صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني




great gestures of joy and sur- by the descent of a chill stillness; prise and welcome, seemed very the wood - cutters slept, their strange, —had the appearance fires burned low; the snapping of being held there captive by of a twig would make you a spell. The word ivory would start. We were wanderers on ring in the air for a while—and a prehistoric earth, on an earth on we went again into the si- that wore the aspect of an lence, along empty reaches, round unknown planet. We could the still bends, between the high have fancied ourselves the walls of our winding way, re- first of men taking possession verberating in hollow claps the of an accursed inheritance, to ponderous beat of the stern- be subdued at the cost of prowheel. Trees, trees, millions of found anguish and of excessive trees, massive, immense, run- toil. But suddenly, ning up high ; and at their foot, struggled round a bend, there hugging the bank against the would be a glimpse of rush stream, crept the little begrimed walls, of peaked grass - roofs, steamboat, like a sluggish beetle a burst of yells, a whirl of black crawling on the floor of a lofty limbs, a mass of hands clapping, portico. It made you feel very of feet stamping, of bodies sway

. small, very lost, and yet it was ing, of eyes rolling, under the not altogether depressing that droop of heavy and motionless feeling. After all, if you were foliage. The steamer toiled small, the grimy beetle crawled along slowly on the edge of on—which was just what you a black and incomprehensible wanted it to do. Where the frenzy. The prehistoric man pilgrims imagined it crawled to was cursing us, praying to us, I don't know. To some place welcoming us—who could tell ? where they expected to get We were cut off from the comsomething, I bet! For me it prehension of our surroundings; crawled towards Kurtz-exclu- we glided past like phantoms, sively; but when the steam-pipes wondering and secretly appalled, started leaking we crawled very sane men would be before slow. The reaches opened be- an enthusiastic outbreak in a fore us and closed behind, as if madhouse. We could not unthe forest had stepped leisurely derstand, because we were too across the water to bar the way far and could not remember, for our return. We penetrated because we were travelling in deeper and deeper into the heart the night of first ages, of those of darkness. It was very quiet ages that are gone, leaving there. At night sometimes the hardly a sign--and no memories. roll of drums behind the curtain “The earth seemed unearthly. of trees would run up the river We are accustomed to look upon and remain sustained faintly, as the shackled form of a if hovering in the air high over quered monster, but there our heads, till the first break of there you could look at a thing day. Whether it meant war, monstrous and free.

It was peace, or prayer we could not unearthly, and the men were tell. The dawns were heralded

No, they were not in




human. Well, you know, that be silenced. Of course, a fool, was the worst of it—this sus- what with sheer fright and picion of their not being in- fine sentiments, is always safe. human. It would come slowly Who's that grunting? You to

They howled, and wonder I didn't go ashore for leaped, and spun, and made a howl and a dance? Well, no horrid faces; but what thrilled -I didn't. Fine sentiments, you was just the thought of you say? Fine sentiments, be their humanity — like yours — hanged! I had no time. I the thought of your remote had to mess about with whitekinship with this wild and pas- lead and strips of woollen blansionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it ket helping to put bandages was ugly enough; but if you on those leaky steam-pipeswere man enough you would I tell you. I had to watch the admit to yourself that there steering, and circumvent those

in you just the faintest snags, and get the tin-pot along trace of a response to

the by hook or by crook. There was terrible frankness of that noise, surface-truth enough in these a dim suspicion of there being things to save a wiser man. a meaning in it which you— And between whiles I had to you so remote from the night look after the savage who of first ages — could compre- was fireman. He was an imhend. And why not? The mind proved specimen; he could of man is capable of anything fire up a vertical boiler. He –because everything is in it, was there below me, and, upon all the past as well as all the my word, to look at him was future. What was there after as edifying as seeing a dog in all? Joy, fear, sorrow, devo- a parody of breeches and a tion, valour, rage - who

