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"I got my appointment - of course; and I got it very quick. It appears the Company had received news that one of their captains had been killed in a scuffle with the natives. This was my chance, and it made me the more anxious to go. It was only months and months afterwards, when I made the attempt to recover what was left of the body, that I heard the original quarrel arose from a misunderstanding about some hens. Yes, two black hens. Fresleven – that was the fellow’s name, a Dane – thought himself wronged somehow in the bargain so he went ashore and started to hammer the chief of the village with a stick. Oh, it didn’t surprise me in the last to hear this, and at the same time to be told that Fresleven was the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs. No doubt he was; but he had been a couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause, you know, and he probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly, while a big crowd of his people watched him, thunderstruck, till some man, - I was told the chief’s son, - in desperation at hearing the old chap yell, made a tentative jab with a spear at the white man – and of course it went quite easy between the shoulder-blades. Then the whole population cleared into the forest expecting all kinds of calamities to happen, while, on the other hand, the steamer Fresleven commanded left also in a bad panic, in charge of the engineer, I believe. Afterwards, nobody seemed to trouble much about Fresleven’s remains, till I got out and stepped into his shoes. I couldn’t let it rest, though; but when an opportunity offered at last to meet my predecessor, the grass growing through his ribs was tall enough to hide his bones. They were all there. The supernatural being had not been touched after he fell. And the village was deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen enclosures. A calamity had come to it, sure enough. The people had vanished. Mad terror had scattered them, men, women, and children, through the bush, and they had never returned. What became of the hens I don’t know either. I should think the cause of progress got them, anyhow." (1.21)
Marlow’s recounting of Fresleven’s death shows the brutality and resultant atrocity forced on the Africans. Fresleven wants to assert his self-respect over the native Africans and does so violently. This provokes the Africans to retaliate in defense of their threatened and demeaned chief. However, the Africans live in such fear of their conquerors that they scatter when Fresleven dies, thinking they have just killed a god and will be duly punished.
"Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a twopenny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital – you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman [Marlow’s aunt], living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about "weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways," till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable." (1.27)
Marlow finds that his aunt expects him to be something of a missionary – a man on the way to Africa to teach the native Africans – but all this talk makes Marlow uncomfortable. He knows that he is not traveling for altruistic ends.
"It was like a weary pilgrimage amongst hints for nightmares." (1.31)
The fact that Marlow refers to his journey as a "pilgrimage" implies that his mission is one so pure as to be blessed by God. In reality, his motivation is far less noble, but he deludes himself into this comforting lie.