فصل 05

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فصل 05

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  • زمان مطالعه 5 دقیقه
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CHAPTER FIVE

‘Of course it was not “very soon” before I met Kurtz. The journey up the river took two months. It was like travelling back in time to the beginning of the world, to a time when there was just forest and trees.

‘The river was wide but shallow, so it was always difficult to find the deep channel for the steamer. There were little islands of sand in the middle of the river, and there was the constant danger of running aground on them. Sometimes the steamer did touch the bottom of the river. Then the cannibals we had taken on as crew had to get out and push her through it. They were fine fellows, those cannibals. They worked hard, and they didn’t eat each other while they were on board the steamer.

‘The manager and three or four pilgrims were also on board with us. We drifted together through that huge silence, surrounded by millions of great trees. It was a strange experience. Sometimes we saw a little trading station on the riverbank. They were miserable places, just a broken-down building and a few white men occupying it. The men would run out excitedly when they saw the steamer. They called out to us, and the men on board would shout out the word “ivory” a few times.

‘Sometimes the silence of the forest was broken by the sound of drums in the interior. We never knew what the drums meant - war, peace or prayer. Sometimes we rounded a bend in the river and saw a native village on the riverbank. Then we would see black people dancing and shouting. We didn’t know if they were welcoming us or cursing us. We would watch for a few minutes until the steamer rounded the next bend and the village disappeared from sight.

‘We were in the middle of this huge primitive world and we didn’t understand anything about it. We had no way of understanding the people or the way they lived. Everything seemed ugly and frightening to us, but at the same time the people were like us. It was that common humanity that excited me.

‘The steamer’s fireman was one of the savages. He came from a cannibal tribe, and he had ceremonial scars on his cheeks. But he had learned something from us. He watched the steam gauge and the water gauge all day, and he knew what to do when the pressure changed. He was good at his job, but I don’t think he understood anything about it really. I think he saw the boiler as an angry devil that would surely explode if he didn’t watch the gauges properly.

‘About fifty miles from Kurtz’s station we saw a hut on the riverbank. There was a flag flying from a stick nearby, and a neatly stacked pile of wood. We came in closer to have a look, and there was a message on the firewood. The message was for us. It read: “Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously.” There was a signature, but we could not read it. It was not Kurtz - the name was a much longer one.

‘We tried to work out what the message meant. “Hurry up.” That seemed to indicate there was trouble further up the river. Something was obviously wrong, but we didn’t know what it was, or how serious it was. And then “Approach cautiously”. What could that mean?

‘I found an old book in the broken-down hut. It was an English book about seamanship, full of calculations and tables. The book was about sixty years old. It was an extraordinary thing to find there in the middle of all that jungle! Someone had written notes in the margin of the book in a kind of code. It was a mystery to me, and I took the book away with me.

‘Late the next afternoon we were about eight miles from Kurtz’s station. I wanted to go on, but the manager said it was too dangerous. He said the river was difficult there, and he reminded me of the message to “approach cautiously”. He said he would rather arrive in daylight.

‘I put the steamer in the middle of the river for the night, and we anchored there to be safe. When the sun rose in the morning we were surrounded by a dense white fog. It was very warm and we couldn’t see anything.

‘The fog suddenly lifted and we saw the trees on the riverbanks. I gave the order to raise the anchor. As the men were pulling up the chain, the fog came down again. The riverbanks and trees disappeared from sight. I ordered the men to lower the anchor chain again.

‘Suddenly we heard a cry from the riverbank. Then there was noise all around us. Hundreds of voices were shrieking in a terrible way. The noise went on for a while, and then it stopped as suddenly as it had started.

‘It was appalling to hear that dreadful noise, followed by complete silence. Some of the pilgrims on board the steamer ran into the little cabin to fetch their Winchesters.’

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