Original Text
Modern Text
The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter
The Nellie, a small sailboat, was anchored in the river. There was
of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was
no wind and the only thing to do was sit and wait for the tide to
nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it
change before heading down the river and out to sea.
was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the
beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and
The mouth of the River Thames stretched before us like the
the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous
beginning of an endless waterway. Far off in the distance, the sea
space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide
and the sky blended seamlessly together. Nearby, barges sailing up
seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with
the river seemed to stand still. A haze rested on the low shores as
gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that
far as we could see. The air was dark above the port town of
ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above
Gravesend. Behind us, up the river, the gloomy air hung
Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a
motionless over the biggest and greatest town on earth, London.
mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the
greatest, town on earth.
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. Four of
affectionately watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to
us watched him affectionately as he stared out at the sea. On the
seaward. On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so
whole river there was nothing that looked half as appropriate as he
nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is
did. He looked the part, which to a sailor is the most important sign
trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was
of trustworthiness. It was hard to remember that he worked behind
not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the
us, in the gloomy city, rather than out on the glowing water.
brooding gloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond
of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long
periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of
The sea bonded us sailors. The long periods at sea, separated from
each other’s yarns—and even convictions. The Lawyer—the best everyone else, brought us closer together and made us tolerant of
of old fellows—had, because of his many years and many virtues, each other’s stories and beliefs. The Lawyer, a great guy, got to use
the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The
the only cushion on the deck because he’d served on board for so
Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was long. The Accountant had brought out a box of dominos and was
toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged
building shapes out of the boney pieces. Marlow sat cross-legged
right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, in the back, leaning against a mast. He had sunken cheeks, a
a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with yellow complexion, a straight back, and a sour demeanor. With his
his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol. arms dropped and the palms of his hands facing up, he looked like
The director, satisfied the anchor had good hold, made his way aft a statue of a god. The Director, satisfied that the anchor was
and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few words lazily.
secure, made his way back and sat with us. We chatted lazily but
Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason soon fell into silence. For some reason or other we never played
or other we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt
that game of dominos. We were all lost in our own thoughts, up for
meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day was
nothing but sitting and staring. The day was ending with incredible
ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water
calm. The water was shining peacefully. The spotless sky was a
shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign
giant blanket of pure light. The mist over the Essex Marsh was like
immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marsh
a gauzy and bright fabric hung from the trees and draped over the
was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises shore. Only the gloom to the west became more gloomy by the
inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the minute, as if growing angry at the ending day.
gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more
sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.
And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, At last, almost without us noticing, the sun sank. It changed from
and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and
glowing white to a dull red without rays or heat, like it was about
without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by to die or be snuffed out by the gloom hanging over the crowded
the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.
Original Text
Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became
less brilliant but more profound. The old river in its broad reach
rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service
done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil
dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. We
looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day
that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding
memories. And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as the
phrase goes, “followed the sea” with reverence and affection, that to
Modern Text
At once the water changed, becoming even calmer but less
colorful. The old river rested peacefully at the end of the day,
spreading calmly to the ends of the earth. For ages, the river has
performed good service to the people who live on its banks. We
looked at the river as only sailors could, with respect and
affection and with an awareness of its great past. The river’s tides
carry the memories of the men and ships they brought home or
took into battle. The river has known and served all of the
nation’s heroes, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, all
evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the
Thames. The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service,
crowded with memories of men and ships it had borne to the rest of
home or to the battles of the sea. It had known and served all the
men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir
John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled—the great knightserrant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like
jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning
with her rotund flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen’s
Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and
Terror, bound on other conquests—and that never returned. It had
known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from
Greenwich, from Erith—the adventurers and the settlers; kings’
ships and the ships of men on Change; captains, admirals, the dark
“interlopers” of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned “generals”
of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all
had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch,
messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the
sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river
into the mystery of an unknown earth!... The dreams of men, the
seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.
The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear
along the shore. The Chapman light-house, a three-legged thing
erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the
fairway—a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther
west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still
marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid
glare under the stars.
“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark
places of the earth.”
He was the only man of us who still “followed the sea.” The worst
that could be said of him was that he did not represent his class. He
was a seaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead,
if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the
stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them—the ship;
and so is their country—the sea. One ship is very much like another,
and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of their
surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing
immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by
a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a
seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his
existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest, after his hours
of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold
for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the
secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct
simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a
cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin
yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not
inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it
out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these
misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral
illumination of moonshine.
great knights of the sea. It had carried all the ships whose names
live forever, like the Golden Hind , filled with treasure, or the
Erebus and Terror , ships that left and never returned. The river
remembered the men as well as the ships. They had sailed from
Deptford, from Greenwich, and from Erith. The sailors included
kings and businessmen, captains, admirals, unsavory traders, and
the so-called conquerors of the East Indies. Whether they were in
search of gold or fame, they all left on that river carrying swords
and often a spark from the sacred fire of civilization. Was there
any greatness that had not passed down that river and out into the
mysterious world? The dreams of men, the beginnings of nations,
and the seeds of empires had all sailed its waters.
Original Text
His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was just like Marlow. It
was accepted in silence. No one took the trouble to grunt even; and
presently he said, very slow—“I was thinking of very old times,
when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago—the
other day.... Light came out of this river since—you say Knights?
Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning
in the clouds. We live in the flicker—may it last as long as the old
Modern Text
His remark wasn’t really surprising. In fact, it was just like him
to say something like that. No one even bothered to grunt in
response. So he said, very slowly, “I was thinking of when the
Romans first came here 1,900 years ago—it might as well have
been a day ago, considering to the long history of the earth. Great
men may have come down this river, but really that greatness is
like a flash of lightning in the clouds. All of life is in that brief
The sun set. The river grew dark and lights appeared along the
shore. The Chapman lighthouse, standing on three legs in the
mud, shone strongly. The lights of many ships were visible in the
distance, all jumbled together. Further west, the sky above the
monstrous town was still gloomy and dark under the light of the
“And this also,” said Marlow out of nowhere, “has been one of
the darkest places of the earth.”
He was the only one of us who spent all of his time as a sailor,
with no fixed home. The worst thing you could say about him
was that he was not like other sailors. He was a seaman, but he
was a wanderer too. As strange as it may sound, the truth is most
seamen lead sedentary lives. They are homebodies and their
home—the ship—is always with them. They are citizens of the
sea. One ship is just like any other and the sea is the same
everywhere. Because their surroundings are always the same,
they ignore the foreign lands and people they come across. The
only mystery the seaman cares about is the sea itself, which
controls his fate and cannot be predicted. After his work is done,
the seaman takes a short walk on shore and believes that he has
seen all of a continent that he needs to. Any other secrets a place
may hold are not secrets that he thinks are worth finding out.
Similarly, the stories seamen tell are simple and direct. They
reveal their meaning as easily as a shell reveals its nut. But
Marlow was different, though he sure liked to tell a tale. To him,
the meaning of a story was not like a nut that could be easily
removed from its shell. To Marlow, the point of a story was the
shell itself—the narration. And just like light will reveal the haze,
storytelling will bring things to light that you might not have seen
earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the flicker of light, and hopefully it will last as long as the old earth
feelings of a commander of a fine—what d’ye call ‘em?—trireme in keeps rolling. But we should remember that from the earth’s
the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland
perspective, it was dark only yesterday. Imagine what it must
across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the
have been like to be a Roman sea-captain, suddenly sent here
legionaries—a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been,
from home. He had to travel all the way across Europe on foot
too—used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, if and sail in one of those boats that Roman soldiers supposedly
we may believe what we read. Imagine him here—the very end of could build hundreds of in a month. Imagine him here. This was
the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind the very end of the world then. The sea was the color of lead and
of ship about as rigid as a concertina—and going up this river with the sky was the color of smoke. His ship was about as sturdy as a
stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests,
heavy piano on thin legs. And he had to sail up this river with
savages,—precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but
supplies, passing forests and swamps and savages, with almost
Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore.
nothing to eat and nothing to drink but water from the river. He
Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a didn’t have any of that great Roman wine. He couldn’t go
bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death—death ashore. Every once in a while he would pass a military camp lost
skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been in the wilderness, like a needle in a haystack. He sailed on
dying like flies here. Oh, yes—he did it. Did it very well, too, no
through cold, fog, storms, disease, and death. Death lurked
doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards around in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been
to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were dying like flies here. Oh, yes, he did it. He probably did it very
men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by
well, too, and without thinking much about it except for the
keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by stories he could brag about later. They were men enough to face
and by, if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful
the darkness. And maybe he was encouraged by the possibility
climate. Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga—perhaps too that he’d get promoted if he survived and knew the right people
much dice, you know—coming out here in the train of some prefect, back in Rome. Or think of a decent young Roman citizen in a
or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a
toga, someone who’d lost his fortune gambling, maybe, and was
swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the coming out here to make some money. He lands in a swamp,
savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him—all that
marches through the woods, and in some post deep in the
mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the
country, he’s struck by how totally savage everything is around
jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into him. He is surrounded by all the mysterious life stirring in the
such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, forest, in the jungles, and in the hearts of the wild men. Nothing
which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to
can prepare a man for that life. He just has to start living in it one
work upon him. The fascination of the abomination—you know,
day, in the middle of all of that awful confusion. But he’s drawn
imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless
to that crazy savage life as well. Horrible things can be so
disgust, the surrender, the hate.”
fascinating. He starts to feel regret. He longs to go home but is
disgusted by his powerlessness to escape. Then he surrenders to
it all and fills with hate.”
He paused.
He paused.
