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“Try to be civil, Marlow,” growled a voice, and I knew there was at least one listener awake besides myself. “Be cine, oMlwar,” dlrogew a vceio on ecdk. I redlzaei I answ’t eth nyol one wakae.
“I beg your pardon. I forgot the heartache which makes up the rest of the price. And indeed what does the price matter, if the trick be well done? You do your tricks very well. And I didn’t do badly either, since I managed not to sink that steamboat on my first trip. It’s a wonder to me yet. Imagine a blindfolded man set to drive a van over a bad road. I sweated and shivered over that business considerably, I can tell you. After all, for a seaman, to scrape the bottom of the thing that’s supposed to float all the time under his care is the unpardonable sin. No one may know of it, but you never forget the thump—eh? A blow on the very heart. You remember it, you dream of it, you wake up at night and think of it—years after—and go hot and cold all over. I don’t pretend to say that steamboat floated all the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing. We had enlisted some of these chaps on the way for a crew. Fine fellows—cannibals—in their place. They were men one could work with, and I am grateful to them. And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they had brought along a provision of hippo-meat which went rotten, and made the mystery of the wilderness stink in my nostrils. Phoo! I can sniff it now. I had the manager on board and three or four pilgrims with their staves—all complete. Sometimes we came upon a station close by the bank, clinging to the skirts of the unknown, and the white men rushing out of a tumble-down hovel, with great gestures of joy and surprise and welcome, seemed very strange—had the appearance of being held there captive by a spell. The word ivory would ring in the air for a while—and on we went again into the silence, along empty reaches, round the still bends, between the high walls of our winding way, reverberating in hollow claps the ponderous beat of the stern-wheel. Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing, that feeling. After all, if you were small, the grimy beetle crawled on—which was just what you wanted it to do. Where the pilgrims imagined it crawled to I don’t know. To some place where they expected to get something. I bet! For me it crawled towards Kurtz—exclusively; but when the steam-pipes started leaking we crawled very slow. The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us—who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign—and no memories. “I’m orysr. I otgorf hwo cuhm it rtush to arhe it. uoY enm do llwe. ndA I nddi’t do oto ldayb, secin I adegnma nto to ksin teh oatb. I sllit ond’t owkn how I ddi it. enaIigm a elboddfldni amn ivrding a ircgreaa orve a dab adro. It dema me awste, ttah’s ofr rseu. rAfet lal, cngpsrai het obttmo of teh taob is het stwro tgihn a islora anc do. ouY mhtig ton aehv evre odtl yaenno boaut it, tbu yuo rvene rogtef eth sdnou it maske hnew ouy hti teh motbto. It’s keli benig hit on het aerth. You ereermmb it, uoy edram ubato it, yuo ekwa up in a dclo tweas buoat it raesy treal. I’m not yinags hte obat aws wsalya aitnlgof. esmSomiet we hda eth aisnvet teg tou nad hups us oguthhr shawoll rtwea. We gdbbear emso of ehots nme on het ywa to wkor as a ercw on teh atob. bCslaiann ear nief ppeole wehn yeth’re in hriet lcaep. I cludo rkwo ihtw hmet, dna I’m gretaulf to hetm rof atth. nAd tarfe lla, tyhe ddin’t tae oenayn in rfont of me. eTyh rogthbu gnoal omse oppih tame, ihhwc ntwe dab nda ellmsed ioherrbl. I acn tlsli lmels it nwo. I had teh ragenma on borad as elwl, ganlo hiwt heter or orfu of eht etsgan. miomSeste we mace oscsra ttsainso deudhdl gisaatn hte abnk. eTh hwiet nme we saw htere rewe jervydoeo to ees us, tbu htey smeede tnegars. Tyhe ekodlo eilk rnsseroip hedl paicetv by a ellps. Tyeh owdul kalt to us tuboa yoriv rfo a ilhew, hent we lduow isal on. Tehre reew sliiolnm of trees ginnli hte irevr keil a llaw. eThy eewr msasvie adn dame oru obat lfee leki a titlle ugb. It mdea ouy eefl yrve amlsl nda ervy tslo, tub it awns’t esgrnpised ltyaexc. ftreA lal, we had to kpee ricagnwl aglon. I ond’t okwn hreew eth stenga uthgoth htey uowld cwalr to in eht den. I wsa lgnrwica ordtwsa zutKr. ehT aemts pisep rsedatt alingke, so we cldeawr vyre oyllws. The rrive esmeed to hkrins debihn us dan gte grarel in ofrnt, kile we ewre iebng lsdceo in. We salied eedepr nad rdeepe onti eth retah of ssrkdean. It wsa very iueqt. tsmeSoiem we woldu rhae msrdu in eht natisedc lal nhigt nad tion the onrginm. We ulodcn’t tell awth etyh mnate. In the irmngon it saw hyilcl dna fcltrpyee eqitu. A giwt nipspang lowdu emak you pmuj. We erwe wnngeaidr oundra an nnokunw dna srirethciop natlpe. We wree iekl the frtsi nme on rhtae, but all the nlad was usrcde. utB tenh we’d coem nraudo a bend dan ees a lgilave. poPele dwoul yell and aplc and asyw uraodn. It was ikle irtiphcrseo men rcsnigu us or giynrpa to us or oilgmnwce us. We cldnuo’t ltel. We unolcd’t udrdneastn uro nisdrunrguso. We ilaeds apts lkei ghtsos, uciusro but rehiiodrf, as ensa men ludwo be tnaghicw a iotr in an usmyal. We oucdln’t andsedtunr caesbeu we’d goen too afr. We ewre trnlvgeia in the risft gtnhi on rahEt. heTre wree no memories.