Original Text

Modern Text

“I had no idea why he wanted to be sociable, but as we chatted in there it suddenly occurred to me the fellow was trying to get at something—in fact, pumping me. He alluded constantly to Europe, to the people I was supposed to know there— putting leading questions as to my acquaintances in the sepulchral city, and so on. His little eyes glittered like mica discs—with curiosity—though he tried to keep up a bit of superciliousness. At first I was astonished, but very soon I became awfully curious to see what he would find out from me. I couldn’t possibly imagine what I had in me to make it worth his while. It was very pretty to see how he baffled himself, for in truth my body was full only of chills, and my head had nothing in it but that wretched steamboat business. It was evident he took me for a perfectly shameless prevaricator. At last he got angry, and, to conceal a movement of furious annoyance, he yawned. I rose. Then I noticed a small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was sombre—almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister. “I didn’t know at first why the agent with the forked beard was being so friendly to me. Then I realized that he was pumping me for information. He kept dropping the names of influential people in Europe that he thought I knew. His eyes twinkled with curiosity, though he tried to act casual about it. I was surprised at first, but then I started to wonder what information I could possibly have that would be useful to him. It was funny to see how worked up he got. The only information I had was about my steamboat parts, but he didn’t believe me. It was clear that he thought I was trying to hide something. He began to get angry, but tried to cover it up by yawning. I stood up to leave and noticed a small painting on the wall of a blindfolded woman carrying a torch. The background was almost black. She looked grand but her face was sinister.
“It arrested me, and he stood by civilly, holding an empty half-pint champagne bottle (medical comforts) with the candle stuck in it. To my question he said Mr. Kurtz had painted this—in this very station more than a year ago—while waiting for means to go to his trading post. ‘Tell me, pray,’ said I, ‘who is this Mr. Kurtz?’ “I stopped and stared at it. He stood next to me with his candle in an empty champagne bottle (used for medical purposes). He told me that Mr. Kurtz had painted it when he was stationed here more than a year ago. ‘Tell me,’ I said, ‘about Mr. Kurtz.’
“‘The chief of the Inner Station,’ he answered in a short tone, looking away. ‘Much obliged,’ I said, laughing. ‘And you are the brickmaker of the Central Station. Every one knows that.’ He was silent for a while. ‘He is a prodigy,’ he said at last. ‘He is an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else. We want,’ he began to declaim suddenly, ‘for the guidance of the cause intrusted to us by Europe, so to speak, higher intelligence, wide sympathies, a singleness of purpose.’ ‘Who says that?’ I asked. ‘Lots of them,’ he replied. ‘Some even write that; and so he comes here, a special being, as you ought to know.’ ‘Why ought I to know?’ I interrupted, really surprised. He paid no attention. ‘Yes. Today he is chief of the best station, next year he will be assistant-manager, two years more and... but I dare-say you know what he will be in two years’ time. You are of the new gang—the gang of virtue. The same people who sent him specially also recommended you. Oh, don’t say no. I’ve my own eyes to trust.’ Light dawned upon me. My dear aunt’s influential acquaintances were producing an unexpected effect upon that young man. I nearly burst into a laugh. ‘Do you read the Company’s confidential correspondence?’ I asked. He hadn’t a word to say. It was great fun. ‘When Mr. Kurtz,’ I continued, severely, ‘is General Manager, you won’t have the opportunity.’ “‘He’s the chief of the Inner Station,’ he replied quickly, looking away. ‘Thanks a lot,’ I said, laughing. ‘And you are the brickmaker of the Central Station. Everyone knows that.’ He was silent for a while. ‘He is incredible,’ he said at last. ‘He brings pity and science and progress to this place. Who knows what else.’ Suddenly he began to speak louder and more passionately. ‘We need someone to lead us in this great cause, someone with a great mind, devoted to his purpose.’ ‘Says who?’ I asked. ‘Lots of people,’ he said. ‘Some even write about it. So he comes to us, a special being, as you should know.’ ‘Why should I know that?’ I interrupted. He didn’t pay any attention to what I said. ‘Yes. Today he is chief of the best station, next year he will be assistant manager, and in two years . . . but I’m sure you know what he will be in two years. You are part of the same new gang, the gang of goodness. The same people who sent him sent you. Don’t try to deny it. I can see it with my own eyes.’ It finally dawned on me what was happening. He had heard of the influential people that my aunt knew and was trying to get on my good side. ‘Do you read the Company’s private mail?’ I asked. He didn’t have a response for that. It was fun. I acted like I was angry. ‘When Mr. Kurtz is General Manager, you won’t have the chance to read any mail at all.’