“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of
the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had “Of course,” he said, shifting his pose so that he looked like
the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a Buddha dressed in European clothes, “none of us would feel
lotus-flower—“Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What exactly that same way. What keeps us from feeling that way is
saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps that we’re modern and organized. Really, those Roman guys
were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their
weren’t all that great. They were powerful and strong and
administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. defeated their enemies, but they couldn’t rule faraway places. All
They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—
they did was steal. And even strength is relative. Everyone else
nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an at that time was just so weak. The Romans stole what they could
accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what
because they could get away with it. It was nothing but violent
they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery robbery, aggravated murder on a grand scale, and the robbers
with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at were blind, which is fitting since they were attacking a land of
it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The
darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking
conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from it away from people with different colored skin or flatter noses,
those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than is not a pretty thing when you think about it. The only good thing
ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What about it is the idea behind it. Not some pretty words you can use
redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a
to describe it, but a real and powerful idea that men will
sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the
unselfishly sacrifice themselves for—something that men will
idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a bow down to and worship. . .”
sacrifice to....”
Original Text
Modern Text
He broke off. Flames glided in the river, small green flames, red He stopped talking. Reflections in the water looked like green and
flames, white flames, pursuing, overtaking, joining, crossing each red and white flames dancing around each other. Life in the great
other—then separating slowly or hastily. The traffic of the great
city went on in the dark night. The river didn’t rest. We sat there
city went on in the deepening night upon the sleepless river. We
patiently. There was nothing else to do until the tide changed.
looked on, waiting patiently—there was nothing else to do till the After a long pause, he said, in a shaky voice, “I guess you guys
end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, know that I once worked on a river boat.” We knew then that our
in a hesitating voice, “I suppose you fellows remember I did once fates were sealed. We were going to hear about one of Marlow’s
turn fresh-water sailor for a bit,” that we knew we were fated,
strange experiences.
before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s
inconclusive experiences.
“I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me
personally,” he began, showing in this remark the weakness of
“I don’t want to talk about my personal life,” he said, apparently
many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their
unaware that that’s what we would have liked most. “But to
audience would like best to hear; “yet to understand the effect of it understand what happened you need to know how I got out there,
on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I what I saw, and how I went up the river to the place where I first
went up that river to the place where I first met the poor chap. It
met the poor fellow. It was as far as you could sail up the river and
was the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of it was what all of my experiences there were leading up to. It put
my experience. It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on
everything else I saw in a new light, a light that showed me my
everything about me—and into my thoughts. It was sombre
own thoughts differently. It was depressing and not very clear. No,
enough, too—and pitiful—not extraordinary in any way—not very not very clear. But somehow it seemed to cast a new light on
clear either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind everything.
of light.
“I had then, as you remember, just returned to London after a lot of
“I’d just gotten back to London after sailing all over the East—the
Indian Ocean, Pacific, China Seas—a regular dose of the East—six
Pacific and Indian Oceans, the China Seas. I was kind of hanging
years or so, and I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your
around, not doing much but staying with friends and bothering
work and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly
them, almost like I was a missionary invading their land. It was
mission to civilize you. It was very fine for a time, but after a bit I
fine for a little bit, but after a while I got tired of resting. I began to
did get tired of resting. Then I began to look for a ship—I should
look for a ship, which is hard work. But no ship would have me,
think the hardest work on earth. But the ships wouldn’t even look
and that got old fast.
at me. And I got tired of that game, too.
“Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would
“When I was a kid, I really liked maps. I would spend hours
look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose
looking at South America or Africa or Australia and daydreaming
myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were
about being a great explorer. There were many blank spaces on the
many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked
map then, and when I saw one that seemed interesting (but they all
particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put
look like that), I’d put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up, I
my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.’ The
will go there.’ The North Pole was one of those places, I
North Pole was one of these places, I remember. Well, I haven’t
remember. Well, I haven’t been there yet and won’t try to go now.
been there yet, and shall not try now. The glamour’s off. Other
It doesn’t seem as exotic anymore. Other places were scattered all
places were scattered about the hemispheres. I have been in some
over the globe. I’ve been in some of them, and . . . well, we won’t
of them, and... well, we won’t talk about that. But there was one
talk about that. But there was one spot that was the biggest and
yet—the biggest, the most blank, so to speak—that I had a
blankest, and that’s where I wanted to go the most.
hankering after.
Original Text
Modern Text
“True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got
“Actually, by the time of my story, it wasn’t a blank space
filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had
anymore. In the time since I was a child, it had been filled in with
ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for
rivers and lakes and names. It stopped being a blank space of
a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness.
delightful mystery, a white patch for a boy to dream about. It had
But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you
become a place of darkness. But there was one special river in it,
could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with
a huge river that looked like a giant snake with its head in the sea,
its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country,
its body curling over a vast land, and its tail disappearing
and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map
somewhere deep in the country. I stared at a map of this land in a
of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird—a
store window, looking something like a silly bird staring at a
silly little bird. Then I remembered there was a big concern, a
snake. That’s when I remembered that there was a big company
Company for trade on that river. Dash it all! I thought to myself,
that did business on that river. Well, hell, I thought, they can’t
they can’t trade without using some kind of craft on that lot of fresh
buy and sell anything on the river without using steamboats, and I
water—steamboats! Why shouldn’t I try to get charge of one? I
could sail one of those. As I walked away I couldn’t stop thinking
went on along Fleet Street, but could not shake off the idea. The
about it. The snake had charmed me.
snake had charmed me.
“You understand it was a Continental concern, that Trading society; “The company had its headquarters on the European Continent,
but I have a lot of relations living on the Continent, because it’s
not in London. I have a lot of relatives who live on the Continent
cheap and not so nasty as it looks, they say.
because it’s cheap and not as nasty as it looks, according to them.
“I am sorry to own I began to worry them. This was already a fresh “I’m embarrassed to admit that I started pestering them about
departure for me. I was not used to get things that way, you know. I getting me a job with the Company. This was new to me. I wasn’t
always went my own road and on my own legs where I had a mind used to getting work that way; I always took care of myself. But I
to go. I wouldn’t have believed it of myself; but, then—you see—I felt like I had to do everything I could to get to that river. So I
felt somehow I must get there by hook or by crook. So I worried
pestered them. The men said ‘My dear fellow’ and did nothing.
them. The men said ‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then—
Then, if you can believe it, I asked the women. I, Charlie Marlow,
would you believe it?—I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set put the women to work getting me a job. Good God! Well, you
the women to work—to get a job. Heavens! Well, you see, the
see, I was obsessed. I had an aunt, a sweet old woman. She wrote:
notion drove me. I had an aunt, a dear enthusiastic soul. She wrote: ‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything for you. It is a
‘It will be delightful. I am ready to do anything, anything for you. It glorious idea. I know the wife of a very important man in the
is a glorious idea. I know the wife of a very high personage in the Administration, and a man who has lots of influence with so-andAdministration, and also a man who has lots of influence with,’ etc. so,’ and so on. She was determined to get me a job as the captain
She was determined to make no end of fuss to get me appointed
of a river steamboat if that’s what I wanted.
skipper of a river steamboat, if such was my fancy.
“I got my appointment—of course; and I got it very quick. It
appears the Company had received news that one of their captains
had been killed in a scuffle with the natives. This was my chance,
and it made me the more anxious to go. It was only months and
“I got the job, of course, and I got it very quickly. Apparently one
months afterwards, when I made the attempt to recover what was of the steamboat captains had been killed in a fight with the
left of the body, that I heard the original quarrel arose from a
natives. This was my big break and it made me all the more
misunderstanding about some hens. Yes, two black hens.
excited about going. It was only months and months later, while
Fresleven—that was the fellow’s name, a Dane—thought himself attempting to recover what was left of the captain’s body, that I
wronged somehow in the bargain, so he went ashore and started to found out that the fight was over some hens. Yes, two black hens.
hammer the chief of the village with a stick. Oh, it didn’t surprise Fresleven was the guy’s name; he was Danish. He thought he got
me in the least to hear this, and at the same time to be told that
a raw deal, so he went ashore and started to hammer the chief of
Fresleven was the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on
the village with a stick. I wasn’t surprised to hear this and at the
two legs. No doubt he was; but he had been a couple of years
same time hear that Fresleven was the nicest, quietest guy they’d
already out there engaged in the noble cause, you know, and he
ever met. I’m sure he was. But he’d already been out there in the
probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in some
jungle on his ‘noble mission’ for a couple of years and probably
way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big needed to make himself feel big. So he beat the chief in front of a
crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck, till some man—I big crowd of stunned villagers until one of them, supposedly the
was told the chief’s son—in desperation at hearing the old chap
chief’s son, tried jabbing the white man with a spear. It worked,
yell, made a tentative jab with a spear at the white man—and of
of course: he got Fresleven right between the shoulder blades and
course it went quite easy between the shoulder-blades. Then the
killed him. All the villagers ran off into the forest, afraid that
whole population cleared into the forest, expecting all kinds of
something terrible would happen because they’d killed a white
calamities to happen, while, on the other hand, the steamer
man. Fresleven’s crew also panicked and ran away. Nobody
Fresleven commanded left also in a bad panic, in charge of the
seemed to care about picking up the body until I showed up and
engineer, I believe. Afterwards nobody seemed to trouble much
stepped into his shoes. I felt like I shouldn’t let it sit there, but
about Fresleven’s remains, till I got out and stepped into his shoes. I when I finally had a chance to meet the man whose job I now had,
couldn’t let it rest, though; but when an opportunity offered at last the grass growing through his ribs was tall enough to hide his
to meet my predecessor, the grass growing through his ribs was tall bones, which were all there. The natives had thought white men
enough to hide his bones. They were all there. The supernatural
had magical powers, so they hadn’t touched his body. And they
being had not been touched after he fell. And the village was
had apparently fled the village. Their huts were rotting and falling
deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen down. Something terrible had happened after all. Terror had sent
enclosures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough. The people had them running through the bush and they never returned. I don’t
vanished. Mad terror had scattered them, men, women, and
know what happened to the hens either. ‘Progress’ probably got
children, through the bush, and they had never returned. What
them too. In any case, because of this fiasco, I got my job.
became of the hens I don’t know either. I should think the cause of
progress got them, anyhow. However, through this glorious affair I
got my appointment, before I had fairly begun to hope for it.
