ePub 版


[ocr errors]



We called at some more is funny what some people will places with farcical names, where do for a few francs a-month. the merry dance of death and I wonder what becomes of that trade goes on in a still and kind when it goes up country?' earthy atmosphere as of an I said to him I expected to see overheated catacomb; all along that soon. So-o-o!' he exthe formless coast bordered by claimed. He shuffled athwart, dangerous surf, as if Nature her- keeping one eye ahead vigilself had tried to ward off in- antly. "Don't be too sure, truders; in and out of rivers, he continued. "The other day streams of death in life, whose I took up a man who hanged banks were rotting into mud, himself on the road.

He was a whose waters, thickened into Swede, too.' 'Hanged himself! slime, invaded the contorted Why, in God's name?' I cried. mangroves, that

seemed to He kept on looking out watchwrithe at us in the extremity fully. Who knows? The sun of an impotent despair. No- too much for him, or the country where did we stop long enough perhaps.' to get a particularised impres- “At last we turned a bend. sion, but the general sense of A rocky cliff appeared, mounds vague and oppressive wonder of turned-up earth by the shore, grew upon me. It was like a

houses on

a hill, others, with weary pilgrimage amongst hints iron roofs, amongst a waste of for nightmares.

excavations, or hanging to the “It was upward of thirty declivity. A continuous noise days before I saw the mouth of the rapids above hovered over of the big river. We anchored this scene of inhabited devastaoff the seat of the government. tion. A lot of people, mostly But my work would not begin black and naked, moved about till some

two hundred miles like ants. A jetty projected farther on

as I into the river. A blinding suncould I made a start for a place light drowned all this at times in thirty miles higher up.

a sudden recrudescence of glare. “I had my passage on a little "There's your Company's stasea-going steamer. Her cap- tion,' said the Swede, pointing tain was a Swede, and knowing to three wooden barrack-like me for a seaman, invited me on structures on the rocky slope. the bridge. He was a young 'I will send your things up. man, lean, fair, and morose, Four boxes did you say? So. with lanky hair and a shuffling Farewell.' gait. As we left the miserable “I came upon a boiler wallittle wharf, he tossed his head lowing in the grass, then found contemptuously at the shore.

a path leading up the hill. It *Been living there?' he asked. turned aside for the boulders, I said, Yes.' · Fine lot these and also for an undersized railgovernment chaps - are they way-truck lying there on its not?' he went on, speaking back with its wheels in the air. English with great precision One was off. The thing looked and considerable bitterness. It as dead as the carcass of some

So as



on the


animal. I came

upon more

All their meagre breasts panted pieces of decaying machinery, together, the violently dilated à stack of rusty rails. To the nostrils quivered, the eyes left a clump of trees made a stared stonily up - hill. They shady spot, where dark things passed me within six inches, seemed to

stir feebly. I without a glance, with that blinked, the path was steep. complete, deathlike indifference A horn tooted to the right, and of unhappy savages. Behind I saw the black people run. this raw matter one of the A heavy and dull detonation reclaimed, the product of the shook the ground, a puff of new forces at work, strolled smoke came out of the cliff, despondently, carrying a rifle by and that was all. No change its middle. He had a uniform appeared on the face of the jacket with a button off, and rock. They were building a seeing a white man railway. The cliff was not in path, hoisted his weapon to his the way or anything; but this shoulder with alacrity. This objectless blasting was all the was simple prudence, white work going on.

men being so much alike at a “A slight clinking behind me distance that he could not tell made me turn my head. Six who I might be.

