had stepped outside ‘to get a breath of fresh air.’ That was a weird thing for someone in the jungle to say, like he was an ordinary office-worker. I wouldn’t mention him except he was the one who first told me about the man who looms over all of my memories. Also, I respected the man. Yes, I respected his sharp clothes and his neat hair. He looked like a mannequin, but at least he managed to take care of himself in that awful place. That takes backbone. His fancy clothes were a sign of his character. He’d been out here for three years and I couldn’t help asking him how he kept his clothes so nice. He blushed and said, ‘I taught one of the native women to clean them. It was hard. She didn’t like doing it.’ This was quite an accomplishment. Also, he kept the Company’s books in very good order.
“Everything else in the station was in a muddle—heads, things, buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire set into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory. “Everything else at the Company station was a mess. Strings of dusty black men came and went. Cheap cotton and beads and wire went into the jungle and ivory came back out.
“I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity. I lived in a hut in the yard, but to be out of the chaos I would sometimes get into the accountant’s office. It was built of horizontal planks, and so badly put together that, as he bent over his high desk, he was barred from neck to heels with narrow strips of sunlight. There was no need to open the big shutter to see. It was hot there, too; big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting, but stabbed. I sat generally on the floor, while, of faultless appearance (and even slightly scented), perching on a high stool, he wrote, he wrote. Sometimes he stood up for exercise. When a truckle-bed with a sick man (some invalid agent from upcountry) was put in there, he exhibited a gentle annoyance. ‘The groans of this sick person,’ he said, ‘distract my attention. And without that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.’ “I had to stay there for ten days, which felt like an eternity. I lived in a hut in the yard, but spent a lot of time in the accountant’s office so that I could be away from the chaos. His office was so poorly built that sunlight came through the cracks in the walls. The cracks were so big that you didn’t need the windows to see outside. It was hot and full of flies. I usually sat on the floor while he sat on a stool in his clean clothes and wrote. Sometimes he stood up to stretch his legs. The accountant became mildly annoyed any time a sick agent from somewhere in the jungle was brought to the station and put on a cot in his office. ‘The groans of this sick person are distracting,’ he said. ‘It’s very hard to keep from making mistakes in my books in this climate.’