Original Text
“I flew around like mad to get ready, and before forty-eight hours I
was crossing the Channel to show myself to my employers, and
sign the contract. In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always
makes me think of a whited sepulchre. Prejudice no doubt. I had no
difficulty in finding the Company’s offices. It was the biggest thing
in the town, and everybody I met was full of it. They were going to
run an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade.
“A narrow and deserted street in deep shadow, high houses,
innumerable windows with venetian blinds, a dead silence, grass
sprouting right and left, immense double doors standing
Modern Text
“I ran around like crazy getting ready, and in less than two days I
crossed the Channel to sign my contract. I soon arrived in a city
that always makes me think of a giant white tomb. That’s
probably prejudice on my part. It was easy to find the Company’s
office. It was the biggest thing in town and everybody I met was
talking about it. They said they were going to have an empire and
make more money than you could count.
“I went down a narrow, dark, deserted street that was lined with
high houses, all with their blinds drawn. Everything was silent
and there was grass growing everywhere. The Company’s
ponderously ajar. I slipped through one of these cracks, went up a
swept and ungarnished staircase, as arid as a desert, and opened the
first door I came to. Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on
straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool. The slim one got up
and walked straight at me—still knitting with downcast eyes—and
only just as I began to think of getting out of her way, as you would
for a somnambulist, stood still, and looked up. Her dress was as
plain as an umbrella-cover, and she turned round without a word
and preceded me into a waiting-room. I gave my name, and looked
about. Deal table in the middle, plain chairs all round the walls, on
one end a large shining map, marked with all the colours of a
rainbow. There was a vast amount of red—good to see at any time,
because one knows that some real work is done in there, a deuce of
a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and, on the East
Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of progress
drink the jolly lager-beer. However, I wasn’t going into any of
these. I was going into the yellow. Dead in the centre. And the river
was there—fascinating—deadly—like a snake. Ough! A door
opened, ya white-haired secretarial head, but wearing a
compassionate expression, appeared, and a skinny forefinger
beckoned me into the sanctuary. Its light was dim, and a heavy
writing-desk squatted in the middle. From behind that structure
came out an impression of pale plumpness in a frock-coat. The
great man himself. He was five feet six, I should judge, and had his
grip on the handle-end of ever so many millions. He shook hands, I
fancy, murmured vaguely, was satisfied with my French. Bon
“In about forty-five seconds I found myself again in the waitingroom with the compassionate secretary, who, full of desolation and
sympathy, made me sign some document. I believe I undertook
amongst other things not to disclose any trade secrets. Well, I am
not going to.
“I began to feel slightly uneasy. You know I am not used to such
ceremonies, and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It
was just as though I had been let into some conspiracy—I don’t
know—something not quite right; and I was glad to get out. In the
outer room the two women knitted black wool feverishly. People
were arriving, and the younger one was walking back and forth
introducing them. The old one sat on her chair. Her flat cloth
slippers were propped up on a foot-warmer, and a cat reposed on
her lap. She wore a starched white affair on her head, had a wart on
one cheek, and silver-rimmed spectacles hung on the tip of her
nose. She glanced at me above the glasses. The swift and
indifferent placidity of that look troubled me. Two youths with
foolish and cheery countenances were being piloted over, and she
threw at them the same quick glance of unconcerned wisdom. She
seemed to know all about them and about me, too. An eerie feeling
came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away
there I thought of these two, guarding the door of darkness, knitting
black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing
continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and
foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. Ave! Old knitter of black
wool. Morituri te salutant. Not many of those she looked at ever
saw her again—not half, by a long way.
Original Text
“There was yet a visit to the doctor. ‘A simple formality,’ assured
me the secretary, with an air of taking an immense part in all my
sorrows. Accordingly a young chap wearing his hat over the left
building had two huge double doors that were slightly open. I
slipped through the crack, went up a clean, undecorated staircase
that was as lifeless as a desert. I opened the first door I came to.
Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on stools, knitting
black wool. The slim one got up and walked straight to me. She
kept her eyes on her knitting and I was about to step out of her
way, like you would for a sleepwalker, when she stopped and
looked up. Her dress was a plain as an umbrella, and she turned
around without saying anything and led me into a waiting room. I
gave my name and looked around. There was a table in the middle
of the room, plain chairs lined up on the walls, and at one end, a
large map marked with all the colors of the rainbow. There was a
vast amount of red on the map, which was good to see because it
meant that something good was happening in those places. There
was a lot of blue, a little green, some smears of orange, and, on
the East Coast, a purple patch showing where happy pioneers
were drinking lager. But I wasn’t going to any of those places. I
was going into the yellow. It was dead in the center of the map.
And the river was there, as fascinating and deadly as a snake. A
door opened and a secretary poked her white but friendly head out
and called me in with a wave of a skinny finger. The light was
low and a heavy writing desk squatted in the middle of the room.
Behind it was a pale blob in a dress coat. It was the great man
himself. He was about five foot six inches and had millions at his
fingertips. He shook hands, mumbled vaguely, and was satisfied
with my French. Bon voyage.
“In about forty-five seconds I was back in the waiting room with
the friendly-looking secretary, who made me sign some
document. I think I agreed not to reveal any Company secrets.
Well, I’m not going to.
“I began to feel a little nervous. I’m not used to all those
formalities, and the atmosphere in there was frightening. It was
like I’d been brought into some conspiracy, something not quite
right, and I was glad to get out. In the outer room the two women
were still knitting the black wool. People were arriving, and the
younger woman was walking back and forth introducing them.
The older one sat on her chair. Her flat cloth slippers were
propped up on a foot-warmer and she a cat was laying in her lap.
She wore some starched white thing on her head, had a wart on
one cheek, and silver-rimmed glasses hung on the tip of her nose.
She glanced at me above the glasses. The quick and uninterested
calm of that look troubled me. Two young guys with foolish but
happy faces were being brought over, and she looked at them with
the same quick glance of bored wisdom. She seemed to know all
about them and all about me too. An eerie feeling came over me.
She seemed mysterious and significant, almost symbolic. Later,
when I was far away from there, I would often think about those
two women, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool
for a funeral veil, one forever introducing people to the unknown,
the other glancing up at those foolish and happy faces with
unconcerned old eyes. Hail, old knitter of black wool, we who are
about to die salute you! Not many of those she looked at ever saw
her again. Not even half.
Modern Text
“I had to visit the doctor. ‘Just a simple formality,’ the secretary
said sympathetically. Some young fellow wearing his hat over the
left eyebrow came from somewhere upstairs and took me away. I
eyebrow, some clerk I suppose—there must have been clerks in suppose he was a clerk of some kind: They must have clerks there,
the business, though the house was as still as a house in a city of even though the house was as quiet as a house in a city of the dead.
the dead—came from somewhere up-stairs, and led me forth. He He was messy, with ink stains on the sleeves of his jacket. He had a
was shabby and careless, with inkstains on the sleeves of his
large necktie under a chin shaped like the toe of an old boot. We
jacket, and his cravat was large and billowy, under a chin shaped were too early for the doctor, so I suggested that we get a drink,
like the toe of an old boot. It was a little too early for the doctor, which perked him up a great deal. As we sat over our vermouths,
so I proposed a drink, and thereupon he developed a vein of
he praised the Company’s business so much that I asked him why
joviality. As we sat over our vermouths he glorified the
he didn’t go out there. He got very serious all at once. ‘I am not
Company’s business, and by and by I expressed casually my
such a fool as I look, said Plato to his students,’ he said gravely. He
surprise at him not going out there. He became very cool and
emptied his glass quickly and completely, and we rose.
collected all at once. ‘I am not such a fool as I look, quoth Plato to
his disciples,’ he said sententiously, emptied his glass with great
resolution, and we rose.