He black men advanced in a file, speedily reassured, and with a toiling up the path. They large, white, rascally grin, and walked erect and slow, balanc- a glance at his charge, seemed ing small baskets full of earth to take me into partnership in on their heads, and the clink his exalted trust. After all, I kept time with their footsteps. also was a part of the great Black rags were wound round cause of these high and just their loins, and the short ends proceedings. behind wagged to and fro like “Instead of going up, I turned tails. I could see every rib, and descended to the left. My the joints of their limbs were idea was to let that chain-gang like knots in a rope ; each had get out of sight before I climbed an iron collar on his neck, and the hill. You know I am not all were connected together with particularly tender; I've had to a chain whose bights swung be- strike and to fend off. I've had tween them, rhythmically clink- to resist and to attack someing. Another report from the times—that's only one way of cliff made me think suddenly of resisting-without counting the that ship of war I had seen exact cost, according to the firing into a continent. It was demands of such sort of life as the same kind of ominous voice; I had blundered into. but these men could by no the devil of violence, and the stretch of imagination be called devil of greed, and the devil of enemies. They called hot desire ; but, by all the stars ! criminals, and the outraged these were strong, lusty, redlaw, like the bursting shells, eyed devils, that swayed and had come to them, an insoluble drove men - men, I tell you. mystery from over the But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding the earth, half coming out, sunshine of that land I would half effaced within the dim become acquainted with a flab- light, in all the attitudes of by, pretending, weak-eyed devil pain, abandonment, and despair. of a rapacious and pitiless folly. Another mine on the cliff went How insidious he could be, too, off, followed by a slight shudder I was only to find out several of the soil under my feet. The months later and a thousand work was going on. The work ! miles farther. For a moment And this was the place where I stood appalled, as though by some of the helpers had witha warning. Finally I descend- drawn to die. ed the hill, obliquely, towards “They were dying slowlythe trees I had seen.

I've seen



it was very clear. They were “I avoided a vast artificial not enemies, they were not hole somebody had been dig- criminals, they were nothing ging on the slope, the purpose earthly now,—nothing but black of which I found it impossible shadows of disease and starvato divine. It wasn't a quarry tion, lying confusedly in the or a sandpit, anyhow. It was greenish gloom. Brought from just a hole. It might have all the recesses of the coast in been connected with the phil- all the legality of time conanthropic desire of giving the tracts, lost in uncongenial surcriminals something to do. I roundings, fed on unfamiliar don't know. Then I nearly food, they sickened, became fell into a very narrow ravine, inefficient, and were then alalmost no more than a scar in lowed to crawl away and rest. the hillside. I discovered that These moribund shapes were a lot of imported drainage-pipes free as air -- and nearly as for the settlement had been thin. I began to distinguish tumbled in there. There wasn't the gleam of eyes under the one that was not broken. It trees. Then, glancing down, I was a wanton smash-up. At saw a face near my hand. The last I got under the trees. My black bones reclined at full purpose was to stroll into the length with one shoulder shade for a moment; but it against the tree, and slowly seemed to me I had stepped into the eyelids rose and the sunkthe gloomy circle of some In- en eyes looked up at me, enorferno. The river was near, and mous and vacant, a kind of an uninterrupted, uniform, head- blind, white flicker in the long, rushing noise filled the depths of the orbs, which died mournful stillness of the grove, out slowly. The man seemed where not a breath stirred, not young-almost a boy—but you a leaf moved with a mysterious know with them it's hard to sound, as though the tearing tell. I found nothing else to pace of the launched earth had do but to offer him one of my suddenly become audible. good Swede's ship's biscuits I

“Black shapes crouched, lay, had in my pocket. The fingers sat between the trees, leaning closed slowly on it and heldagainst the trunks, clinging to there was no other movement


and no other glance. He had ing, and had a penholder behind tied a bit of white worsted his ear. round his neck—Why? Where “I shook hands with this did he get it? Was it a badge miracle, and I learned he was

an ornament- a charm-a the Company's chief accountant, propitiatory act? Was there and that all the book-keeping any idea at all connected with was done at this station. He it? It looked startling round had come out for a moment, he his black neck, this bit of said, 'to get a breath of fresh white thread from beyond the air.' The expression sounded

wonderfully odd, with its sug“ Near the same tree two gestion of sedentary desk-life. more bundles of acute angles I wouldn't have mentioned the sat with their legs drawn up. fellow to you at all, only it was One, with his chin propped on from his lips that I first heard his knees, stared at nothing, in the name of the man who is so an intolerable and appalling indissolubly connected with the manner. His brother phantom memories of that time. Morerested its forehead, as if over- over, I respected the fellow. come with a great weariness; Yes; I respected his collars, his and all about others were scat- vast cuffs, his brushed hair. tered in every pose of contorted His appearance was certainly collapse, as in some picture of that of a hairdresser's dummy; massacre

