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[Unnamed narrator]: For a long time already he [Marlow], sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice. There was not a word from anybody. The others might have been asleep, but I was awake. I listened, I listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word, that would give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips in the heavy night-air of the river. (1.66)
Like Kurtz will be later, Marlow has become just a voice to his listeners. The darkness and stillness have rendered them blind to each other and to Marlow; they can use only their sense of hearing.
"I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there. I had heard enough about it, too – God knows! Yet somehow it didn't bring any image with it - no more than if I had been told an angel or a fiend was in there…He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him? Do you see the story?" (1.61)
To Marlow, "Kurtz" is "just a word." Any rumors and words about Kurtz are empty for Marlow. He believes in Kurtz only as one would believe in a fairy tale.
"He [the manager] began to speak as soon as he saw me. I had been very long on the road. He could not wait. Had to start without me. The up-river stations had to be relieved. There had been so many delays already that he did not know who was dead and who was alive, and how they got on--and so on, and so on. He paid no attention to my explanations, and, playing with a stick of sealing-wax, repeated several times that the situation was 'very grave, very grave.' […] All this talk seemed to me so futile." (1.53)
The manager’s bumbling and useless talk tells Marlow very little about the situation. He only makes excuses for his incompetence. His talk is so meaningless it is like background babble. To emphasize this fact, Conrad does not even put quotation marks around his speech. Whenever the manager wants to underscore the importance of something, he stupidly repeats it, as in the situation being "very grave, very grave." It is no wonder that Marlow finds this talk a waste of time.