“When next day we left at noon, the crowd, of whose presence behind the
curtain of trees I had been acutely conscious all the time, flowed out of
the woods again, filled the clearing, covered the slope with a mass of
naked, breathing, quivering, bronze bodies. I steamed up a bit, then swung
down stream, and two thousand eyes followed the evolutions of the splashing,
thumping, fierce river-demon beating the water with its terrible tail and
breathing black smoke into the air. In front of the first rank, along the
river, three men, plastered with bright red earth from head to foot,
strutted to and fro restlessly. When we came abreast again, they faced the
river, stamped their feet, nodded their horned heads, swayed their scarlet
bodies; they shook towards the fierce river-demon a bunch of black feathers,
a mangy skin with a pendent tail—something that looked a dried gourd; they
shouted periodically together strings of amazing words that resembled no
sounds of human language; and the deep murmurs of the crowd, interrupted
suddenly, were like the responses of some satanic litany.
“When we left the next day at noon, the crowd of natives came out of the
woods again. As I turned the boat downstream, 2,000 eyes followed it,
watching the river-demon beat the water with its tail and breathe black
smoke into the air. Three men wearing horns and covered in bright red mud
paced back and forth along the bank. As we passed, they shook black
feathers, a mangy skin, and a dried gourd, while making strange noises that
sounded nothing like human language. The rest of the crowd murmured along,
like participants in some Satanic mass.
“We had carried Kurtz into the pilot-house: there was more air there.
Lying on the couch, he stared through the open shutter. There was an eddy in
the mass of human bodies, and the woman with helmeted head and tawny cheeks
rushed out to the very brink of the stream. She put out her hands, shouted
something, and all that wild mob took up the shout in a roaring chorus of
articulated, rapid, breathless utterance.
“Kurtz was lying on the cot and staring through the open shutter. The
woman with all of the jewelry ran out to the river’s edge. She held out her
hands and shouted something, and the whole mob started shouting
“‘Do you understand this?’ I asked.
“‘Do you understand them?’ I asked Kurtz.
“He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled
expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a
smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a moment
after twitched convulsively. ‘Do I not?’ he said slowly, gasping, as if the
words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power.
“He stared out the window with a mix of hatred and longing. He smiled
strangely and his lips twitched. ‘Do I not?’ he said slowly, gasping as if
the words were being torn out of him by some magical force.
“I pulled the string of the whistle, and I did this because I saw the
pilgrims on deck getting out their rifles with an air of anticipating a
jolly lark. At the sudden screech there was a movement of abject terror
through that wedged mass of bodies. ‘Don’t! don’t you frighten them away,’
cried some one on deck disconsolately. I pulled the string time after time.
They broke and ran, they leaped, they crouched, they swerved, they dodged
the flying terror of the sound. The three red chaps had fallen flat, face
down on the shore, as though they had been shot dead. Only the barbarous and
superb woman did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare
arms after us over the sombre and glittering river.
“I saw the agents picking up their rifles, so I blew the boat’s whistle,
which terrified the natives gathered on shore. ‘Don’t scare them away,’ said
one of the agents. I blew the whistle over and over, sending them running
into the forest. The three men covered in red mud fell to the ground. Only
the woman didn’t flinch. She stretched her bare arms toward us.
“And then that imbecile crowd down on the deck started their little fun,
and I could see nothing more for smoke.
“And then the idiots on deck started firing and I couldn’t see anything
through the smoke of their rifles.
“The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us
down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and
Kurtz’s life was running swiftly, too, ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into
the sea of inexorable time. The manager was very placid, he had no vital
anxieties now, he took us both in with a comprehensive and satisfied glance:
the ‘affair’ had come off as well as could be wished. I saw the time
approaching when I would be left alone of the party of ‘unsound method.’ The
pilgrims looked upon me with disfavour. I was, so to speak, numbered with
the dead. It is strange how I accepted this unforeseen partnership, this
choice of nightmares forced upon me in the tenebrous land invaded by these
mean and greedy phantoms.
“The brown current of the river carried us quickly out of the heart of
darkness. We sailed back the way we had come at twice the speed. Kurtz’s
life was running swiftly too, flowing out of his heart and into the sea of
time. The manager was very satisfied with this result. I saw that I would
soon be an outcast on my own boat. It’s strange how I accepted this
partnership with Kurtz, how I chose this nightmare out of all the others