“He began to speak as soon as he saw me. I had been very long on the road.
He could not wait. Had to start without me. The up-river stations had to be
relieved. There had been so many delays already that he did not know who was
dead and who was alive, and how they got on—and so on, and so on. He paid no
attention to my explanations, and, playing with a stick of sealing-wax,
repeated several times that the situation was ‘very grave, very grave.’
There were rumours that a very important station was in jeopardy, and its
chief, Mr. Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not true. Mr. Kurtz was... I felt
weary and irritable. Hang Kurtz, I thought. I interrupted him by saying I
had heard of Mr. Kurtz on the coast. ‘Ah! So they talk of him down there,’
he murmured to himself. Then he began again, assuring me Mr. Kurtz was the
best agent he had, an exceptional man, of the greatest importance to the
Company; therefore I could understand his anxiety. He was, he said, ‘very,
very uneasy.’ Certainly he fidgeted on his chair a good deal, exclaimed,
‘Ah, Mr. Kurtz!’ broke the stick of sealing-wax and seemed dumfounded by the
accident. Next thing he wanted to know ‘how long it would take to’... I
interrupted him again. Being hungry, you know, and kept on my feet too. I
was getting savage. ‘How can I tell?’ I said. ‘I haven’t even seen the wreck
yet—some months, no doubt.’ All this talk seemed to me so futile. ‘Some
months,’ he said. ‘Well, let us say three months before we can make a start.
Yes. That ought to do the affair.’ I flung out of his hut (he lived all
alone in a clay hut with a sort of verandah) muttering to myself my opinion
of him. He was a chattering idiot. Afterwards I took it back when it was
borne in upon me startlingly with what extreme nicety he had estimated the
time requisite for the ‘affair.’
“He started talking as soon as he saw me. I’d been on the road for a very
long time, but he couldn’t wait. He said that he had to start without me.
The upriver stations had to be re-supplied. He didn’t know who was still
alive and who was dead. He didn’t listen to anything I said. He kept saying
that the situation was ‘very grave, very grave.’ There were rumors that Mr.
Kurtz was sick and his station, the most important one, was in danger. He
hoped it wasn’t true, because Mr. Kurtz was . . . I was tired and irritable.
Who cares about Kurtz, I thought. I told him that I’d heard of Mr. Kurtz on
the coast. ‘Ah! So they talk about him down there,’ he mumbled to himself.
Then he went back to telling me that Mr. Kurtz was the best agent he had, a
great man who was very important to the Company. He said that he was ‘very,
very uneasy.’ He fidgeted a lot and cried out, ‘Ah, Mr. Kurtz!’ He broke the
plastic on his chair, and seemed confused by this. Then he wanted to know
‘how long it would take to—’ I cut him off again. I was hungry and hadn’t
even been allowed to sit down. I was furious. ‘How can I tell?’ I said. ‘I
haven’t even seen the wreck yet. A few months, I’m sure.’ This conversation
seemed so pointless. ‘A few months,’ he said. ‘Well, let’s say three months
before we can go. Yes. That ought to be OK.’ I stormed out muttering about
what an idiot he was. Afterward, I changed my mind when I realized how nice
he’d been about estimating how long it would take.
“I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that
station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the
redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I
saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the
yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and
there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless
pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air,
was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint
of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By
Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life. And outside, the silent
wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as
something great and invincible, like evil or truth, waiting patiently for
the passing away of this fantastic invasion.
“I started working the next day. I tried not to pay attention to what was
happening at the station, which seemed to be the only way I could keep sane.
But I had to look around sometimes, and I saw the white agents just
wandering around the station, never doing anything. I asked myself what the
point of this could be. They wandered around like a bunch of soulless beasts
inside a rotten fence. All they talked about was ivory. They practically
prayed to it. You could smell the stupid greed like a whiff from a corpse.
By God, I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life! And the jungle
surrounding this little spot seemed invincible. It was like evil or truth,
simply waiting for our strange invasion to pass away.