Heart of Darkness
The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at
rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river,
the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.
The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable
waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in
the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to
stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A
haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark
above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom,
brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.
The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four affectionately
watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole river there
was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is
trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the
luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom.
Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides
holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of
making us tolerant of each other's yarns--and even convictions. The Lawyer--the best of
old fellows--had, because of his many years and many virtues, the only cushion on
deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of
dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right
aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a
straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands
outwards, resembled an idol. The Director, satisfied the anchor had good hold, made
his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards
there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason or other we did not begin that
game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day
was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the
sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the
Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland,
and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding
over the upper reaches, became more somber every minute, as if angered by the
approach of the sun.
And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing
white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out
suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.