"That!" said the Coaster. He threw out his arm at the brooding mountains, the dark lagoons, the glaring coast-line against which the waves shot into the air with the shock and roar of twelve-inch guns.
"The first white man came to Sierra Leone five hundred years before Christ," said the Coaster. "And, in twenty-two hundred years, he's got just twenty miles inland. The native didn't need forts, or a navy, to stop him. He had three allies: those waves, the fever, and the sun. Especially the sun. The black man goes bare-headed, and the sun lets him pass. The white man covers his head with an inch of cork, and the sun strikes through it and kills him. When Jameson came down the river from Yambuya, the natives fired on his boat. He waved his helmet at them for three minutes, to show them there was a white man in the canoe. Three minutes was all the sun wanted. Jameson died in two days. Where you are going, the sun does worse things to a man than kill him: it drives him mad. It keeps the fear of death in his heart; and THAT takes away his nerve and his sense of proportion. He flies into murderous fits, over silly, imaginary slights; he grows morbid, suspicious, he becomes a coward, and because he is a coward with authority, he becomes a bully.
"He is alone, we will suppose, at a station three hundred miles from any other white man. One morning his house-boy spills a cup of coffee on him, and in a rage he half kills the boy. He broods over that, until he discovers, or his crazy mind makes him think he has discovered, that in revenge the boy is plotting to poison him. So he punishes him again. Only this time he punishes him as the black man has taught him to punish, in the only way the black man seems to understand; that is, he tortures him. From that moment the fall of that man is rapid. The heat, the loneliness, the fever, the fear of the black faces, keep him on edge, rob him of sleep, rob him of his physical strength, of his moral strength. He loses shame, loses reason; becomes cruel, weak, degenerate. He invents new, bestial tortures; commits new, unspeakable 'atrocities,' until, one day, the natives turn and kill him, or he sticks his gun in his mouth and blows the top of his head off."
The Coaster smiled tolerantly at the wide-eyed eager young man at his side.
"And you," he mocked, "think you can reform that man, and that hell above ground called the Congo, with an article in Lowell's Weekly?"
Undismayed, Everett grinned cheerfully.
"That's what I'm here for!" he said.
By the time Everett reached the mouth of the Congo, he had learned that in everything he must depend upon himself; that he would be accepted only as the kind of man that, at the moment, he showed himself to be. This attitude of independence was not chosen, but forced on him by the men with whom he came in contact. Associations and traditions, that in every part of the United States had served as letters of introduction, and enabled strangers to identify and label him, were to the white men on the steamer and at the ports of call without meaning or value. That he was an Everett of Boston conveyed little to those who had not heard even of Boston. That he was the correspondent of Lowell's Weekly meant less to those who did not know that Lowell's Weekly existed. And when, in confusion, he proffered his letter of credit, the very fact that it called for a thousand pounds was, in the eyes of a "Palm Oil Ruffian," sufficient evidence that it had been forged or stolen. He soon saw that solely as a white man was he accepted and made welcome. That he was respectable, few believed, and no one cared. To be taken at his face value, to be refused at the start the benefit of the doubt, was a novel sensation; and yet not unpleasant. It was a relief not to be accepted only as Everett the Muckraker, as a professional reformer, as one holier than others. It afforded his soul the same relaxation that his body received when, in his shirt-sleeves in the sweltering smoking-room, he drank beer with a chef de poste who had been thrice tried for murder.