“‘He was a remarkable man,’ I said, unsteadily. Then before the appealing
fixity of her gaze, that seemed to watch for more words on my lips, I went
on, ‘It was impossible not to—’
“‘He was a great man,’ I said. She stared at me like she wanted to hear
more, so I went on, ‘It was impossible not to—’
“‘Love him,’ she finished eagerly, silencing me into an appalled dumbness.
‘How true! how true! But when you think that no one knew him so well as I! I
had all his noble confidence. I knew him best.’
“‘Love him,’ she said quickly. I was so appalled I couldn’t speak. She
went on, ‘How true, how true! But no one knew him as well as I did! I knew
all his secrets. I knew him best.’
“‘You knew him best,’ I repeated. And perhaps she did. But with every word
spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and white,
remained illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief and love.
“‘You knew him best,’ I repeated. Maybe she did. But with every word we
spoke the room got darker and only her forehead remained lit by belief and
“‘You were his friend,’ she went on. ‘His friend,’ she repeated, a little
louder. ‘You must have been, if he had given you this, and sent you to me. I
feel I can speak to you—and oh! I must speak. I want you—you who have heard
his last words—to know I have been worthy of him.... It is not pride....
Yes! I am proud to know I understood him better than any one on earth—he
told me so himself. And since his mother died I have had no one—no
“‘You were his friend,’ she said. ‘You must have been, if he gave you this
and sent you to me. I feel I can speak to you. I have to speak to you. You
heard his last words, so I want you to know that I was worthy of him. I knew
him better than anyone on Earth. He told me so himself. And since his mother
died I have no one—no one—to—to—’
“I listened. The darkness deepened. I was not even sure whether he had
given me the right bundle. I rather suspect he wanted me to take care of
another batch of his papers which, after his death, I saw the manager
examining under the lamp. And the girl talked, easing her pain in the
certitude of my sympathy; she talked as thirsty men drink. I had heard that
her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by her people. He wasn’t rich
enough or something. And indeed I don’t know whether he had not been a
pauper all his life. He had given me some reason to infer that it was his
impatience of comparative poverty that drove him out there.
“I waited in the growing darkness. I wasn’t even sure whether Kurtz had
given me the right bundle of letters. I suspect that he wanted me to take
care of another batch that I saw the manager looking through after Kurtz’s
death. And this girl talked, certain of my sympathy. She talked as thirsty
men drink. She told me that her engagement with Kurtz had upset her family.
He wasn’t rich enough or something. To tell the truth, Kurtz could have been
a beggar for all I knew. He hinted to me once that he left Europe because of
his poverty in comparison with this girl.
“‘... Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?’ she was
saying. ‘He drew men towards him by what was best in them.’ She looked at me
with intensity. ‘It is the gift of the great,’ she went on, and the sound of
her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other sounds, full
of mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had ever heard—the ripple of the
river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of the
crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from afar, the
whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an eternal
darkness. ‘But you have heard him! You know!’ she cried.
“‘Everyone who heard him speak became his friend,’ she was saying. ‘He
drew men towards him by bringing out the best in them. It is the gift of the
great.’ Her voice made me think of all of the other sounds I had heard—the
ripple of the river, the trees swaying in the wind, the whisper of Kurtz’s
voice as he passed from this life into eternal darkness. ‘But you heard him!
You know!’ she cried.
“‘Yes, I know,’ I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing
my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving
illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the
triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from which I
could not even defend myself.
“‘Yes, I know,’ I said. There was despair in my heart, but I had to bow my
head to her unshakable faith in Kurtz. She had an illusion that glowed
brightly enough to light up any darkness.