who can

feather hat, walking on his tell?—but truth-truth stripped hind-legs. A few months of of its cloak of time. Let the training had done for that really fool gape and shudder — the fine chap. He squinted at the man knows, and can look on steam-gauge and at the waterwithout a wink. But he must gauge with an evident effort at least be as much of a man of intrepidity and he had as these on the shore. He must filed teeth too, the poor devil, meet that truth with his own and the wool of his pate shaved true stuff—with his own inborn into queer patterns, and three strength. Principles ? Prin- ornamental scars on each of ciples won't do. Acquisitions, his cheeks. He ought to have clothes, pretty rags—rags that been clapping his hands and would fly off at the first good stamping his feet on the bank, shake. No; you want a de- instead of which he was hard liberate belief. An appeal to at work, a thrall to strange me in this fiendish row - is witchcraft, full of improving there? Very well; I hear; I knowledge. He was useful beadmit, but I have a voice too, cause he had been instructed ; and for good or evil mine and what he knew was thisis the speech that cannot that should the water in that


transparent thing disappear, the much? That was the

quesevil spirit inside the boiler tion. We commented adversely would get angry through the upon the imbecility of that telegreatness of his thirst, and take graphic style. The bush around a terrible vengeance.

So he said nothing, and would not let sweated and fired up and us look very far, either. A torn watched the glass fearfully curtain of red twill hung in the (with an impromptu charm, doorway of the hut, and flapped made of rags, tied to his arm, sadly in our faces. The dwelland a piece of polished bone, as ing was dismantled; but we big as a watch, stuck flatways could see a white man had lived through his lower lip), while there not very long ago. There the wooded banks slipped past remained a rude table-a plank us slowly, the short noise was on two posts; a heap of rubbish left behind, the interminable reposed in a dark corner, and miles of silence—and we crept by the door I picked up a book. on, towards Kurtz. But the It had lost its covers, and the snags were thick, the water pages had been thumbed into a was treacherous and shallow, state of extremely dirty softthe boiler seemed indeed to ness; but the back had been have a sulky devil in it, and lovingly stitched afresh with thus neither that fireman nor white cotton thread, which I had any time to peer into our looked clean yet.

It was creepy thoughts.

extraordinary find. Its title “Some fifty miles below the was, “An Inquiry into some Inner Station we came upon a

Points of Seamanship,' by a hut of reeds, an inclined and man Tower, Towson—some such melancholy pole, with the un- Master in his Majesty's recognisable tatters of what had Navy. The matter looked been a flag of some sort flying dreary reading enough, with from it, and a neatly stacked illustrative diagrams and rewood-pile. This was unexpect- pulsive tables of figures, and the ed. We came to the bank, and copy was sixty years old. I on the stack of firewood found handled this amazing antiquity a flat piece of board with with the greatest possible tensome faded pencil - writing onderness, lest it should dissolve in it. When deciphered it said: my hands. Within, Towson or • Wood for you. Hurry up. Towser was inquiring earnestly Approach cautiously.' 'There into the breaking strain of was a signature, but it was il- ships' chains and tackle, and legible — not Kurtz a much other such matters. Not longer word. Hurry up. Where? very enthralling book; but at Up the river? Approach cau- the first glance you could see tiously.' We had not done so. there a singleness of intention, But the warning could not have an honest concern for the right been meant for the place where way of going to work, which it could be only found after ap- made these humble pages, proach. Something was wrong thought out so many years ago, above. But what - and how luminous with another than a





professional light. The simple myself listening on tiptoe for old sailor, with his talk of the next beat of the float, for chains and purchases, made me in sober truth I expected the forget the jungle and the pil- wretched thing to give up grims in a delicious sensation of every moment. It was like having come upon something watching the last flickers of a unmistakably real. Such life. But still

we crawled. book being there was wonderful Sometimes I would pick out enough; but still more astound- a tree a little way ahead to ing were the notes pencilled in

our progress towards the margin, and plainly refer- Kurtz by, but I lost it invariring to the text. I couldn't ably before we got abreast. To believe my eyes! They were keep the eyes so long on one in cipher! Yes, it looked like thing was too much for human cipher. Fancy a man lugging patience. The manager diswith him a book of that de- played a beautiful resignation. scription into this nowhere and I fretted and fumed and took studying it—and making notes to arguing with myself whether -in cipher at that! It was an or no I would talk openly with extravagant mystery.

