Chapter VIII. To the Dark Continent




After spending two or three days going about London and enjoying himself with his friend Dick, Frank started for Deal, where he was pleased to find his sister well and happy. He bade goodbye to her, to the doctor, and such of his schoolfellows as lived in Deal, to whom his start for Central Africa was quite an event. Dr. Bateman handed over to him his watch and chain and his blowgun, which he had taken care of for him, also his skinning knives and instruments. The same evening he returned to town, and spent the days very pleasantly until the afternoon came when he was to depart. Then he bade farewell to his kind friends Sir James and Lady Ruthven. Dick accompanied him in the cab to Euston station, where a minute or two later Mr. Goodenough arrived. The luggage was placed in a carriage, and Frank stood chatting with Dick at the door, until the guard's cry, "Take your places!" caused him to jump into the carriage. There was one more hearty handshake with his friend, and then the train steamed out of the station.

It was midnight when they arrived at Liverpool, and at once went to bed at the Station Hotel. On coming down in the morning Frank was astonished at the huge heap of baggage piled up in the hall, but he was told that this was of daily occurrence, as six or eight large steamers went out from Liverpool every week for America alone, and that the great proportion of the passengers came down, as they had done, on the previous night, and slept at the Station hotel. Their own share of the baggage was not large, consisting only of a portmanteau each, Mr. Goodenough having sent down all his boxes two days previously. At twelve o'clock they went on board the Niger, bound for the west coast of Africa. This would carry them as far as Sierra Leone, whence Mr. Goodenough intended to take passage in a sailing ship to his starting point for the interior.

Frank enjoyed the voyage out intensely, and three days after sailing they had left winter behind; four days later they were lying in the harbor of Funchal.

"What a glorious place that would be to ramble about!" he said to Mr. Goodenough.

"Yes, indeed. It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than between this mountainous island of Madeira and the country which we are about to penetrate. This is one of the most delightful climates in the world, the west coast of Africa one of the worst. Once well in the interior, the swamp fevers, which are the curse of the shores, disappear, but African travelers are seldom long free from attacks of fever of one kind or the other. However, quinine does wonders, and we shall be far in the interior before the bad season comes on."

"You have been there before, you said, Mr. Goodenough?"

"Yes, I have been there twice, and have made excursions for short distances from the coast. But this time we are going into a country which may be said to be altogether unknown. One or two explorers have made their way there, but these have done little towards examining the natural productions of the country, and have been rather led by inducements of sport than by those of research."

"Did you have fever, sir?"

"Two or three little attacks. A touch of African fever, during what is called the good season, is of little more importance than a feverish cold at home. It lasts two or three days, and then there is an end of it. In the bad season the attacks are extremely violent, sometimes carrying men off in a few hours. I consider, however, that dysentery is a more formidable enemy than fever. However, even that, when properly treated, should be combated successfully."

"Do you mean to hire the men to go with you at Sierra Leone?"

"Certainly not, Frank. The negroes of Sierra Leone are the most indolent, the most worthless, and the most insolent in all Africa. It is the last place in the world at which to hire followers. We must get them at the Gaboon itself, and at each place we arrive at afterwards we take on others, merely retaining one of the old lot to act as interpreter. The natives, although they may allow white men to pass safely, are exceedingly jealous of men of other tribes. I shall, however, take with me, if possible, a body of, say six Houssas, who are the best fighting negroes on the coast. These I shall take as a bodyguard; the carriers we shall obtain from the different tribes we visit. The Kroomen, whom you will see at Cape Palmas, are a magnificent set of men. They furnish sailors and boatmen to all the ships trading on these shores. They are strong, willing, and faithful, but they do not like going up into the interior. Now we will land here and get a few hours' run on shore. There are one or two peculiarities about Madeira which distinguish it from other places. To begin with we will go for a ride in a bullock cart without wheels."

"But surely it must jolt about terribly," Frank said.

"Not at all. The roads are paved with round, knubbly stones, such as you see sometimes in narrow lanes and courts in seaside places at home. These would not make smooth roads for wheeled vehicles; but here, as you will see, the carts are placed on long runners like those of sledges. These are greased, and the driver always has a pound of candles or so hanging to the cart. When he thinks that the runners want greasing he takes a candle, lays it down on the road in front of one of the runners, and lets this pass over it. This greases it sufficiently, and it glides along over the stones almost as smoothly as if passing over ice."

