Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

  Part 2 Page 5

page Part 2: Page 5

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“Some fifty miles below the Inner Station we came upon a hut of reeds, an inclined and melancholy pole, with the unrecognizable tatters of what had been a flag of some sort flying from it, and a neatly stacked wood-pile. This was unexpected. We came to the bank, and on the stack of firewood found a flat piece of board with some faded pencil-writing on it. When deciphered it said: ‘Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.’ There was a signature, but it was illegible—not Kurtz—a much longer word. ‘Hurry up.’ Where? Up the river? ‘Approach cautiously.’ We had not done so. But the warning could not have been meant for the place where it could be only found after approach. Something was wrong above. But what— and how much? That was the question. We commented adversely upon the imbecility of that telegraphic style. The bush around said nothing, and would not let us look very far, either. A torn curtain of red twill hung in the doorway of the hut, and flapped sadly in our faces. The dwelling was dismantled; but we could see a white man had lived there not very long ago. There remained a rude table—a plank on two posts; a heap of rubbish reposed in a dark corner, and by the door I picked up a book. It had lost its covers, and the pages had been thumbed into a state of extremely dirty softness; but the back had been lovingly stitched afresh with white cotton thread, which looked clean yet. It was an extraordinary find. Its title was, An Inquiry into some Points of Seamanship, by a man Towser, Towson—some such name—Master in his Majesty’s Navy. The matter looked dreary reading enough, with illustrative diagrams and repulsive tables of figures, and the copy was sixty years old. I handled this amazing antiquity with the greatest possible tenderness, lest it should dissolve in my hands. Within, Towson or Towser was inquiring earnestly into the breaking strain of ships’ chains and tackle, and other such matters. Not a very enthralling book; but at the first glance you could see there a singleness of intention, an honest concern for the right way of going to work, which made these humble pages, thought out so many years ago, luminous with another than a professional light. The simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases, made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably real. Such a book being there was wonderful enough; but still more astounding were the notes pencilled in the margin, and plainly referring to the text. I couldn’t believe my eyes! They were in cipher! Yes, it looked like cipher. Fancy a man lugging with him a book of that description into this nowhere and studying it—and making notes—in cipher at that! It was an extravagant mystery. “Fifty miles from the Inner Station we were surprised to see a little hut with a tattered flag in front. We pulled up to the bank to investigate. We found a board resting on a pile of firewood. On it was written ‘Wood for you. Hurry up. Be careful.’ There was a signature, but we couldn’t make it out. It wasn’t Kurtz’s, though. It was too long to be his. ‘Hurry up.’ Where? Up the river? ‘Be careful.’ We weren’t being careful when we pulled up to the station. The warning must have been referring to some other place. Something was wrong up the river. But what? That was the question. We looked around nearby, but the jungle was too thick to see very far. There was a torn red curtain hanging in the doorway of the hut. It was falling apart, but we could see that a white man had lived there recently. There was a table, a pile of trash in the corner, and a book on the floor. It didn’t have any covers and the pages were dirty and worn from being thumbed through, but the binding had been recently redone by a careful hand. It was an incredible thing to find. It was called An Inquiry into Some Points of Seamanship, by a naval officer named Towser or Towson or something like that. It was 60 years old and looked like a boring read, full of tables and charts. I held it carefully, afraid it would fall apart in my hands. It wasn’t a very exciting book, but you could see that it was written by someone very devoted to his work. It was a book with a purpose. Flipping through it made me forget the jungle and the agents and feel like I had come across something real. Amazingly, someone had written notes in code in the margins. Imagine someone lugging a book like this into the jungle and then writing about it in code! It was truly a mystery.
“I had been dimly aware for some time of a worrying noise, and when I lifted my eyes I saw the wood-pile was gone, and the manager, aided by all the pilgrims, was shouting at me from the riverside. I slipped the book into my pocket. I assure you to leave off reading was like tearing myself away from the shelter of an old and solid friendship. “I heard some movement nearby, and I looked up to see that the manager and the agents were back on the boat. They had taken all of the firewood on board. I slipped the book into my pocket. Putting the book away was like leaving an old friend.