Kurtz; but before I could come “I had been dimly aware for to any conclusion it occurred some time of a worrying noise, to me that my speech or my and when I lifted my eyes I silence, indeed any action of saw the wood-pile was gone, and mine, would be a mere futility. the manager, aided by all the What did it matter what any pilgrims, was shouting at me one knew or ignored ? What from the river-side. I slipped did it matter who was the book into my pocket. I ager? One gets sometimes such assure you to leave off reading a flash of insight. The essentials was like tearing myself away of this affair lay deep under the from the shelter of an old and surface, beyond my reach, and solid friendship

beyond my power of meddling. “I started the lame engine “Towards the evening of the ahead. “It must be this miser- second day we judged ourselves able trader — this intruder,' about eight miles from Kurtz's exclaimed the manager, looking station. I wanted to push on; back malevolently at the place but the manager looked grave, we had left. He must be and told me the navigation up English,' I said. 'It will not there was so dangerous that it save him from getting into would be advisable, the sun trouble if he is not careful,' being very low already, to wait muttered the manager darkly. where we were till next morning. I observed with assumed inno- Moreover, he pointed out that

that no man was safe if the warning to approach from trouble in this world. cautiously were to be followed,

“The current was more rapid we must approach in daylight now, the steamer seemed at her —not at dusk, or in the dark. last gasp, the

the stern - wheel This was sensible enough. Eight flopped languidly, and I caught miles meant nearly three hours'




steaming for us, and I could then the white shutter came also see suspicious ripples at the down again, smoothly, as if upper end of the reach. Never- sliding in greased grooves.

I theless, I was annoyed beyond ordered the chain, which we expression at the delay, and had begun to heave in, to most unreasonably too, since one be paid out again. Before it night more could not matter stopped running with a muffled much after so many months. rattle, a cry, a very loud cry, As we had plenty of wood, and as of infinite desolation, soared caution was the word, I brought slowly in the opaque air.

It up in the middle of the stream. ceased. A complaining clamour, The reach was narrow, straight, modulated in savage discords, with high sides like a railway filled our ears.

The sheer uncutting. The dusk came glid- expectedness of it made my hair ing into it long before the sun

stir under my cap.

I don't had set. The current know how it struck the others : smooth and swift, but a dumb to me it seemed as though the immobility sat on the banks. mist itself had screamed, so sudThe living trees, lashed together denly, and apparently from all by the creepers and every living sides at once, did this tumultbush of the undergrowth, might uous and mournful uproar arise. have been changed into stone, It culminated in a hurried outeven to the slenderest twig, to break of almost intolerably exthe lightest leaf. It was not

It was not cessive shrieking, which stopped sleep-it seemed unnatural, like short, leaving us stiffened in a a state of trance. Not the faint- variety of silly attitudes, and obest sound of any kind could be stinately listening to the nearly heard. You looked on amazed, as appalling and excessive siland began to suspect yourself ence. Good God! What is the of being deaf—then the night meaning- ?' stammered at came suddenly, and struck you my elbow one of the pilgrims, blind as well. About three in -a little fat man, with sandy the morning some large fish hair and red whiskers, who leaped, and the loud splash wore side-spring boots, and pink made me jump as though a pyjamas tucked into his socks. gun had been fired. When the Two others remained opensun rose there was a white fog, mouthed a whole minute, then very warm and clammy, and dashed into the little cabin, more blinding than the night. to rush out incontinently and It did not shift or drive; it was stand darting scared glances, just there, standing all round with Winchesters at ready you like something solid. At in their hands. What we could eight or nine, perhaps, it lifted was just the steamer we as a shutter lifts. We had a

were on, her outlines blurred glimpse of the towering multi- as though she had been on tude of trees, of the immense the point of dissolving, and a matted jungle, with the blazing misty strip of water, perhaps little ball of the sun hanging two feet broad, around herover it—all perfectly still—and and that was all. The rest of


« السابقةمتابعة »