Frank thoroughly enjoyed his run on shore, but was surprised at the air of listlessness which pervaded the inhabitants. Every one moved about in the most dawdling fashion. The shopkeepers looked out from their doors as if it were a matter of perfect indifference to them whether customers called or not. The few soldiers in Portuguese uniform looked as if they had never done a day's drill since they left home. Groups sat in chairs under the trees and sipped cooling drinks or coffee. The very bullocks which drew the gliding wagons seemed to move more slowly than bullocks in other places. Frank and his friend drove in a wagon to the monastery, high up on the mountain, and then took their places on a little hand sledge, which was drawn by two men with ropes, who took them down the sharp descent at a run, dashing round corners at a pace which made Frank hold his breath. It took them but a quarter of an hour to regain the town, while an hour and a half had been occupied in the journey out.

"I shall buy a couple of hammocks here," Mr. Goodenough said. "They are made of knotted string, and are lighter and more comfortable than those to be met with on the coast. I will get a couple of their cane chairs, too, they are very light and comfortable."

In the afternoon they again embarked, and then steamed away for Sierra Leone. After several days' passage, they arrived there at daylight, and Frank was soon on deck.

"What a beautiful place!" he exclaimed. "It is not a bit what I expected."

"No," Mr. Goodenough said; "no one looking at it could suppose that bright pretty town had earned for itself the name of the white man's grave."

Sierra Leone is built on a somewhat steep ascent about a mile up the river. Freetown, as the capital is properly called, stands some fifty feet or so above the sea, and the barracks upon a green hill three hundred feet above it, a quarter of a mile back. The town, as seen from the sea, consists entirely of the houses of the merchants and shopkeepers, the government buildings, churches, and other public and European buildings. The houses are all large and bright with yellow tinged whitewash, and the place is completely embowered in palms and other tropical trees. The native town lies hidden from sight among trees on low ground to the left of the town. Everywhere around the town the hills rise steep and high, wooded to the summit. Altogether there are few more prettily situated towns than the capital of Sierra Leone.

"It is wonderful," Mr. Goodenough said, "that generations and generations of Europeans have been content to live and die in that wretchedly unhealthy place, when they might have established themselves on those lofty hills but a mile away. There they would be far above the malarious mists which rise from the low ground. The walk up and down to their warehouses and offices here would be good for them, and there is no reason why Sierra Leone should be an unhealthy residence. Unfortunately the European in Africa speedily loses his vigor and enterprise. When he first lands he exclaims, 'I certainly shall have a bungalow built upon those hills;' but in a short time his energy leaves him. He falls into the ways of the place, drinks a great deal more spirits than is good for him, stops down near the water, and at the end of a year or so, if he lives so long, is obliged to go back to Europe to recruit.

"Look at the boats coming out."

A score of boats, each containing from ten to twelve men, approached the ship. They remained at a short distance until the harbor master came on board and pronounced the ship free from quarantine. Then the boats made a rush to the side, and with shouts, yells, and screams of laughter scrambled on board. Frank was at once astonished and amused at the noise and confusion.

"What on earth do they all want?" he asked Mr. Goodenough.

"The great proportion of them don't want anything at all," Mr. Goodenough answered, "but have merely come off for amusement. Some of them come to be hired, some to carry luggage, others to tout for the boatmen below. Look at those respectable negresses coming up the gangway now. They are washerwomen, and will take our clothes ashore and bring them on board again this afternoon before we start."

"It seems running rather a risk," Frank said.

"No, you will see they all have testimonials, and I believe it is perfectly safe to intrust things to them."