“The old doctor felt my pulse, evidently thinking of something
else the while. ‘Good, good for there,’ he mumbled, and then with
“The old doctor felt my pulse, though he seemed to be thinking
a certain eagerness asked me whether I would let him measure my
about something else the whole time. ‘Good, good for there,’ he
head. Rather surprised, I said Yes, when he produced a thing like
mumbled, and then excitedly asked whether I would let him
calipers and got the dimensions back and front and every way,
measure my head. Surprised, I said Yes. He brought out some tool
taking notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man in a
and used it to measure the back, the front, and every angle, taking
threadbare coat like a gaberdine, with his feet in slippers, and I
notes carefully. He was an unshaven little man in an old coat, with
thought him a harmless fool. ‘I always ask leave, in the interests
his feet in slippers. I thought he was a harmless fool. ‘I always ask
of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,’ he
permission, in the interests of science, to measure the skulls of
said. ‘And when they come back, too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see
everyone going out there,’ he said. ‘And when they come back,
them,’ he remarked; ‘and, moreover, the changes take place
too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see them,’ he remarked, ‘and anyway,
inside, you know.’ He smiled, as if at some quiet joke. ‘So you are
the changes take place inside.’ He smiled as though he’d heard a
going out there. Famous. Interesting, too.’ He gave me a
private joke. ‘So you are going out there. Excellent. Interesting,
searching glance, and made another note. ‘Ever any madness in
too.’ He gave me another sharp glance and made another note.
your family?’ he asked, in a matter-of-fact tone. I felt very
‘Ever any madness in your family?’ he asked in a matter-of-fact
annoyed. ‘Is that question in the interests of science, too?’ ‘It
tone. I got very annoyed. ‘Is that question in the interests of
would be,’ he said, without taking notice of my irritation,
science?’ I asked. ‘It would be,’ he said, without noticing my
‘interesting for science to watch the mental changes of
irritation, ‘interesting for science to watch the mental changes of
individuals, on the spot, but...’ ‘Are you an alienist?’ I interrupted.
individuals on the spot, but . . .’ ‘Are you a psychologist?’ I
‘Every doctor should be—a little,’ answered that original,
interrupted. ‘Every doctor should be a bit of one,’ he said coolly. ‘I
imperturbably. ‘I have a little theory which you messieurs who go
have a theory that you guys who go out there must help me prove.
out there must help me to prove. This is my share in the
This is my part of the treasures my country is taking from that
advantages my country shall reap from the possession of such a
place. The mere wealth I leave for others. Pardon my questions, but
magnificent dependency. The mere wealth I leave to others.
you are the first Englishman I’ve examined.’ I told him that I
Pardon my questions, but you are the first Englishman coming
wasn’t typical of Englishmen in general. ‘If I were,’ I said, ‘I
under my observation...’ I hastened to assure him I was not in the
wouldn’t be talking like this with you.’ ‘What you say is profound
least typical. ‘If I were,’ said I, ‘I wouldn’t be talking like this
and probably wrong,’ he said with a laugh. ‘You should avoid
with you.’ ‘What you say is rather profound, and probably
irritation more than exposure to the sun. Adieu. How do you
erroneous,’ he said, with a laugh. ‘Avoid irritation more than
English say it—goodbye? Goodbye, then. Adieu. In the tropics one
exposure to the sun. Adieu. How do you English say, eh? Goodmust remember to keep calm more than anything else.’ He pointed
bye. Ah! Good-bye. Adieu. In the tropics one must before
his finger at me as a warning. ‘Keep calm. Keep calm.’
everything keep calm.’... He lifted a warning forefinger.... ‘Du
calme, du calme.’
Original Text
“One thing more remained to do—say good-bye to my excellent
aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a cup of tea—the last decent cup
of tea for many days—and in a room that most soothingly looked
just as you would expect a lady’s drawing-room to look, we had a
long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these confidences it
became quite plain to me I had been represented to the wife of the
high dignitary, and goodness knows to how many more people
besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature—a piece of good
fortune for the Company—a man you don’t get hold of every day.
Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-halfpenny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared,
however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital—you know.
Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of
Modern Text
“The only thing I had left to do was say goodbye to my aunt,
who’d been so helpful. She was proud of her success at getting
me the job. I had a cup of tea, the last decent cup for a long time.
We had a long quiet chat by the fire in her dainty living room. It
became clear to me that she had described me to all sorts of
important people as an uncommonly exceptional and gifted man,
such that the Company would be lucky to have. Good God! All I
was doing was taking over a cheap riverboat with a little whistle!
Apparently, however, I was also a Worker, with a capital W. In
her eyes I was practically a saint, bringing civilization and truth
to the poor ignorant natives. People were saying a lot of stuff like
that at the time, and the poor woman got carried away by it all.
She talked so much about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from
apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk their horrid ways’ that she made uncomfortable. I hinted that the
just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the
Company existed to make money.
rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about
‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon
my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that
the Company was run for profit.
“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire,’ “‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the worker is worthy of his pay,’
she said, brightly. It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. she said with a smile. It’s weird how out of touch with truth
They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything women are. They live in their own world, and there has never
like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they
been anything like it, and never can be. It’s too beautiful to be
were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some real, and if they tried to make it happen it would fall apart before
confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever
the first sunset. Some well-known fact that we men have been
since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing living with since the beginning of time would come and knock
the whole thing over.
“After this I got embraced, told to wear flannel, be sure to write
often, and so on—and I left. In the street—I don’t know why—a
“After this she hugged me and told me to wear flannel, be sure to
queer feeling came to me that I was an imposter. Odd thing that I,
write often, and so on. I don’t know why, but in the street I felt
who used to clear out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours’
like an imposter. It was strange. I was used to taking off for any
notice, with less thought than most men give to the crossing of a
part of the world at a day’s notice without a second thought, but
street, had a moment—I won’t say of hesitation, but of startled
now I paused. The best way I can explain it to you is by saying
pause, before this commonplace affair. The best way I can explain it
that, for a second or two, I felt like I was about to head off to the
to you is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead
center of the earth rather than the center of a continent.
of going to the centre of a continent, I were about to set off for the
centre of the earth.
“I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port they “I left in a French steam ship. It stopped in every damn port along
have out there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing the way just so that the soldiers and custom house clerks could go
soldiers and custom-house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a ashore. I watched the coast. Watching the land slip by the ship is
coast as it slips by the ship is like thinking about an enigma. There it like thinking about a mystery. There it is in front of you, smiling
is before you—smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or or frowning or savage or whatever, and it’s always whispering,
savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, ‘Come and find ‘Come and find out.’ The landscape was grim and featureless,
out.’ This one was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with like it was still being formed. The huge dark jungle came right up
an aspect of monotonous grimness. The edge of a colossal jungle, so to the beach and stretched as far as the eye could see. The sun
dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran
was fierce and the land looked like it was sweating. Every once
straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter in a while, a grayish-white speck with a little flag over it became
was blurred by a creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed visible. These were settlements from centuries past. They looked
to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish-whitish
like mere dots in the enormous jungle. We kept sailing and
specks showed up clustered inside the white surf, with a flag flying dropping off soldiers and clerks at little tin sheds in the
above them perhaps. Settlements some centuries old, and still no
wilderness. The soldiers, I assume, were there to protect the
bigger than pinheads on the untouched expanse of their background. clerks. I heard that some drowned making their way ashore, but
We pounded along, stopped, landed soldiers; went on, landed
nobody seemed to know for sure or even care. They were just
custom-house clerks to levy toll in what looked like a God-forsaken flung into the wilderness as we passed. The coast looked the
wilderness, with a tin shed and a flag-pole lost in it; landed more
same day in and day out. It seemed like we weren’t moving at all.
soldiers—to take care of the custom-house clerks, presumably.
The trading posts we passed had names like Gran’ Bassam and
Some, I heard, got drowned in the surf; but whether they did or not, Little Popo—they sounded like names out of a bad play. I felt far
nobody seemed particularly to care. They were just flung out there, away from everything happening around me. The sound of the
and on we went. Every day the coast looked the same, as though we waves was comforting, like the voice of a brother. It was
had not moved; but we passed various places—trading places—with something natural and meaningful. Now and then a boat from the
names like Gran’ Bassam, Little Popo; names that seemed to belong shore brought me back in touch with reality. It was being paddled
to some sordid farce acted in front of a sinister back-cloth. The
by black fellows. You could see the whites of their eyes
idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with
glistening from far away. They shouted and sang, and their
whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the
bodies dripped with sweat. They had faces like bizarre masks, but
uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the they had a natural energy and life, like the sea itself. Their
truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. presence didn’t need to be explained. They were very comforting
The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, to look at. For a while I would feel that the world made sense and
like the speech of a brother. It was something natural, that had its
was full of straightforward facts. That feeling would not last long,
reason, that had a meaning. Now and then a boat from the shore
however. Something would always scare it away. Once, I
gave one a momentary contact with reality. It was paddled by black remember, we met a warship anchored off the coast. There was
fellows. You could see from afar the white of their eyeballs
no settlement visible, but the ship was firing its guns into the
glistening. They shouted, sang; their bodies streamed with
forest. Apparently the French were fighting some war near there.
perspiration; they had faces like grotesque masks—these chaps; but The boat’s flag hung limp like a rag while the hull, with guns
they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, an intense energy of
sticking out over it, rose gently and fell on the greasy, slimy
movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their coast. waves. The ship was a tiny speck firing away into a continent. It
They wanted no excuse for being there. They were a great comfort was pointless and impossible to understand. The guns would pop,
to look at. For a time I would feel I belonged still to a world of
a small flame would appear from their barrels, a little white
straightforward facts; but the feeling would not last long. Something smoke would puff out, and nothing would happen. Nothing could
would turn up to scare it away. Once, I remember, we came upon a happen. It was insane, and it only seemed more insane when
man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, someone swore to me that there was a camp of natives (or
and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their ‘enemies,’ as he called them) hidden in the jungle.
wars going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the
muzzles of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the
greasy, slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying
her thin masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water,
there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would
go one of the six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a
little white smoke would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a
feeble screech—and nothing happened. Nothing could happen.
There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of
lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was not dissipated by
somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of
natives—he called them enemies!—hidden out of sight somewhere.
Original Text
Modern Text
“We gave her her letters (I heard the men in that lonely ship were
dying of fever at the rate of three a day) and went on. We called at
some more places with farcical names, where the merry dance of
“We carried some mail out to the warship and sailed on. I heard
death and trade goes on in a still and earthy atmosphere as of an
that the men on that ship were dying of fever at a rate of three a
overheated catacomb; all along the formless coast bordered by
day. We stopped at some more places with ridiculous names,
dangerous surf, as if Nature herself had tried to ward off intruders;
places where the only things happening were death and trade.
in and out of rivers, streams of death in life, whose banks were
The shoreline was jagged and twisted, as if Nature herself was
rotting into mud, whose waters, thickened into slime, invaded the
trying to keep intruders out. We never stopped long enough in
contorted mangroves, that seemed to writhe at us in the extremity of
any one place to get a real sense of it. I had only a vague feeling
an impotent despair. Nowhere did we stop long enough to get a
of wonder and fear.
particularized impression, but the general sense of vague and
oppressive wonder grew upon me. It was like a weary pilgrimage
amongst hints for nightmares.
