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“He blew the candle out suddenly, and we went outside. The moon had risen. Black figures strolled about listlessly, pouring water on the glow, whence proceeded a sound of hissing; steam ascended in the moonlight, the beaten nigger groaned somewhere. ‘What a row the brute makes!’ said the indefatigable man with the moustaches, appearing near us. ‘Serve him right. Transgression—punishment—bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the future. I was just telling the manager...’ He noticed my companion, and became crestfallen all at once. ‘Not in bed yet,’ he said, with a kind of servile heartiness; ‘it’s so natural. Ha! Danger—agitation.’ He vanished. I went on to the riverside, and the other followed me. I heard a scathing murmur at my ear, ‘Heap of muffs—go to.’ The pilgrims could be seen in knots gesticulating, discussing. Several had still their staves in their hands. I verily believe they took these sticks to bed with them. Beyond the fence the forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight, and through that dim stir, through the faint sounds of that lamentable courtyard, the silence of the land went home to one’s very heart—its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of its concealed life. The hurt nigger moaned feebly somewhere near by, and then fetched a deep sigh that made me mend my pace away from there. I felt a hand introducing itself under my arm. ‘My dear sir,’ said the fellow, ‘I don’t want to be misunderstood, and especially by you, who will see Mr. Kurtz long before I can have that pleasure. I wouldn’t like him to get a false idea of my disposition....’ “He blew the candle out and we went outside. The moon was up. Black men wandered listlessly around, pouring water on the ashes of the fire, which hissed and steamed. The man who had been beaten was groaning somewhere. ‘What a racket the brute makes,’ said the man with the black moustache, who had come near us. ‘Serves him right. He does wrong, he gets punished. Bang! Without pity. That’s the only way. This will prevent any more fires. I was just telling the manager . . .’ He noticed the man with the forked beard and looked embarrassed. ‘Not in bed yet, huh? It’s natural. You laugh at danger.’ He walked away. “We walked down to the riverbank. I heard men talking nearby. A voice said, ‘A bunch of idiots—get out.’ The white men were standing in a group nearby, talking and waving their arms. They were holding the sticks they always carried with them. I think they slept with those sticks. On the other side of the fence the forest looked spooky in the moonlight. Despite the noises from the station, the silence of the forest was so great that it cut right through you. So much life was hidden out there. The beaten man moaned somewhere near me. He sighed so deeply that I had to walk away. I felt a hand slide under my arm. ‘My dear sir,’ said the brickmaker, ‘I don’t want you to misunderstand me, especially since you’ll see Mr. Kurtz before I do. I don’t want him to get the wrong idea of me.’
“I let him run on, this papier-mache Mephistopheles, and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe. He, don’t you see, had been planning to be assistant-manager by and by under the present man, and I could see that the coming of that Kurtz had upset them both not a little. He talked precipitately, and I did not try to stop him. I had my shoulders against the wreck of my steamer, hauled up on the slope like a carcass of some big river animal. The smell of mud, of primeval mud, by Jove! was in my nostrils, the high stillness of primeval forest was before my eyes; there were shiny patches on the black creek. The moon had spread over everything a thin layer of silver—over the rank grass, over the mud, upon the wall of matted vegetation standing higher than the wall of a temple, over the great river I could see through a sombre gap glittering, glittering, as it flowed broadly by without a murmur. All this was great, expectant, mute, while the man jabbered about himself. I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn’t talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory coming out from there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too—God knows! Yet somehow it didn’t bring any image with it—no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there. I believed it in the same way one of you might believe there are inhabitants in the planet Mars. I knew once a Scotch sailmaker who was certain, dead sure, there were people in Mars. If you asked him for some idea how they looked and behaved, he would get shy and mutter something about ‘walking on all-fours.’ If you as much as smiled, he would—though a man of sixty—offer to fight you. I would not have gone so far as to fight for Kurtz, but I went for him near enough to a lie. You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world—what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose. Well, I went near enough to it by letting the young fool there believe anything he liked to imagine as to my influence in Europe. I became in an instant as much of a pretence as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims. This simply because I had a notion it somehow would be of help to that Kurtz whom at the time I did not see—you understand. He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams....” “I let him keep talking. He reminded me of a paper doll of the devil—if I poked him, there would be nothing inside but a little dirt. You see, he wanted to be the assistant to the current manager, but now both of them were quite afraid that Kurtz would take over. He talked too fast, but I didn’t try to stop him. I was leaning against part of my steamboat that I’d hauled up on the shore like a dead animal. I could smell the mud everywhere. The mud smelled primitive, like the forest around me. The moon made everything look silver, including the river, which was silently flowing past. Everything was silent except for the brickmaker, who kept jabbering on about his career. I wondered whether the silence of nature was good or evil. What were we little creatures compared to this huge place? Could we handle it, or would it handle us? I felt how unbelievably big the jungle was, and how it didn’t care about us. What was in there? Some ivory and Mr. Kurtz, supposedly. I had heard so much about Mr. Kurtz, but I couldn’t picture him. It was like I’d been told there was an angel or a devil in there. I believed in Mr. Kurtz the same way some people believe in aliens. I once knew a man who was dead certain that there were people living on Mars. If you asked him what they looked like or how they acted, he would get shy and mutter something about ‘walking on all fours.’ If you even hinted that you thought this was silly, he would try to fight you. I wouldn’t have fought about Kurtz, but I did lie for his sake. I hate lies, not because I’m a more honest than everyone else, but because lies are like death to me. Lying makes me feel sick, like I’m biting into something rotten. But I more or less lied by letting the brickmaker believe that I had a lot of influence back in Europe. By lying I became the same as all of those false men at the station. But I lied because I thought it would somehow help Kurtz, even though the man was just a name to me. I couldn’t see the man through the name any more than you can. Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It feels like I’m trying to tell you about a dream. It’s impossible to convey the essence of a dream. There’s no way to express the sensation of strangeness and surprise that a dream causes. . .”