Mr. Goodenough and Frank now prepared to go on shore, but this was not easily accomplished, for there was a battle royal among the boatmen whose craft thronged at the foot of the ladder. Each boat had about four hands, three of whom remained on board her, while the fourth stood upon the ladder and hauled at the painter to keep the boat to which he belonged alongside. As out of the twenty boats lying there not more than two could be at the foot of the ladder together, the conflict was a desperate one. All the boatmen shouted, "Here, sar. This good boat, sar. You come wid me, sar," at the top of their voices, while at the same time they were hard at work pulling each other's boats back and pushing their own forward. So great was the struggle as Frank and Mr. Goodenough approached the gangway, so great the crowd upon the ladder, that one side of the iron bar from which the ladder chains depend broke in two, causing the ladder to drop some inches and giving a ducking to those on the lower step, causing shouts of laughter and confusion. These rose into perfect yells of amusement when one of the sailors suddenly loosed the ladder rope, letting five or six of the negroes into the water up to their necks. So intense was the appreciation by the sable mind of this joke that the boatmen rolled about with laughter, and even the victims, when they had once scrambled into their boats, yelled like people possessed.

"They are just like children," Mr. Goodenough said. "They are always either laughing or quarreling. They are good natured and passionate, indolent, but will work hard for a time; clever up to a certain point, densely stupid beyond. The intelligence of an average negro is about equal to that of a European child of ten years old. A few, a very few, go beyond this, but these are exceptions, just as Shakespeare was an exception to the ordinary intellect of an Englishman. They are fluent talkers, but their ideas are borrowed. They are absolutely without originality, absolutely without inventive power. Living among white men, their imitative faculties enable them to attain a considerable amount of civilization. Left alone to their own devices they retrograde into a state little above their native savagery."

This was said as, after having fixed upon a boat and literally fought their way into it, they were rowed towards the shore. On landing Frank was delighted with the greenness of everything. The trees were heavy with luxuriant foliage, the streets were green with grass as long and bright as that in a country lane in England. The hill on which the barracks stand was as bright a green as you would see on English slopes after a wet April, while down the streets clear streams were running. The town was alive with a chattering, laughing, good natured, excitable population, all black, but with some slight variation in the dinginess of the hue.

Never was there such a place for fun as Sierra Leone. Every one was brimful of it. Every one laughed when he or she spoke, and every one standing near joined freely in the conversation and laughed too. Frank was delighted with the display of fruit in the market, which is probably unequaled in the world. Great piles there were of delicious big oranges, green but perfectly sweet, and of equally refreshing little green limes; pineapples and bananas, green, yellow, and red, guava, and custard apples, alligator pears, melons, and sour sops, and many other native fruits.

Mr. Goodenough purchased a large basket of fruit, which they took with them on board the ship. The next morning they started down the coast. They passed Liberia, the republic formed of liberated slaves, and of negroes from America, and brought up a mile or two off Monrovia, its capital. The next day they anchored off Cape Palmas, the headquarters of the Kroomen. A number of these men came off in their canoes, and caused great amusement to Frank and the other passengers by their fun and dexterity in the management of their little craft. These boats are extremely light, being hollowed out until little thicker than pasteboard, and even with two Kroomen paddling it is difficult for a European to sit in them, so extremely crank are they. Light as they are the Krooboy can stand up and dive from his boat without upsetting it if he take time; but in the hurry and excitement of diving for coppers, when half a dozen men would leap overboard together, the canoes were frequently capsized. The divers, however, thought nothing of these mishaps, righting the boats and getting in again without difficulty. Splendidly muscular fellows they were. Indeed, except among the Turkish hamals it is doubtful whether such powerful figures could be found elsewhere.

"They would be grand fellows to take with us, Mr. Goodenough," Frank said.

"Yes, if they were as plucky as they are strong, one could wish for nothing better; but they are notorious cowards, and no offer would tempt them to penetrate into such a country as that into which we are going."

Stopping a few hours at Cape Coast Castle, Accra, and other ports they at last arrived at Bonny.

"It is not tempting in appearance," Frank said, "certainly."

"No," Mr. Goodenough replied, "this is one of the most horribly unhealthy spots in Africa. As you see, the white traders do not dare to live on shore, but take up their residence in those old floating hulks which are thatched over, and serve as residences and storehouses. I have a letter from one of the African merchants in London, and we shall take up our abode on board his hulk until we get one of the coasting steamers to carry us down. I hope it will not be many days."

