Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad
No Fear Part 3 Page 5
No Fear Part 3: Page 5

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“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 emotions. “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 content.
“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 scene. “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.