“It was upward of thirty days before I saw the mouth of the big
“It was nearly thirty days before I saw the big river. We stopped
river. We anchored off the seat of the government. But my work
near the government outpost at the coast, but my job on the
would not begin till some two hundred miles farther on. So as soon riverboat was 200 miles upstream. So as soon as I could, I started
as I could I made a start for a place thirty miles higher up.
making my way up the river.
“I had my passage on a little sea-going steamer. Her captain was a
“I hitched a ride on a little steamship. The captain was a Swede
Swede, and knowing me for a seaman, invited me on the bridge. He
who invited me up on the bridge when he saw that I was a sailor.
was a young man, lean, fair, and morose, with lanky hair and a
He was a skinny and sad young man. As we started sailing, he
shuffling gait. As we left the miserable little wharf, he tossed his
looked at the government outpost on the bank with disgust.
head contemptuously at the shore. ‘Been living there?’ he asked. I
‘Been staying there?’ he asked me. I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘A fine bunch
said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Fine lot these government chaps—are they not?’ he
of guys those are, huh?’ he said, speaking with bitter sarcasm.
went on, speaking English with great precision and considerable
‘It’s funny what some people will do for money. I wonder what
bitterness. ‘It is funny what some people will do for a few francs a
happens to those kinds of people when they go into the jungle?’ I
month. I wonder what becomes of that kind when it goes
told him that I was about to find out. ‘Ha!’ he exclaimed,
upcountry?’ I said to him I expected to see that soon. ‘So-o-o!’ he
shuffling from side to side while keeping one eye on the river
exclaimed. He shuffled athwart, keeping one eye ahead vigilantly.
ahead. ‘Don’t be too sure. The other day I transported a man who
‘Don’t be too sure,’ he continued. ‘The other day I took up a man
hanged himself on the road. He was Swedish too.’ ‘Hanged
who hanged himself on the road. He was a Swede, too.’ ‘Hanged
himself! Why?’ I cried. He kept looking straight ahead at the
himself! Why, in God’s name?’ I cried. He kept on looking out
river. ‘Who knows? The sun was too much for him, or maybe the
watchfully. ‘Who knows? The sun too much for him, or the country
country was.’
“At last we opened a reach. A rocky cliff appeared, mounds of
“A rocky cliff appeared up ahead, and we could see houses on a
turned-up earth by the shore, houses on a hill, others with iron roofs, hill, some with iron roofs. There was work going on all around,
amongst a waste of excavations, or hanging to the declivity. A
black men digging and hauling soil. It looked like a wasteland.
continuous noise of the rapids above hovered over this scene of
There were rapids in the river here, and the sound of rushing
inhabited devastation. A lot of people, mostly black and naked,
water drowned out everything else. The glare of the sun on the
moved about like ants. A jetty projected into the river. A blinding
river made it hard to see. ‘There’s your Company’s station,’ said
sunlight drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence of glare. the Swede, pointing to three wooden shacks on the hill. ‘I’ll send
‘There’s your Company’s station,’ said the Swede, pointing to three your things up. You have four boxes, right? So, goodbye.’
wooden barrack-like structures on the rocky slope. ‘I will send your
things up. Four boxes did you say? So. Farewell.’
“I came upon a boiler wallowing in the grass, then found a path
leading up the hill. It turned aside for the boulders, and also for an “As I walked up the hill, I passed a train engine and a railway car
undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in lying in the grass next to a boulder. The car was upside down,
the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some with one wheel missing. It looked like a dead animal. I passed
animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of more pieces of rusty machinery. In the shade off to the side I saw
rusty rails. To the left a clump of trees made a shady spot, where
dark shapes moving around. I blinked and looked at the steep
dark things seemed to stir feebly. I blinked, the path was steep. A
path. A horn tooted and the black people scattered. A heavy
horn tooted to the right, and I saw the black people run. A heavy and explosion shook the ground and a puff of smoke came out of the
dull detonation shook the ground, a puff of smoke came out of the rocks. The cliff wasn’t changed. They were building a railway,
cliff, and that was all. No change appeared on the face of the rock. or trying to, anyway. The cliff didn’t appear to be in the way, but
They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or
they were blasting it anyway.
anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work going on.
Original Text
“A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black
men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and
slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the
clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round
their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails.
I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a
rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected
together with a chain whose bights swung between them,
rhythmically clinking. Another report from the cliff made me think
suddenly of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It
was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no
stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called
criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come
to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre
breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the
eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches,
without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of
unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the
product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying
a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off,
and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his
shoulder with alacrity. This was simple prudence, white men being
so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be.
He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin,
and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in
his exalted trust. After all, I also was a part of the great cause of
these high and just proceedings.
“Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the left. My idea
was to let that chain-gang get out of sight before I climbed the hill.
You know I am not particularly tender; I’ve had to strike and to
fend off. I’ve had to resist and to attack sometimes—that’s only
one way of resisting—without counting the exact cost, according
to the demands of such sort of life as I had blundered into. I’ve
seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of
hot desire; but, by all the stars! these were strong, lusty, red-eyed
devils, that swayed and drove men—men, I tell you. But as I stood
on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land
I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed
devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be,
too, I was only to find out several months later and a thousand
miles farther. For a moment I stood appalled, as though by a
warning. Finally I descended the hill, obliquely, towards the trees I
had seen.
Modern Text
“I heard a clinking noise behind me. Six black men were walking
single-file up the path. They were walking slowly, balancing small
baskets full of dirt on their heads. Their only clothes were black
rags wrapped around their waists, with bits of fabric hanging down
in the back like tails. I could see every rib and every joint. Each
man had an iron collar on his neck, and they were all chained
together. The chains clinked as they walked. Another explosion
from the dynamite made me think about the warship I had seen
firing into a continent. It was the same sound. By no stretch of the
imagination could these men be called enemies. They were called
criminals. They broke laws they never heard of, laws that came,
like the cannonballs crashing into the jungle, from the mysterious
strangers who arrived from the sea. All the men panted, their
nostrils shook, and their eyes stared uphill. They passed within six
inches of me without a glance. They were as indifferent as death.
Behind the chained men came another black man, this one a
soldier, forced to guard his brothers. He looked heartbroken and
sloppy, but when he saw that there was a white man on the path,
he stood up straight. White men looked so similar to him from far
away that he couldn’t tell if I was one of his bosses or not. When
he saw that I was not, he grinned and relaxed, like we were
partners. After all, we were both part of this noble and just
“Instead of going up, I turned and went down the other side of the
hill. I didn’t want to follow the chain gang up to the top. I’m not
usually emotional or sensitive. All my life I’ve had to fight and
defend myself without caring much about feelings. But as I stood
on that hillside I was overwhelmed by what a terrible and colossal
mistake this all was. I’ve seen violence, greed, and ruthless desire,
but the lusty greed and heartlessness of the men who ran this
system was astounding. Standing on that hillside, I just knew I
would find out how terrible all of this greedy, treacherous, and
pitiless undertaking really was. I would find all of this out several
months later and a thousand miles away. But at that moment I was
frozen, as if I had heard a horrible warning. I walked down the hill
and wandered toward the shady spot I’d seen earlier.
Original Text
Modern Text
“I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the
slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It
wasn’t a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might
have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the
“I stepped around a large hole someone had dug in the hillside for
criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I nearly fell into a no apparent reason. It wasn’t a quarry or anything like that. It was
very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside. I
just a hole. It was probably dug to give the so-called criminals
discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement something to do. I don’t know. Then I almost fell into a deep
had been tumbled in there. There wasn’t one that was not broken. It trench alongside the hill. It was full of broken water pipes. At last
was a wanton smash-up. At last I got under the trees. My purpose I got under the trees. I wanted to stroll in the shade for a moment,
was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than but stepping under the leaves made me feel like I was stepping
it seemed to me I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some
into a dark hell. Nothing moved, but the sound of the rushing
Inferno. The rapids were near, and an uninterrupted, uniform,
rapids was all around me. It sounded as though the earth was
headlong, rushing noise filled the mournful stillness of the grove, tearing apart.
where not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious
sound—as though the tearing pace of the launched earth had
suddenly become audible.
“Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against
the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced
“Black shapes sprawled around me, all clearly suffering. The
within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and
ground shook from another explosion on the hill. The work was
despair. Another mine on the cliff went off, followed by a slight
going on. The work! And this was where some of the workers had
shudder of the soil under my feet. The work was going on. The
come to die.
work! And this was the place where some of the helpers had
withdrawn to die.
