Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad
No Fear Part 1 Page 7
No Fear Part 1: Page 7

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“There was yet a visit to the doctor. ‘A simple formality,’ assured me the secretary, with an air of taking an immense part in all my sorrows. Accordingly a young chap wearing his hat over the left eyebrow, some clerk I suppose—there must have been clerks in the business, though the house was as still as a house in a city of the dead—came from somewhere up-stairs, and led me forth. He was shabby and careless, with inkstains on the sleeves of his jacket, and his cravat was large and billowy, under a chin shaped like the toe of an old boot. It was a little too early for the doctor, so I proposed a drink, and thereupon he developed a vein of joviality. As we sat over our vermouths he glorified the Company’s business, and by and by I expressed casually my surprise at him not going out there. He became very cool and collected all at once. ‘I am not such a fool as I look, quoth Plato to his disciples,’ he said sententiously, emptied his glass with great resolution, and we rose. “I had to visit the doctor. ‘Just a simple formality,’ the secretary said sympathetically. Some young fellow wearing his hat over the left eyebrow came from somewhere upstairs and took me away. I suppose he was a clerk of some kind: They must have clerks there, even though the house was as quiet as a house in a city of the dead. He was messy, with ink stains on the sleeves of his jacket. He had a large necktie under a chin shaped like the toe of an old boot. We were too early for the doctor, so I suggested that we get a drink, which perked him up a great deal. As we sat over our vermouths, he praised the Company’s business so much that I asked him why he didn’t go out there. He got very serious all at once. ‘I am not such a fool as I look, said Plato to his students,’ he said gravely. He emptied his glass quickly and completely, and we rose.
“The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of something else the while. ‘Good, good for there,’ he mumbled, and then with a certain eagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my head. Rather surprised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like calipers and got the dimensions back and front and every way, taking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man in a threadbare coat like a gaberdine, with his feet in slippers, and I thought him a harmless fool. ‘I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,’ he said. ‘And when they come back, too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see them,’ he remarked; ‘and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.’ He smiled, as if at some quiet joke. ‘So you are going out there. Famous. Interesting, too.’ He gave me a searching glance, and made another note. ‘Ever any madness in your family?’ he asked, in a matter-of-fact tone. I felt very annoyed. ‘Is that question in the interests of science, too?’ ‘It would be,’ he said, without taking notice of my irritation, ‘interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals, on the spot, but...’ ‘Are you an alienist?’ I interrupted. ‘Every doctor should be—a little,’ answered that original, imperturbably. ‘I have a little theory which you messieurs who go out there must help me to prove. This is my share in the advantages my country shall reap from the possession of such a magnificent dependency. The mere wealth I leave to others. Pardon my questions, but you are the first Englishman coming under my observation...’ I hastened to assure him I was not in the least typical. ‘If I were,’ said I, ‘I wouldn’t be talking like this with you.’ ‘What you say is rather profound, and probably erroneous,’ he said, with a laugh. ‘Avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun. Adieu. How do you English say, eh? Good-bye. Ah! Good-bye. Adieu. In the tropics one must before everything keep calm.’... He lifted a warning forefinger.... ‘Du calme, du calme.’ “The old doctor felt my pulse, though he seemed to be thinking about something else the whole time. ‘Good, good for there,’ he mumbled, and then excitedly asked whether I would let him measure my head. Surprised, I said Yes. He brought out some tool and used it to measure the back, the front, and every angle, taking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man in an old coat, with his feet in slippers. I thought he was a harmless fool. ‘I always ask permission, in the interests of science, to measure the skulls of everyone going out there,’ he said. ‘And when they come back, too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see them,’ he remarked, ‘and anyway, the changes take place inside.’ He smiled as though he’d heard a private joke. ‘So you are going out there. Excellent. Interesting, too.’ He gave me another sharp glance and made another note. ‘Ever any madness in your family?’ he asked in a matter-of-fact tone. I got very annoyed. ‘Is that question in the interests of science?’ I asked. ‘It would be,’ he said, without noticing my irritation, ‘interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals on the spot, but . . .’ ‘Are you a psychologist?’ I interrupted. ‘Every doctor should be a bit of one,’ he said coolly. ‘I have a theory that you guys who go out there must help me prove. This is my part of the treasures my country is taking from that place. The mere wealth I leave for others. Pardon my questions, but you are the first Englishman I’ve examined.’ I told him that I wasn’t typical of Englishmen in general. ‘If I were,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t be talking like this with you.’ ‘What you say is profound and probably wrong,’ he said with a laugh. ‘You should avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun. Adieu. How do you English say it—goodbye? Goodbye, then. Adieu. In the tropics one must remember to keep calm more than anything else.’ He pointed his finger at me as a warning. ‘Keep calm. Keep calm.’