فصل 06

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فصل 06

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  • زمان مطالعه 6 دقیقه
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Chapter six

‘“Are they going to attack?” someone asked in a whisper.

‘“They’ll kill us all if they do,” someone replied. “We can’t see anything in this fog.”

‘We all peered anxiously into the fog, but it was impossible to see anything. It was interesting to see the different reactions of the black and white men on board. The white men were clearly shocked by the awful noise and the sudden silence. The natives were calmer. They did not seem frightened.

‘One of the cannibals was standing near me, and I looked at him in a friendly way. He grinned at me.

“Catch them,” he said. “Catch them and give them to us.”

‘“What will you do with them?”

‘“Eat them,” he replied quickly.

‘I was not as shocked as I might have been. The cannibals had been eating dried meat all the time they were with us, and they must have been hungry. Besides, they were part of this primitive world we were travelling through. Eating people was their custom. I don’t know why they had left us alone. There were thirty of them on the steamer, and only a handful of us. I looked at them with interest now. What human secret had stopped them from attacking us and eating us?

‘“It’s very serious,” the manager said to me quietly. “It would be terrible if anything happened to Mr Kurtz before we could help him.”

‘He said we should move on to Kurtz’s station as soon as we could.

‘I did not reply to him. He knew that we could not move in the fog.

‘“I’m giving you permission to take all the risks that are necessary,” he said quietly.

‘“I’m not taking any risks,” I said firmly.

‘“Well, I must accept what you decide. You’re the captain,” he said quietly.

‘Now I spoke to everyone on the steamer. I told them what I thought. The natives could not attack us from their canoes. They could not see in the fog, any more than we could. They did not seem aggressive, I told them. It was more as if the sight of the steamer had made them sad. That terrible noise they had made seemed more like an outburst of grief than aggression.

‘We waited there and the fog lifted. Still nothing happened. Then we set off again up the river. About two hours later, we were just over a mile from Kurtz’s station. There was a narrow island in the middle of the river, and I could not decide whether to go to the left of it or to the right. The water seemed the same depth on both sides. I took the left channel because I knew the trading station was on that side of the river.

‘We went very close to the riverbank. The native helmsman was steering the steamer. There was another native with a long wooden pole on the deck whose job was to push the pole into the water, to find out how deep the river was. Suddenly the poleman lay down on the deck, leaving the wooden pole in the water. He held on to the end of the pole, and it floated after us in the water. At the same moment I saw the fireman sit down quickly in front of the fire. I was amazed.

‘I looked away at the river, and I could see lots of little sticks flying towards us. The air was thick with them, and they made a noise as they flew towards us. Then I realised what they were - arrows! We were being attacked from the riverbank.

‘I stepped quickly up to the helmsman. He was holding the wheel, but he was making strange gestures with his legs and mouth. Then I saw a dark face hidden in the trees. The face looked fiercely at me. I looked again, and I could see a lot of dark shapes among the trees.

‘“Steer properly,” I told the helmsman. “You’ve gone too close to the riverbank.”

‘The helmsman ignored me. He kept on holding the wheel and making those peculiar movements of his legs. The pilgrims began to shoot into the jungle. There was noise and smoke from their Winchesters.

‘The helmsman dropped the wheel and picked up a rifle. He, too, began firing out of the cabin. Then something large flew into the cabin. The helmsman dropped his rifle, and stepped back quickly. He looked at me for a long moment, and then fell at my feet. There was a spear in his side. His blood ran over my shoes.

‘I grabbed the wheel and steered towards the middle of the river. Then I reached for the line of the steam whistle and pulled it hard. The whistle screeched out noisily. The arrows stopped instantly. There was a sudden and complete silence in the forest. The natives stopped shouting. They began to cry out sadly, as if the noise of the whistle was a great grief to them.

‘One of the pilgrims came into the cabin. He looked in shock at the helmsman lying at my feet. The black man stared at us both for a moment or two, and then he died without a word.

‘“He’s dead,” the hunter said quietly.

‘“Yes,” I replied. “And I expect Mr Kurtz is dead by now, as well.”

‘I was disappointed at the thought of Kurtz’s death. I realised that I had wanted to talk to him. I had heard he was the best ivory agent in the region, but I had also been told that he was a man with ideas. I was saddened to think I would never hear those ideas of his now.’

Here Marlow broke off his story to look at us as we lay on the deck of the Nellie listening to him.

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