Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad
No Fear Part 3 Page 15
No Fear Part 3: Page 15

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“The dusk was falling. I had to wait in a lofty drawing-room with three long windows from floor to ceiling that were like three luminous and bedraped columns. The bent gilt legs and backs of the furniture shone in indistinct curves. The tall marble fireplace had a cold and monumental whiteness. A grand piano stood massively in a corner; with dark gleams on the flat surfaces like a sombre and polished sarcophagus. A high door opened—closed. I rose. “I had to wait in a room with high ceilings and three long windows that looked like columns of light as the setting sun shone through them. I could see the bent shapes of the furniture. The marble fireplace was like a cold white monument. There was a grand piano in a corner that looked like a tomb. A high door opened and closed. I stood up.
“She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning. It was more than a year since his death, more than a year since the news came; she seemed as though she would remember and mourn forever. She took both my hands in hers and murmured, ‘I had heard you were coming.’ I noticed she was not very young—I mean not girlish. She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering. The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful. She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, ‘I—I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.’ But while we were still shaking hands, such a look of awful desolation came upon her face that I perceived she was one of those creatures that are not the playthings of Time. For her he had died only yesterday. And, by Jove! the impression was so powerful that for me, too, he seemed to have died only yesterday—nay, this very minute. I saw her and him in the same instant of time—his death and her sorrow—I saw her sorrow in the very moment of his death. Do you understand? I saw them together—I heard them together. She had said, with a deep catch of the breath, ‘I have survived’ while my strained ears seemed to hear distinctly, mingled with her tone of despairing regret, the summing up whisper of his eternal condemnation. I asked myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold. She motioned me to a chair. We sat down. I laid the packet gently on the little table, and she put her hand over it.... ‘You knew him well,’ she murmured, after a moment of mourning silence. “She came towards me, all in black, with a pale face. She was in mourning. It had been more than a year since he died, but she looked as though she would mourn forever. She took my hands in hers and said, ‘I heard you were coming.’ She seemed mature, like someone who knew what devotion, belief, and suffering really meant. The room appeared to grow darker in comparison with her pale face, which her hair surrounded like a halo. Her eyes were confident and trustful. She held herself proudly, as if she was the only one who knew how to give Kurtz the mourning he deserved. But as we were shaking hands a look of awful sadness came over her and I realized that Kurtz’s death was still fresh in her mind. Her look was so powerful that for a moment I felt as if he had died yesterday. It was almost as if her sadness and his death were happening at the same time. I saw them together. I heard them together. She said, ‘I have survived,’ and in that moment I heard Kurtz’s final words, his horrible judgment of the world. I asked myself what I was doing there and why I had come to a place of such cruelty and mystery. We sat down and I handed her the packet of Kurtz’s letters. ‘You knew him well,’ she said.
“‘Intimacy grows quickly out there,’ I said. ‘I knew him as well as it is possible for one man to know another.’ “‘People become close very quickly out there,’ I said. ‘I knew him as well as it is possible for one man to know another.’
“‘And you admired him,’ she said. ‘It was impossible to know him and not to admire him. Was it?’ “‘And you admired him,’ she said. ‘It was impossible to know him and not admire him, wasn’t it?’