Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad
No Fear Part 3 Page 14
No Fear Part 3: Page 14

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“Thus I was left at last with a slim packet of letters and the girl’s portrait. She struck me as beautiful—I mean she had a beautiful expression. I know that the sunlight can be made to lie, too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features. She seemed ready to listen without mental reservation, without suspicion, without a thought for herself. I concluded I would go and give her back her portrait and those letters myself. Curiosity? Yes; and also some other feeling perhaps. All that had been Kurtz’s had passed out of my hands: his soul, his body, his station, his plans, his ivory, his career. There remained only his memory and his Intended—and I wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in a way—to surrender personally all that remained of him with me to that oblivion which is the last word of our common fate. I don’t defend myself. I had no clear perception of what it was I really wanted. Perhaps it was an impulse of unconscious loyalty, or the fulfilment of one of those ironic necessities that lurk in the facts of human existence. I don’t know. I can’t tell. But I went. “I was left with a slim packet of letters and the girl’s portrait. She had a beautiful expression. There was a truthfulness and innocence in her face that couldn’t be faked by a painter. I decided I would go and give her the portrait and the letters. I was curious, of course, but there was something else. All that was left of Kurtz was his memory and his ‘Intended,’ and I wanted to give those things up. I wanted to get rid of everything tied to him. That might not have made sense. Maybe I was acting out of loyalty. I don’t know. I can’t tell. But I went.
“I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man’s life—a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before the high and ponderous door, between the tall houses of a street as still and decorous as a well-kept alley in a cemetery, I had a vision of him on the stretcher, opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the earth with all its mankind. He lived then before me; he lived as much as he had ever lived—a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence. The vision seemed to enter the house with me—the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a heart—the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul. And the memory of what I had heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul. And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said one day, ‘This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try to claim it as theirs though. H’m. It is a difficult case. What do you think I ought to do—resist? Eh? I want no more than justice.’... He wanted no more than justice—no more than justice. I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel—stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, “The horror! The horror!” “I thought his memory would slowly fade away, like other memories of dead people that a man meets in his life. But as I stood outside the tall door of her house, I felt as though he was lying before me, opening his mouth to swallow all of mankind. He was as vivid in death as he was in life. The vision I had of him entered the house with me. I saw him carried on the stretcher in front of the crowd of wild natives who worshipped him. I saw the dark forests and the murky bends of the river, and I heard the beats of the drum like the beating heart of darkness conquering everything. The wilderness won. And the memory of what I had heard him say when we were out in the woods together and those men with horns were pacing in front of the fire—I heard it again. It was so simple and so terrifying. I remember his threats, his vile desires, and the anguish of his soul. And I remembered how later, when we were on the boat, he said casually, ‘This ivory is mine. The Company didn’t pay for it. I collected it myself at great personal risk. What do you think I should do? Fight them? All I want is justice. . . . ’ All he wanted was justice, he said. I rang the bell on a mahogany door on the first floor. While I stood there I thought I could see him staring at me from the glass in the door. He was staring with that wide stare that saw everything, that took in the universe and hated it. I heard his whispered cry, ‘The horror! The horror!’