فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

‘I was wrong, of course,’ he told us. ‘In the end I did hear Kurtz speak. I heard more than enough. He was just a voice by then. And then there was the girl. I lied about him in the end. She had nothing to do with it all - nothing at all.

‘Kurtz and his gifts! The jungle had taken him and loved him. It had gone into him and consumed him. He had become the jungle.

‘Of course he had more ivory than anyone else. We took it and piled it on deck where he could look at it and enjoy the sight of it. He used to call it “my ivory”. The girl was “my intended”. The station was “my station”. Everything was his, you see. It all belonged to him. I listened to him, expecting to hear the wilderness laugh at him.

‘What belonged to him didn’t matter, you see. It didn’t matter at all. I wanted to understand what he belonged to. I wanted to know what darkness had taken hold of him.’

Marlow looked at us again.

‘You can’t understand,’ he told us. ‘You’ve got your lives here. You’ve got the solid pavement under your feet, and neighbours and friends. You can’t imagine what complete solitude is like, complete silence. That was what Africa was for Kurtz, you see. He was a man on his own. He had no support from other people. He had to rely on his own character and strength, and on his ideas. And that’s where Kurtz failed. He didn’t have that kind of strength.

‘I’m not making excuses for Kurtz. I want to understand him. He talked to me. He spoke English - his mother was half-English and his father half-French. Europe produced him.

‘I learned that the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had asked him to write a report about Africa. He had written it, too, before he failed. I read it, and it was a brilliant document. He wrote that white men must seem like gods to the natives. That we could use that power to do good for Africa. It was a passionate argument, a highly moral view of the European role. And right at the end of the beautifully written document there was a single sentence: “Kill all the brutes!”

‘Kurtz failed, you see. He took part in certain midnight dances, and certain terrible ceremonies. The darkness claimed him.

‘I took the steamer slowly towards the station, and at last we saw it. There was a gap in the forest, and a long building stood at the top of a hill. There was no fence around it, but there had been a fence once. I could see some wooden posts standing around the building. They were decorated with round balls.

‘A white man stood on the riverbank waving to us. We tied up the steamer.

‘“We’ve been attacked,” the manager told the white man.

‘“I know, I know,” the white man replied. “It’s all right now.”

‘I looked at the man. His clothes were highly coloured. Where the cloth had worn through, it had been replaced with patches of blue, red and yellow. He looked like a harlequin. I noticed that he had a Russian accent.

‘The strange man came on board.

‘“I don’t like this,” I told him. “The natives are everywhere.”

‘“Oh, it’s all right,” he said cheerfully. “They don’t mean any harm. They’re simple people. You can frighten them away with the steamer whistle.”

‘“I left some wood for you,” he told me. “That was my old house.”

‘“Then this must be your book,” I replied. I handed him the old book about seamanship. He took it gratefully.

‘“The only book I’ve got left!” he cried excitedly.

‘Then I understood the mystery of the notes in code.

‘“You write notes in Russian?” I asked him. “I thought it was a code.”

‘He laughed.

‘We talked together. He was a Russian, and had started life as a sailor. Then he had come to Africa. He decided he wanted to be a trader. He went into the interior by himself and began to trade in ivory.

‘“And then I met Mr Kurtz,” he said very solemnly. “They don’t want him to go,” he explained. “That’s why they attacked the steamer.”

‘He looked wildly at me for a moment.

“‘Mr Kurtz enlarged my mind,” he announced.’

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