“They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not
enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—
nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying
confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of
“They were dying slowly. They were not enemies or criminals.
the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial
They weren’t even human anymore. They were shadows of
surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became
disease and starvation lying in the gloomy green shade. They had
inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest. These
been brought from across the coast through legal contract and
moribund shapes were free as air—and nearly as thin. I began to
against their will. They were put in unfamiliar surroundings and
distinguish the gleam of the eyes under the trees. Then, glancing
given strange food, and they got sick and died. They were as free
down, I saw a face near my hand. The black bones reclined at full
as the air and just as thin. I saw someone’s eyes staring at me from
length with one shoulder against the tree, and slowly the eyelids
the shadows, and I saw a face looking up at me from the ground.
rose and the sunken eyes looked up at me, enormous and vacant, a
The eyes glowed for a second and started to go out. He seemed
kind of blind, white flicker in the depths of the orbs, which died out
young, but it was hard to tell for sure. I gave him one of the
slowly. The man seemed young—almost a boy—but you know
biscuits from the Swede that I had in my pocket. He gripped it
with them it’s hard to tell. I found nothing else to do but to offer
with his fingers and then stopped moving. He had a bit of white
him one of my good Swede’s ship’s biscuits I had in my pocket.
cloth tied around his neck. Why? Where did he get it? Was it a
The fingers closed slowly on it and held—there was no other
badge of some kind? A decoration? A charm? Did it have any
movement and no other glance. He had tied a bit of white worsted
purpose at all? It looked so strange around his black neck.
round his neck—Why? Where did he get it? Was it a badge—an
ornament—a charm—a propitiatory act? Was there any idea at all
connected with it? It looked startling round his black neck, this bit
of white thread from beyond the seas.
Original Text
Modern Text
“Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with
their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees,
stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his
“There were two more dying men nearby. One sat with his chin on
brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great his knees, staring at nothing. The other man was resting his head
weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of
like he was worn out. All around them were the bodies of other
contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a
workers who had collapsed. It looked like a massacre or a plague. I
pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose was horrified. One of the men crawled on all fours down to the
to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river river to drink. He lapped the water from his hand, then sat up and
to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight,
slumped over in the sunlight.
crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly
head fall on his breastbone.
“I didn’t want any more loitering in the shade, and I made haste “I couldn’t take it anymore so I hurried to the station office. Near
towards the station. When near the buildings I met a white man, the buildings, I ran into a white man who was so well dressed that I
in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment thought I was dreaming. His clothes were clean and white and his
I took him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white boots were shined. He wasn’t wearing a hat and his hair was slicked
cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie, and down. He carried an umbrella to protect himself from the sun. He
varnished boots. No hat. Hair parted, brushed, oiled, under a
had a pen behind his ear. I was amazed.
green-lined parasol held in a big white hand. He was amazing,
and had a penholder behind his ear.
“I shook hands with this miracle, and I learned he was the
Company’s chief accountant, and that all the book-keeping was
done at this station. He had come out for a moment, he said, ‘to
“We shook hands. He was the Company’s chief accountant. He said
get a breath of fresh air. The expression sounded wonderfully
that he had stepped outside ‘to get a breath of fresh air.’ That was a
odd, with its suggestion of sedentary desk-life. I wouldn’t have
weird thing for someone in the jungle to say, like he was an
mentioned the fellow to you at all, only it was from his lips that I
ordinary office-worker. I wouldn’t mention him except he was the
first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly connected
one who first told me about the man who looms over all of my
with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respected the fellow.
memories. Also, I respected the man. Yes, I respected his sharp
Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His
clothes and his neat hair. He looked like a mannequin, but at least
appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the
he managed to take care of himself in that awful place. That takes
great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s
backbone. His fancy clothes were a sign of his character. He’d been
backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were
out here for three years and I couldn’t help asking him how he kept
achievements of character. He had been out nearly three years;
his clothes so nice. He blushed and said, ‘I taught one of the native
and, later, I could not help asking him how he managed to sport
women to clean them. It was hard. She didn’t like doing it.’ This
such linen. He had just the faintest blush, and said modestly, ‘I’ve
was quite an accomplishment. Also, he kept the Company’s books
been teaching one of the native women about the station. It was
in very good order.
difficult. She had a distaste for the work.’ Thus this man had
verily accomplished something. And he was devoted to his books,
which were in apple-pie order.
“Everything else in the station was in a muddle—heads, things,
buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and
“Everything else at the Company station was a mess. Strings of
departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons,
dusty black men came and went. Cheap cotton and beads and wire
beads, and brass-wire set into the depths of darkness, and in
went into the jungle and ivory came back out.
return came a precious trickle of ivory.
“I had to wait in the station for ten days—an eternity. I lived in a
hut in the yard, but to be out of the chaos I would sometimes get “I had to stay there for ten days, which felt like an eternity. I lived
into the accountant’s office. It was built of horizontal planks, and in a hut in the yard, but spent a lot of time in the accountant’s office
so badly put together that, as he bent over his high desk, he was so that I could be away from the chaos. His office was so poorly
barred from neck to heels with narrow strips of sunlight. There
built that sunlight came through the cracks in the walls. The cracks
was no need to open the big shutter to see. It was hot there, too; were so big that you didn’t need the windows to see outside. It was
big flies buzzed fiendishly, and did not sting, but stabbed. I sat
hot and full of flies. I usually sat on the floor while he sat on a stool
generally on the floor, while, of faultless appearance (and even
in his clean clothes and wrote. Sometimes he stood up to stretch his
slightly scented), perching on a high stool, he wrote, he wrote.
legs. The accountant became mildly annoyed any time a sick agent
Sometimes he stood up for exercise. When a truckle-bed with a from somewhere in the jungle was brought to the station and put on
sick man (some invalid agent from upcountry) was put in there, a cot in his office. ‘The groans of this sick person are distracting,’
he exhibited a gentle annoyance. ‘The groans of this sick person,’ he said. ‘It’s very hard to keep from making mistakes in my books
he said, ‘distract my attention. And without that it is extremely
in this climate.’
difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.’
Original Text
“One day he remarked, without lifting his head, ‘In the interior you
will no doubt meet Mr. Kurtz.’ On my asking who Mr. Kurtz was,
he said he was a first-class agent; and seeing my disappointment at
this information, he added slowly, laying down his pen, ‘He is a
very remarkable person.’ Further questions elicited from him that
Mr. Kurtz was at present in charge of a trading-post, a very
important one, in the true ivory-country, at ‘the very bottom of
there. Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together...’ He
began to write again. The sick man was too ill to groan. The flies
buzzed in a great peace.
“Suddenly there was a growing murmur of voices and a great
tramping of feet. A caravan had come in. A violent babble of
uncouth sounds burst out on the other side of the planks. All the
carriers were speaking together, and in the midst of the uproar the
lamentable voice of the chief agent was heard ‘giving it up’
Modern Text
“One day he said, ‘In the interior you will probably meet Mr.
Kurtz.’ When I asked who Kurtz was, he said that he was a great
agent for the Company. When he saw that I wasn’t impressed, he
put down his pen and said, ‘He is a very remarkable person.’ He
told me that Kurtz was in charge of a trading post deep in the
jungle. ‘He sends in as much ivory as all of the other agents put
together.’ The accountant started writing again. The man on the
cot was too sick to groan. The flies buzzed all around.
“Suddenly I heard voices and the sounds of many people
approaching. A caravan had come in. All of the black laborers
were babbling in an ugly language. The man on the cot groaned
and the accountant stood up. ‘What a racket,’ he said. He checked
on the sick man and said to me, ‘He can’t hear them.’ ‘Is he
tearfully for the twentieth time that day.... He rose slowly. ‘What a dead?’ I asked. ‘No, not yet.’ He glanced outside at the shouting
frightful row,’ he said. He crossed the room gently to look at the
men. ‘When you need peace and quiet to keep the books, you
sick man, and returning, said to me, ‘He does not hear.’ ‘What!
come to hate those savages to death.’ He thought for a second.
Dead?’ I asked, startled. ‘No, not yet,’ he answered, with great
‘When you see Mr. Kurtz, tell him from me that everything here
composure. Then, alluding with a toss of the head to the tumult in is okay. I don’t like to write to him. You never know if the letter
the station-yard, ‘When one has got to make correct entries, one
will fall into the wrong hands.’ He stared at me for a moment with
comes to hate those savages—hate them to the death.’ He remained his bulging eyes. ‘Oh, he will go far, very far,’ he said. ‘He will
thoughtful for a moment. ‘When you see Mr. Kurtz’ he went on,
be an important man in the Company someday. The people
‘tell him from me that everything here’—he glanced at the deck—’ running things back in Europe know it.’
is very satisfactory. I don’t like to write to him—with those
messengers of ours you never know who may get hold of your
letter—at that Central Station.’ He stared at me for a moment with
his mild, bulging eyes. ‘Oh, he will go far, very far,’ he began
again. ‘He will be a somebody in the Administration before long.
They, above—the Council in Europe, you know—mean him to be.’
“He turned to his work. The noise outside had ceased, and presently
“He went back to work. It was quiet outside and as I left I stopped
in going out I stopped at the door. In the steady buzz of flies the
to look back at the office. The flies were buzzing. The sick agent
homeward-bound agent was lying finished and insensible; the
was taking his last breaths. The accountant was bent over his
other, bent over his books, was making correct entries of perfectly
books, making sure all of the numbers were correct. Fifty feet
correct transactions; and fifty feet below the doorstep I could see
away I could see that shady area where men were dying.
the still tree-tops of the grove of death.
“Next day I left that station at last, with a caravan of sixty men, for “I left the next day with a caravan of sixty men. We were going
a two-hundred-mile tramp.
on a 200-mile walk.