pestilence. but in the great demoralisation While I stood horror-struck, of the land he kept up his one of these creatures rose to appearance. That's backbone. his hands and knees, and went His starched collars and got-up off on all - fours towards the shirt-fronts were achievements river to drink. He lapped out of character. He had been out of his hand, then sat up in the nearly three years; and, later sunlight, crossing his shins in on, I could not help asking him front of him, and after a time how he managed to sport such let his woolly head fall on his linen. He had just the faintest breastbone.

blush, and said modestly, I've "I didn't want any more loiter- been teaching one of the native ing in the shade, and I made women about the station. It haste towards the station. When was difficult. She had a disnear the buildings I met a white taste for the work.' Thus this man, in such an unexpected ele- man had verily accomplished gance of get-up that in the something. And he was defirst moment I took him for a voted to his books. sort of vision. I saw a high “Everything in the station starched collar, white cuffs, a

in muddle, — heads, light alpaca jacket, snowy things, buildings. Strings of trousers, a clear necktie, and dusty niggers with splay feet varnished boots. No hat. Hair arrived and departed; and a parted, brushed, oiled, under a stream of manufactured goods, green - lined parasol held in a rubbishy cottons, beads, and big white hand. He was amaz- brass-wire set into the depths






of darkness, and in return came ivory as all the others put toa precious trickle of ivory. gether.... He began to

"I had to wait in the station write again. The sick man for ten days—an eternity. I was too ill to groan.

The flies lived in a hut in the yard. To buzzed in a great peace. be out of the chaos I would “Suddenly there was a growsometimes get into the account- ing murmur of voices and a ant's office. It was built of great tramping of feet. A horizontal planks, and so badly caravan had come in. A vioput together that, as he bent lent babble of uncouth sounds over his high desk, he was burst out on the other side of barred from neck to heels with the planks. All the carriers narrow strips of sunlight. There were speaking together, and in was no need to open the big the midst of the uproar the shutter to see.

It was hot there lamentable voice of the chief too; big flies buzzed fiendishly, agent was heard ' giving it up' and did not sting, but stabbed. tearfully for the twentieth time I sat generally on the floor, that day. He rose slowly. while, of faultless appearance What å frightful row,' he said. (and even slightly scented), He crossed the room gently to perching on a high stool, he look at the sick man, and rewrote, he wrote. Sometimes he turning, said to me, 'He does stood up for exercise. When not hear. What! Dead ?' I a truckle-bed with a sick man asked, startled. "No, not yet,' (some invalided agent from up- he answered, with great comcountry) was put in there, he posure. Then, alluding with a exhibited a gentle annoyance. toss of the head to the tumult * The groans of this sick person,' in the station-yard, 'When one he said, 'distract my attention, has got to make correct entries, And without that it is ex- one comes to hate those savages tremely difficult

to guard —hate them to the death.' He against clerical errors in this remained thoughtful for a moclimate.'


Mr “One day he remarked, with- Kurtz,' he went on, 'tell him out lifting his head, 'In the from me that everything here' interior you will no doubt meet-he glanced at the desk-'is Mr

Kurtz.' On my asking very satisfactory. I don't like who Mr Kurtz was, he said he to write to him — with those was a first-class agent; and see- messengers of ours you never ing my disappointment at this know who may get your letter information, he added slowly, -at that Central Station.' He laying down his pen, 'He is a stared at me for a moment with very remarkable person.' Fur- his mild, bulging eyes. Oh, ther questions elicited from him he will go far, very far,' he bethat Mr Kurtz was at present gan again. 'He will be a somein charge of a trading post, a body in the Administration bevery important one, in the true fore long. They, above — the ivory-country, at the very bot- Council in Europe, you know tom of there. Sends in as much - mean him to be.'

· When you


« 上一頁繼續 »