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“I had turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr. Kurtz, who, I was ready to admit, was as good as buried. And for a moment it seemed to me as if I also were buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night.... The Russian tapped me on the shoulder. I heard him mumbling and stammering something about ‘brother seaman—couldn’t conceal—knowledge of matters that would affect Mr. Kurtz’s reputation.’ I waited. For him evidently Mr. Kurtz was not in his grave; I suspect that for him Mr. Kurtz was one of the immortals. ‘Well!’ said I at last, ‘speak out. As it happens, I am Mr. Kurtz’s friend—in a way.’ “Kurtz was as good as buried. And for a moment I felt buried too, in a grave of horrors and secrets. I felt a heavy weight on my chest, the weight of corruption and darkness. The Russian tapped me on the shoulder. He mumbled something like, ‘Brother seaman—couldn’t conceal—knowledge of matters that would affect Mr. Kurtz’s reputation.’ I waited. In his eyes, Kurtz was immortal, not one step from the grave. ‘Well!’ I said at last. ‘Say something. I’m Mr. Kurtz’s friend, in a way.’
“He stated with a good deal of formality that had we not been ‘of the same profession,’ he would have kept the matter to himself without regard to consequences. ‘He suspected there was an active ill-will towards him on the part of these white men that—’ ‘You are right,’ I said, remembering a certain conversation I had overheard. ‘The manager thinks you ought to be hanged.’ He showed a concern at this intelligence which amused me at first. ‘I had better get out of the way quietly,’ he said earnestly. ‘I can do no more for Kurtz now, and they would soon find some excuse. What’s to stop them? There’s a military post three hundred miles from here.’ ‘Well, upon my word,’ said I, ‘perhaps you had better go if you have any friends amongst the savages near by.’ ‘Plenty,’ he said. ‘They are simple people—and I want nothing, you know.’ He stood biting his lip, then: ‘I don’t want any harm to happen to these whites here, but of course I was thinking of Mr. Kurtz’s reputation—but you are a brother seaman and—’ ‘All right,’ said I, after a time. ‘Mr. Kurtz’s reputation is safe with me.’ I did not know how truly I spoke. “He spoke very formally, saying that he would have kept the matter to himself but we are ‘of the same profession,’ so he could tell me. He was worried that the agents were out to get him. ‘You’re right,’ I said, remembering the conversation I had overheard. ‘The manager thinks you should be hanged.’ ‘I better get away quickly,’ he said. ‘I can’t do anything for Kurtz now and there’s nothing to stop them from killing me. There’s a military post 300 miles from here.’ ‘Then you should go, if you have any friends among the natives who could help you.’ ‘Plenty. They are simple people and I don’t want to take anything from them.’ He stood biting his lip, then continued. ‘I don’t want any harm to happen to these whites here, but I have to think of Mr. Kurtz’s reputation, and since you’re a brother seaman—’ ‘All right,’ I said. ‘Mr. Kurtz’s reputation is safe with me.’ I didn’t realize how true my statement was.
“He informed me, lowering his voice, that it was Kurtz who had ordered the attack to be made on the steamer. ‘He hated sometimes the idea of being taken away—and then again.... But I don’t understand these matters. I am a simple man. He thought it would scare you away—that you would give it up, thinking him dead. I could not stop him. Oh, I had an awful time of it this last month.’ ‘Very well,’ I said. ‘He is all right now.’ ‘Ye-e-es,’ he muttered, not very convinced apparently. ‘Thanks,’ said I; ‘I shall keep my eyes open.’ ‘But quiet-eh?’ he urged anxiously. ‘It would be awful for his reputation if anybody here—’ I promised a complete discretion with great gravity. ‘I have a canoe and three black fellows waiting not very far. I am off. Could you give me a few Martini-Henry cartridges?’ I could, and did, with proper secrecy. He helped himself, with a wink at me, to a handful of my tobacco. ‘Between sailors—you know—good English tobacco.’ At the door of the pilot-house he turned round—‘I say, haven’t you a pair of shoes you could spare?’ He raised one leg. ‘Look.’ The soles were tied with knotted strings sandalwise under his bare feet. I rooted out an old pair, at which he looked with admiration before tucking it under his left arm. One of his pockets (bright red) was bulging with cartridges, from the other (dark blue) peeped ‘Towson’s Inquiry,’ etc., etc. He seemed to think himself excellently well equipped for a renewed encounter with the wilderness. ‘Ah! I’ll never, never meet such a man again. You ought to have heard him recite poetry—his own, too, it was, he told me. Poetry!’ He rolled his eyes at the recollection of these delights. ‘Oh, he enlarged my mind!’ ‘Good-bye,’ said I. He shook hands and vanished in the night. Sometimes I ask myself whether I had ever really seen him—whether it was possible to meet such a phenomenon!... “He lowered his voice and told me that it was Kurtz who ordered the attack on our boat. ‘He hated the idea of being taken away. I don’t understand these things. I’m just a simple man. But he thought it would scare you away and that you would assume he was dead and turn back. I couldn’t stop him. It’s been awful for the past month.’ ‘Well, he’s all right now,’ I said. He urged me to keep his secret. ‘It would be awful for his reputation if anybody here—’ I cut him off by swearing my silence. ‘I have a canoe and three natives waiting not very far from here. I’m leaving. Could you give me a few bullets?’ I gave them to him discreetly. He also took a handful of my tobacco. When he got to the door, he turned and asked, ‘Say, do you have a pair of shoes you could give me?’ He showed me his, which were barely held together with string. I dug out an old pair, which he took gladly. He seemed to think what I’d given him was all he needed for a long journey into the wilderness. ‘I’ll never meet such a man again,’ he said, referring to Kurtz. ‘You should have heard him recite poetry—his own poetry, he told me. Poetry!’ He rolled his eyes joyfully at the memory. ‘Oh, he enlarged my mind!’ I wished him farewell. We shook hands and he vanished in the night. Sometimes I ask myself whether I had ever really seen him, whether it was truly possible to meet such a man.