“No use telling you much about that. Paths, paths, everywhere; a
“There’s no point in talking about that. There were footpaths
stamped-in network of paths spreading over the empty land,
everywhere we went, leading in all sorts of directions. We didn’t
through the long grass, through burnt grass, through thickets, down see anyone else, or even any huts. The people had left a long time
and up chilly ravines, up and down stony hills ablaze with heat; and ago. If a lot of mysterious black guys with strange weapons
a solitude, a solitude, nobody, not a hut. The population had cleared started walking around England rounding up the locals and
out a long time ago. Well, if a lot of mysterious niggers armed with making them carry heavy loads all over the place, I bet the natives
all kinds of fearful weapons suddenly took to travelling on the road would run away too. Only here their houses were gone as well.
between Deal and Gravesend, catching the yokels right and left to Eventually we passed some abandoned villages. There’s
carry heavy loads for them, I fancy every farm and cottage
something pathetic about the ruins of a grass hut. We kept
thereabouts would get empty very soon. Only here the dwellings
walking, day after day. I could hear sixty pairs of bare feet behind
were gone, too. Still I passed through several abandoned villages. me, each man carrying a sixty-pound load. All we did was camp,
There’s something pathetically childish in the ruins of grass walls. cook, sleep, and march. Every once in a while we’d pass a dead
Day after day, with the stamp and shuffle of sixty pair of bare feet body in chains near the path. It was so quiet everywhere. On some
behind me, each pair under a 60-lb. load. Camp, cook, sleep, strike nights we could hear drums far away. The sound was weird and
camp, march. Now and then a carrier dead in harness, at rest in the wild, though to the natives it probably sounded no different from
long grass near the path, with an empty water-gourd and his long church bells in a Christian country. Once we passed a white man
staff lying by his side. A great silence around and above. Perhaps in a uniform camping near the path with an armed escort of black
on some quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a men. They’d been drinking and were in a giddy mood. The white
tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing, suggestive, and wild— man said that his job was taking care of the road. I didn’t see any
and perhaps with as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a road to speak of, and the only thing that had been taken care of
Christian country. Once a white man in an unbuttoned uniform,
was a middle-aged black man, who was lying next to the path
camping on the path with an armed escort of lank Zanzibaris, very with a bullet hole in his forehead. There was another white man
hospitable and festive—not to say drunk. Was looking after the
traveling with me. He was a pretty good guy, but he was fat and
upkeep of the road, he declared. Can’t say I saw any road or any
kept fainting. It’s annoying to have to hold your own coat like an
upkeep, unless the body of a middle-aged negro, with a bullet-hole umbrella over a man who’s passed out. I couldn’t help asking him
in the forehead, upon which I absolutely stumbled three miles
why on Earth he’d come there. ‘Why do you think? To make
farther on, may be considered as a permanent improvement. I had a money, of course,’ he said. Then he got a fever and had to be
white companion, too, not a bad chap, but rather too fleshy and
carried by the porters, who kept complaining that he was too fat
with the exasperating habit of fainting on the hot hillsides, miles
to lift. They started running away in the middle of the night. So I
away from the least bit of shade and water. Annoying, you know, to threatened them with severe punishments. The next day I put the
hold your own coat like a parasol over a man’s head while he is
hammock with the fat man out in front. Things started off okay,
coming to. I couldn’t help asking him once what he meant by
but an hour later I came across the hammock and the fat man
coming there at all. ‘To make money, of course. What do you
wrecked in the bushes. He’d gotten nicked on the nose. He
think?’ he said, scornfully. Then he got fever, and had to be carried wanted me to kill one of the porters as an example, but they’d all
in a hammock slung under a pole. As he weighed sixteen stone I
run away by that point. I remembered what the old doctor said: ‘It
had no end of rows with the carriers. They jibbed, ran away,
would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of
sneaked off with their loads in the night—quite a mutiny. So, one individuals on the spot.’ I felt like I was becoming scientifically
evening, I made a speech in English with gestures, not one of which interesting. But that’s all beside the point. After fifteen days we
was lost to the sixty pairs of eyes before me, and the next morning I met back up with the big river and hobbled into the Central
started the hammock off in front all right. An hour afterwards I
Station. It was surrounded by forest and had a mud wall on one
came upon the whole concern wrecked in a bush—man, hammock, side and a fence of branches on the other three sides. There was a
groans, blankets, horrors. The heavy pole had skinned his poor
hole in the fence instead of a gate. The fat devil of greed was
nose. He was very anxious for me to kill somebody, but there
running the place. White men carrying staves wandered lazily up
wasn’t the shadow of a carrier near. I remembered the old doctor— to look at me and then wandered off. A fat man with a black
‘It would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of moustache came up to me. I told him I was the steamboat captain
individuals, on the spot.’ I felt I was becoming scientifically
and loudly told me that my boat was sunk at the bottom of the
interesting. However, all that is to no purpose. On the fifteenth day river. Stunned, I asked what happened. ‘It’s OK,’ he said. ‘The
I came in sight of the big river again, and hobbled into the Central manager is here. Everything’s in order. Everybody did well. You
Station. It was on a back water surrounded by scrub and forest, with must go see the manager now. He’s waiting for you.’
a pretty border of smelly mud on one side, and on the three others
enclosed by a crazy fence of rushes. A neglected gap was all the
gate it had, and the first glance at the place was enough to let you
see the flabby devil was running that show. White men with long
staves in their hands appeared languidly from amongst the
buildings, strolling up to take a look at me, and then retired out of
sight somewhere. One of them, a stout, excitable chap with black
moustaches, informed me with great volubility and many
digressions, as soon as I told him who I was, that my steamer was at
the bottom of the river. I was thunderstruck. What, how, why? Oh,
it was ‘all right.’ The ‘manager himself’ was there. All quite
correct. ‘Everybody had behaved splendidly! splendidly!’—‘you
must,’ he said in agitation, ‘go and see the general manager at once.
He is waiting!’
Original Text
Modern Text
“I did not see the real significance of that wreck at once. I fancy I
see it now, but I am not sure—not at all. Certainly the affair was
too stupid—when I think of it—to be altogether natural. Still... But “At that point, I didn’t understand the significance of what had
at the moment it presented itself simply as a confounded nuisance. happened. I think I understand it now, but I’m not sure. It was all
The steamer was sunk. They had started two days before in a
too stupid to be natural or an accident. But at the time it was just
sudden hurry up the river with the manager on board, in charge of irritating. Two days earlier they had tried sailing up the river in a
some volunteer skipper, and before they had been out three hours hurry and torn the bottom of the boat on some rocks they hit. At
they tore the bottom out of her on stones, and she sank near the
first, I didn’t know what to do, since my boat was sunk. Then I
south bank. I asked myself what I was to do there, now my boat
realized I had to fish it out of the water. I started on that the next
was lost. As a matter of fact, I had plenty to do in fishing my
day. Bringing the pieces up and putting it all back together took a
command out of the river. I had to set about it the very next day.
few months.
That, and the repairs when I brought the pieces to the station, took
some months.
“My first interview with the manager was curious. He did not ask “My first conversation with the manager was strange. He didn’t
me to sit down after my twenty-mile walk that morning. He was
ask me to sit down, even though I’d walked twenty miles that day
commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. alone. He was average looking in his complexion, feature,
He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual manner, voice, and size. Maybe his blue eyes were a bit cold, and
blue, were perhaps remarkably cold, and he certainly could make they could fall on you with the weight of an axe. But everything
his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe. But even at else about him was mild-mannered. He had a weird sort of halfthese times the rest of his person seemed to disclaim the intention. smile, like he knew a secret. It’s hard to describe. He didn’t do it
Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his
consciously, but it was most obvious at the end of anything he
lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but said. It made even ordinary statements seem mysterious. He’d
I can’t explain. It was unconscious, this smile was, though just after been a trader here his whole life. The men obeyed him, but they
he had said something it got intensified for an instant. It came at
didn’t respect or fear him. He made everyone feel uneasy. Not
the end of his speeches like a seal applied on the words to make the outright distrust, just uneasiness. You have no idea how effective
meaning of the commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable. such a power can be. He wasn’t very organized, which you could
He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these
see by looking around the station. He wasn’t smart or educated.
parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love How did he get that job? Maybe because he never got sick. He’d
nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it!
served three terms of three years each out there. Staying healthy in
Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing
the midst of so much sickness was a special power. When he went
more. You have no idea how effective such a... a... faculty can be. on leave, he partied wildly, like a sailor on shore. But he was
He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. similar to a sailor only on the outside. You could tell this simply
That was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the
by listening to him talk. He didn’t bring anything new into the
station. He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had world, but he kept things going. He was a great man because it
come to him—why? Perhaps because he was never ill... He had
was impossible to tell what motivated him. He never gave that
served three terms of three years out there... Because triumphant
secret away. Perhaps he had nothing in his heart at all. That
health in the general rout of constitutions is a kind of power in
thought was scary, because there was no one out there to stop him
itself. When he went home on leave he rioted on a large scale—
from doing whatever he wanted. Once when almost all of the
pompously. Jack ashore—with a difference—in externals only.
other white agents at the station were sick with some tropical
This one could gather from his casual talk. He originated nothing, disease, he said, ‘Men should only come out here if they don’t
he could keep the routine going—that’s all. But he was great. He have anything inside.’ He smiled that weird half-smile of his,
was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what
which was like a door cracking open in a dark room. You thought
could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps you’d seen something in him, but it closed too quickly. The white
there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause— men kept arguing over who got to sit where during mealtimes, so
for out there there were no external checks. Once when various
he had a big round table built. Wherever he sat was the head of the
tropical diseases had laid low almost every ‘agent’ in the station, he table. None of the other seats mattered. There was no arguing with
was heard to say, ‘Men who come out here should have no
him about this. He wasn’t friendly or unfriendly. He was quiet. He
entrails.’ He sealed the utterance with that smile of his, as though it had a young, plump black servant from the coast, whom he
had been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping. You allowed, even in his presence, to provoke the white men.
fancied you had seen things—but the seal was on. When annoyed
at meal-times by the constant quarrels of the white men about
precedence, he ordered an immense round table to be made, for
which a special house had to be built. This was the station’s messroom. Where he sat was the first place—the rest were nowhere.
One felt this to be his unalterable conviction. He was neither civil
nor uncivil. He was quiet. He allowed his ‘boy’—an overfed young
negro from the coast—to treat the white men, under his very eyes,
with provoking insolence.
