Detailed Summary of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Chapter III, Part I
Marlow describes the existence of the Russian fellow in Kurtz’s station: “His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he had existed, how he had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to remain-why he did not instantly disappear”. Marlow considers that the youth had wasted himself in the wilderness of Africa while his entire struggle was not even worth a day. The young chap asked Marlow to take Kurtz away immediately because he is dying. Then he told of the all night conversation with Kurtz. The Russian relates that he was attached with Kurtz years ago.
He tells about Kurtz that he would wander in the forest alone and return to the station only after several days. He had nursed Kurtz when he got ill for the first time. Upon asked by Marlow the Russian tells that Kurtz roamed about and discovered villages and a lake “but mostly his expeditions had been for ivory”. Kurtz had a “good lot of cartridges” and “he raided the country” and “Kurtz got the tribe to follow him” and “they adored him”. The Russian adds that Kurtz “came to them with thunder and lightning, you know-and they had never seen anything like it-and very terrible. He could be very terrible”. He reminds Marlow that “you can’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man”.
He tells him an instance of Kurtz’ lust for ivory: “I had a small lot of ivory the chief of that village near my house gave me. You see I used to shoot game for them. Well, he wanted it, and wouldn’t hear reason. He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country”. He terms that “there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased”. The Russian tells that he is a friend of Kurtz and he wanted to stay with him. So he didn’t leave the station. It was about then when Kurtz got ill second time. But he remained in the villages. The Russian considers that Kurtz “suffered too much. He hated all this, and somehow he couldn’t get away”.
He relates that he wanted Kurtz to leave the accursed place of that wilderness but he won’t: “When I had a chance I begged him to try and leave while there was time; I offered to go back with him. And he would say yes, and then he would remain; go off on another ivory hunt; disappear for weeks”. Marlow explains that while he was talking to the Russian there were Negroes all about masked and hidden in the wild nature. They were looking at the two of them. The Russian went on: “I think the knowledge came to him at last-only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion”.
He further told Marlow that it seemed that the wilderness whispered to Kurtz and “the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core”. While the Russian was telling about the life of Kurtz, natives were watching them all the time. They had camps all around the place. But “they would not stir till Mr. Kurtz gave the word”. Every day the chiefs would come to see Kurtz and “they would crawl”. The scenes of this sort horrified Marlow. He wanted to vanish in the air or see some sort of savagery else than this but not this. The Russian reveals that “there hasn’t been a drop of medicine or a mouthful of invalid food for months here. He was shamefully abandoned”. So the cause of Kurtz’ increasing illness could be understood.
Later, a few men carried a stretcher. With their arrival, all the natives in the deep roared and shouted and there was savagery in those noises. The Russian told Marlow that it was up to Kurtz because if he does not speak, the natives would kill them: “Now, if he does not say the right thing to them we are all done for”. Marlow could see how Kurtz looked by then: “He looked at least seven feet long. His covering had fallen off, and his body emerged from it pitiful and appalling as from a winding-sheet. I could see the cage of his ribs all astir, the bones of his arm waving. It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze”.
It seems Kurtz tried to say something and shouted but merely a whisper could be heard. They lay him in a sort of bed in the ship cabin. Marlow could read the expressions of Kurtz: “He did not seem in pain. This shadow looked satiated and calm, as though for the moment it had had its fill of all the emotions.” Though Kurtz was sick and had turned to a mere heap of bones, yet he seemed a powerful enough to “very nearly make an end of us”. Outside the ship, there was a woman appearing out of the woods: “She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments.
She carried her head high; her hair was done in the shape of a helmet; she had brass leggings to the knee, brass wire gauntlets to the elbow, a crimson spot on her tawny cheek, innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step”. Marlow declares her “savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent”. He also feels that “there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress”.