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CHAPTER II (continued)

THE INNER STATION

The mention of the black helmsman returns Marlow's thoughts to the thread of his story. He already missed his dead helmsman terribly, he tells us. True, the man wasn't much of a sailor, but they'd been working together for months, and over that time a subtle bond had formed-a bond Marlow recognizes, admittedly, only once it's broken. And he feels "a claim of distant kinship" with him. Marlow has already told us about the "remote kinship" he felt with the savages he saw on the voyage upriver (II, 2). But that was more abstract, and it was also negative-it made him wonder about the savage buried somewhere in himself. But he misses the helmsman as you would miss a colleague or a friend; he recognizes his humanity. "Poor fool!... He had no restraint, no restraint-just like Kurtz." It wouldn't be such an extraordinary reaction if it weren't so isolated, set off by the racist brutality of the other whites.

The pilgrims and the manager are gathered out on the deck when Marlow drags the body out of the cabin and tips it overboard. They're rather piously shocked to see him dump the remains so promptly, but he has a good reason. He's heard an ominous murmur from the cannibals below, and as much as he sympathizes with their hunger, Marlow the Victorian doesn't sympathize by any means with savage practices: "I had made up my mind that if my late helmsman was to be eaten, the fishes alone should have him." He's also anxious to take the steering wheel from the hands of the inept pilgrim behind it.

As Marlow steers, the pilgrims chatter (another instance of work versus words). They figure (wrongly) that Kurtz is dead and the station burned to a cinder by hostile Africans. And they proudly congratulate themselves for having slaughtered so many of them. But Marlow saw them aiming high and shooting wildly. He maintains (rightly) that the Africans fled in terror at the sound of his whistle.

The boat is still headed for the Inner Station, or whatever is left of it, but the manager prudently wants to get as far back downriver as they can before dark. But even as he's speaking they steam up to a clearing, and they behold the Inner Station-decaying, but in one piece. It has no fence, but Marlow spots what must be the remains of one-six upright posts with what look like ornamental carved balls on top (remember these).


An odd figure is shouting and beckoning them eagerly from the bank: young, beardless, blue eyed, and with so many brightly colored patches neatly sewn all over his clothes that he reminds Marlow of a harlequin, the traditional Italian clown who dresses in motley. His face, like a clown's face, is constantly changing from merriment to gloom and back again. He directs the manager and the pilgrims uphill toward Kurtz, and stays behind himself, jabbering to Marlow. Marlow is uneasy about the Africans in the bush behind the station, but the harlequin assures him there's nothing to worry about: "They are simple people." He even goes so far as to claim they "meant no harm" by the attack, though when Marlow stares at him, speechless, he's compelled to add, lamely, "Not exactly." Nevertheless, he advises Marlow to keep enough steam on the boiler to operate the steam whistle, which frightens them far more than rifles (so Marlow was right).

Something the harlequin says suggests that he's making up for a long silence. "Don't you talk with Mr. Kurtz?" Marlow asks him, and he immediately becomes reverent: "You don't talk with that man-you listen to him." Marlow learns that the young man is a Russian who ran away from school and became a sailor, first in the Russian, then the English navy. "When one is young," the harlequin tells him, "one must see things, gather experience, ideas; enlarge the mind." Two years ago he had set out for the interior of the jungle with "no more idea of what would happen to him than a baby." The hut downriver where they found the pile of wood and the message is his old house.

Marlow returns the book he found there. "You made note in Russian?" he asks, solving the mystery of the "coded" notes. When he tries to find out why the natives attacked, the Russian grows shamefaced: "They don't want him to go." (Not an hour before everyone was assuming Kurtz had been killed by hostile Africans.) Now Marlow has the solution to two mysteries-the coded notes, and also the enigmatic cry of despair that came from the Africans when they spotted the steamboat approaching.

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