The very bulky luggage was soon transferred to the hulk, where Frank and Mr. Goodenough took up their residence. The agent in charge was very glad to receive them, as any break in the terrible monotony of such a life is eagerly welcomed. He was a pale, unhealthy looking man, and had just recovered from an unusually bad attack of fever. Like most of the traders on the coast he had an immense faith in the power of spirits.

"It is the ruin of them," Mr. Goodenough said to Frank when they were alone. "Five out of six of the men here ruin their constitutions with spirits, and then fall an easy prey to the fever."

"But you have brought spirits with you, Mr. Goodenough. I saw some of the cases were labeled Brandy.'"

"Brandy is useful when taken as a medicine, and in moderation. A little mixed with water at the end of a long day of exhausting work acts as a restorative, and frequently enables a worn out man to sleep. But I have brought the brandy you see for the use of others rather than myself. One case is of the very best spirits for our own use. The rest is common stuff and is intended as presents. Our main drink will be tea and chocolate. These are invaluable for the traveler. I have, besides, large quantities of calico, brass stair rods, beads, and powder. These are the money of Africa, and pass current everywhere. With these we shall pay our carriers and boatmen, with these purchase the right of way through the various tribes we shall meet. Moreover it is almost necessary in Africa to pass as traders. The people perfectly understand that white men come here to trade; but if we said that our object was to shoot birds and beasts, and to catch butterflies and insects, they would not believe us in the slightest degree, but would suspect us of all sorts of hidden designs. Now we will go ashore and pay our respects to the king."

"Do you mean to say that there is a king in that wretched looking village?" Frank asked in surprise.

"Kings are as plentiful as peas in Africa," Mr. Goodenough said, "but you will not see much royal state."

Frank was disappointed indeed upon landing. Sierra Leone had given him an exalted idea of African civilization, but this was at once dispelled by the appearance of Bonny. The houses were constructed entirely of black mud, and the streets were narrow and filthy beyond description. The palace was composed of two or three hovels, surrounded by a mud wall. In one of these huts the king was seated. Mr. Goodenough and Frank were introduced by the agent, who had gone ashore with them, and His Majesty, who was an almost naked negro, at once invited them to join him in the meal of which he was partaking. As a matter of courtesy they consented, and plates were placed before them, heaped with a stew consisting of meat, vegetables, and hot peppers. While the meal went on the king asked Mr. Goodenough what he had come to the coast for, and was disappointed to find that he was not going to set up as a trader at Bonny, as it was the custom for each newcomer to make a handsome present to him. When the meal was over they took their leave.

"Do you know what you have been eating?" the agent asked Frank.

"Not in the least," Frank said. "It was not bad; what was it?"

"It was dog flesh," the agent answered.

"Not really!" Frank exclaimed with an uncomfortable sensation of sickness.

"Yes, indeed," the agent replied. "Dog's meat is considered a luxury in Bonny, and dogs are bred specially for the table."

"You'll eat stranger things than that before you've done, Frank," Mr. Goodenough continued, "and will find them just as good, and in many cases better, than those to which you are accustomed. It is a strange thing why in Europe certain animals should be considered fit to eat and certain animals altogether rejected, and this without the slightest reason. Horses and donkeys are as clean feeders as oxen and sheep. Dogs, cats, and rats are far cleaner than pigs and ducks. The flesh of the one set is every bit as good as that of the other, and yet the poorest peasant would turn up his nose at them. Here sheep and oxen, horses and donkeys, will not live, and the natives very wisely make the most of the animals which can do so."

Frank was soon tired of Bonny, and was glad to hear that they would start the next day for Fernando Po in a little steamer called the Retriever. The island of Fernando Po is a very beautiful one, the peak rising ten thousand feet above the sea, and wooded to the very summit. Were the trees to some extent cleared away the island might be very healthy. As it is, it is little better than the mainland.

There was not much to see in the town of Clarence, whose population consists entirely of traders from Sierra Leone, Kroomen, etc. The natives, whose tribal name is Adiza, live in little villages in the interior. They are an extremely primitive people, and for the most part dispense altogether with clothing. The island belongs to Spain, and is used as a prison, the convicts being kept in guard ships in the harbor. After a stay of three days there Mr. Goodenough and Frank took passage in a sailing ship for the Gaboon.



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