“Some of the pilgrims behind the stretcher carried his arms—two shot-guns,
a heavy rifle, and a light revolver-carbine—the thunderbolts of that pitiful
Jupiter. The manager bent over him murmuring as he walked beside his head.
They laid him down in one of the little cabins—just a room for a bed place
and a camp-stool or two, you know. We had brought his belated
correspondence, and a lot of torn envelopes and open letters littered his
bed. His hand roamed feebly amongst these papers. I was struck by the fire
of his eyes and the composed languor of his expression. It was not so much
the exhaustion of disease. He did not seem in pain. This shadow looked
satiated and calm, as though for the moment it had had its fill of all the
“Some of the agents walked behind the stretcher carrying his guns: two
shotguns, a heavy rifle, and a revolver. The manager walked next to Kurtz
and was speaking softly to him. Onboard, they laid him down in one of the
little cabins on the deck. We had brought letters for him from our station,
and they were spread across the bed. His hand moved weakly among the papers.
The fire in his eyes and the deliberately relaxed look on his face were
striking. He did not seem to be in pain. He looked calm and almost
“He rustled one of the letters, and looking straight in my face said, ‘I
am glad.’ Somebody had been writing to him about me. These special
recommendations were turning up again. The volume of tone he emitted without
effort, almost without the trouble of moving his lips, amazed me. A voice! a
voice! It was grave, profound, vibrating, while the man did not seem capable
of a whisper. However, he had enough strength in him—factitious no doubt—to
very nearly make an end of us, as you shall hear directly.
“He touched one of the letters, looked at me, and said, ‘I am glad.’
Someone had been writing to him about me, another special recommendation
from Europe. He spoke almost without moving his lips, and the tone and
volume of his voice amazed me. It was deep and serious and strong, though he
didn’t look like he could even bear to whisper. But he had enough strength
left to nearly kill us all, as you’ll soon hear.
“The manager appeared silently in the doorway; I stepped out at once and
he drew the curtain after me. The Russian, eyed curiously by the pilgrims,
was staring at the shore. I followed the direction of his glance.
“The manager stepped into the doorway. I walked out and he pulled the
curtain closed behind me. The agents were watching the Russian, who was
staring at the shore. I turned to see what he was looking at.
“Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance, flitting
indistinctly against the gloomy border of the forest, and near the river two
bronze figures, leaning on tall spears, stood in the sunlight under
fantastic head-dresses of spotted skins, warlike and still in statuesque
repose. And from right to left along the lighted shore moved a wild and
gorgeous apparition of a woman.
“Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance, near the border of
the forest. Two men, looking like stately warriors in their large
headdresses of spotted skins were leaning on spears by the river’s edge. And
a gorgeous woman moved from right to left along the shore.
“She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths,
treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous
ornaments. She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a
helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the
elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass
beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung
about her, glittered and trembled at every step. She must have had the value
of several elephant tusks upon her. She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and
magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate
progress. And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful
land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious
life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the
image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.
“Her clothes were striped and fringed. She walked proudly and slowly, her
jewelry jingling. She held her head high, with her hair done in the shape of
a helmet. She wore brass leggings and brass gloves, had a crimson spot on
her dark cheek, and wore many necklaces made of glass beads and strange
charms. Her jewelry must have been worth several elephant tusks. She was
savage and superb, wild and magnificent. There was something dignified but
also frightening about her slow walk along the shore. That whole sad land
was silent as the wilderness itself seemed to stop and look at her, like it
was seeing its own soul.
“She came abreast of the steamer, stood still, and faced us. Her long
shadow fell to the water’s edge. Her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of
wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling,
half-shaped resolve. She stood looking at us without a stir, and like the
wilderness itself, with an air of brooding over an inscrutable purpose. A
whole minute passed, and then she made a step forward. There was a low
jingle, a glint of yellow metal, a sway of fringed draperies, and she
stopped as if her heart had failed her. The young fellow by my side growled.
The pilgrims murmured at my back. She looked at us all as if her life had
depended upon the unswerving steadiness of her glance. Suddenly she opened
her bared arms and threw them up rigid above her head, as though in an
uncontrollable desire to touch the sky, and at the same time the swift
shadows darted out on the earth, swept around on the river, gathering the
steamer into a shadowy embrace. A formidable silence hung over the
“She came next to the boat and stopped, facing us. Her long shadow stopped
at the edge of the river. Her face looked wildly sorrowful and fearful but
also fierce, like she was struggling with some half-formed thought. She
stood still, looking at us. A whole minute passed and then she took a step
closer. Her jewelry jingled slightly and she stopped, as if her courage gave
out. The man by my side growled and the agents mumbled behind me. She stared
at us as if her life depended on it. Suddenly she threw her arms up over her
head as though she was trying to touch the sky. Shadows fell across the boat
and everything was silent.