Original Text
Modern Text
“He began to speak as soon as he saw me. I had been very long on
the road. He could not wait. Had to start without me. The up-river
stations had to be relieved. There had been so many delays already “He started talking as soon as he saw me. I’d been on the road for
that he did not know who was dead and who was alive, and how a very long time, but he couldn’t wait. He said that he had to start
they got on—and so on, and so on. He paid no attention to my
without me. The upriver stations had to be re-supplied. He didn’t
explanations, and, playing with a stick of sealing-wax, repeated
know who was still alive and who was dead. He didn’t listen to
several times that the situation was ‘very grave, very grave.’ There anything I said. He kept saying that the situation was ‘very grave,
were rumours that a very important station was in jeopardy, and its very grave.’ There were rumors that Mr. Kurtz was sick and his
chief, Mr. Kurtz, was ill. Hoped it was not true. Mr. Kurtz was... I station, the most important one, was in danger. He hoped it wasn’t
felt weary and irritable. Hang Kurtz, I thought. I interrupted him by true, because Mr. Kurtz was . . . I was tired and irritable. Who
saying I had heard of Mr. Kurtz on the coast. ‘Ah! So they talk of cares about Kurtz, I thought. I told him that I’d heard of Mr. Kurtz
him down there,’ he murmured to himself. Then he began again, on the coast. ‘Ah! So they talk about him down there,’ he
assuring me Mr. Kurtz was the best agent he had, an exceptional mumbled to himself. Then he went back to telling me that Mr.
man, of the greatest importance to the Company; therefore I could Kurtz was the best agent he had, a great man who was very
understand his anxiety. He was, he said, ‘very, very uneasy.’
important to the Company. He said that he was ‘very, very
Certainly he fidgeted on his chair a good deal, exclaimed, ‘Ah, Mr. uneasy.’ He fidgeted a lot and cried out, ‘Ah, Mr. Kurtz!’ He
Kurtz!’ broke the stick of sealing-wax and seemed dumfounded by broke the plastic on his chair, and seemed confused by this. Then
the accident. Next thing he wanted to know ‘how long it would
he wanted to know ‘how long it would take to—’ I cut him off
take to’... I interrupted him again. Being hungry, you know, and
again. I was hungry and hadn’t even been allowed to sit down. I
kept on my feet too. I was getting savage. ‘How can I tell?’ I said. was furious. ‘How can I tell?’ I said. ‘I haven’t even seen the
‘I haven’t even seen the wreck yet—some months, no doubt.’ All wreck yet. A few months, I’m sure.’ This conversation seemed so
this talk seemed to me so futile. ‘Some months,’ he said. ‘Well, let pointless. ‘A few months,’ he said. ‘Well, let’s say three months
us say three months before we can make a start. Yes. That ought to before we can go. Yes. That ought to be OK.’ I stormed out
do the affair.’ I flung out of his hut (he lived all alone in a clay hut muttering about what an idiot he was. Afterward, I changed my
with a sort of verandah) muttering to myself my opinion of him.
mind when I realized how nice he’d been about estimating how
He was a chattering idiot. Afterwards I took it back when it was
long it would take.
borne in upon me startlingly with what extreme nicety he had
estimated the time requisite for the ‘affair.’
“I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that “I started working the next day. I tried not to pay attention to what
station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on was happening at the station, which seemed to be the only way I
the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; could keep sane. But I had to look around sometimes, and I saw
and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the white agents just wandering around the station, never doing
the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all
anything. I asked myself what the point of this could be. They
meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves wandered around like a bunch of soulless beasts inside a rotten
in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a
fence. All they talked about was ivory. They practically prayed to
rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was
sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of
imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some
corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life.
And outside, the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck
on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil
or truth, waiting patiently for the passing away of this fantastic
it. You could smell the stupid greed like a whiff from a corpse. By
God, I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life! And the jungle
surrounding this little spot seemed invincible. It was like evil or
truth, simply waiting for our strange invasion to pass away.
Original Text
Modern Text
“Oh, these months! Well, never mind. Various things happened.
One evening a grass shed full of calico, cotton prints, beads, and I
don’t know what else, burst into a blaze so suddenly that you
“Oh, those months! Well, never mind. Time passed and things
would have thought the earth had opened to let an avenging fire
happened. One night a grass shed full of cloth and beads caught on
consume all that trash. I was smoking my pipe quietly by my
fire so suddenly it was like the end of the world. I was smoking
dismantled steamer, and saw them all cutting capers in the light,
my pipe when the fat man with the black moustache came running
with their arms lifted high, when the stout man with moustaches
down to the river with a tin bucket and told me that everything
came tearing down to the river, a tin pail in his hand, assured me was OK. He scooped up about a quart of water and ran back. He
that everybody was ‘behaving splendidly, splendidly,’ dipped
didn’t see it, but there was a hole in the bottom of his bucket.
about a quart of water and tore back again. I noticed there was a
hole in the bottom of his pail.
“I strolled up. There was no hurry. You see the thing had gone off “I strolled up to the fire. There wasn’t any hurry, since the thing
like a box of matches. It had been hopeless from the very first. The flamed up like a box of matches. It was useless to try to save it.
flame had leaped high, driven everybody back, lighted up
The flames leapt up and drove everyone back before collapsing.
everything—and collapsed. The shed was already a heap of embers The shed was a pile of ash. A black man was being beaten nearby.
glowing fiercely. A nigger was being beaten near by. They said he They said he started the fire somehow. He was screaming terribly.
had caused the fire in some way; be that as it may, he was
For a few days afterward he sat in the shade looking awful. Then
screeching most horribly. I saw him, later, for several days, sitting he got up and wandered off into the jungle. We never saw him
in a bit of shade looking very sick and trying to recover himself;
again. As I got close to the fire I heard two men talking. They said
afterwards he arose and went out—and the wilderness without a
Kurtz’s name and ‘take advantage of this unfortunate accident.’
sound took him into its bosom again. As I approached the glow
One of the men was the manager. I said hello. ‘Did you ever see
from the dark I found myself at the back of two men, talking. I
anything like it? It’s incredible,’ he said, and walked off. The
heard the name of Kurtz pronounced, then the words, ‘take
other man stayed behind. He was a young agent with a forked
advantage of this unfortunate accident.’ One of the men was the
beard and a hooked nose. He was cold to the other agents, who
manager. I wished him a good evening. ‘Did you ever see anything thought he was the manager’s spy. I’d hardly spoken to him
like it—eh? it is incredible,’ he said, and walked off. The other
before. We started talking and strolled away from the fire. He
man remained. He was a first-class agent, young, gentlemanly, a asked me to come back to his room in the main building of the
bit reserved, with a forked little beard and a hooked nose. He was station. He lit a match and I saw that this young aristocrat had nice
stand-offish with the other agents, and they on their side said he
furniture and a whole candle all to himself. At that time, the
was the manager’s spy upon them. As to me, I had hardly ever
manager was supposed to be the only person with candles. There
spoken to him before. We got into talk, and by and by we strolled were native mats hanging on the walls, as well as spears, shields,
away from the hissing ruins. Then he asked me to his room, which and knives. They were like hunting trophies. This man’s job was
was in the main building of the station. He struck a match, and I
making bricks, but there weren’t any bricks anywhere in the
perceived that this young aristocrat had not only a silver-mounted station. He’d been there a year, waiting for all of the materials to
dressing-case but also a whole candle all to himself. Just at that
arrive that he needed to make bricks. Since whatever the material
time the manager was the only man supposed to have any right to was couldn’t be found in the country and wasn’t on its way from
candles. Native mats covered the clay walls; a collection of spears, Europe, I didn’t know why he bothered to keep waiting. Maybe he
assegais, shields, knives was hung up in trophies. The business
thought the material would simply appear out of thin air. But it
intrusted to this fellow was the making of bricks—so I had been
seemed like all of the agents were waiting for something. It didn’t
informed; but there wasn’t a fragment of a brick anywhere in the seem to be a half-bad job, judging from all of the lounging around
station, and he had been there more than a year—waiting. It seems they did. But the only thing that ever came for them was disease.
he could not make bricks without something, I don’t know what— They spent their days complaining and plotting against each other.
straw maybe. Anyway, it could not be found there and as it was not It was stupid. There was an atmosphere of plotting at the station,
likely to be sent from Europe, it did not appear clear to me what he but nothing ever came of it. It was as fake as everything else, as
was waiting for. An act of special creation perhaps. However, they fake as the claim that the whole operation was actually helping the
were all waiting—all the sixteen or twenty pilgrims of them—for natives, as fake as everything they said, as fake as their
something; and upon my word it did not seem an uncongenial
government, and as fake as their show of work. Their only true
occupation, from the way they took it, though the only thing that feeling was the desire to be assigned to a trading post with a lot of
ever came to them was disease—as far as I could see. They
ivory, so they could make more money. They plotted against each
beguiled the time by back-biting and intriguing against each other other only to get ahead, but they never did any real work. There is
in a foolish kind of way. There was an air of plotting about that
something terrible about a world that lets one man steal a horse
station, but nothing came of it, of course. It was as unreal as
while another man isn’t allowed to even look at a horse’s halter.
everything else—as the philanthropic pretence of the whole
concern, as their talk, as their government, as their show of work.
The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading-post
where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages.
They intrigued and slandered and hated each other only on that
account—but as to effectually lifting a little finger—oh, no. By
heavens! there is something after all in the world allowing one man
to steal a horse while another must not look at a halter. Steal a
horse straight out. Very well. He has done it. Perhaps he can ride.
But there is a way of looking at a halter that would provoke the
most charitable of saints into a kick.