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The Collected Complete Works of Richard Harding Davis
A Charmed Life
A Question of Latitude
A Wasted Day
Adventures and Letters of RHD
Billy and the Big Stick
Cuba in War Time
Episodes in Van Bibbers life
In the Fog
Lion and the Unicorn
My Buried Treasure
Notes of a War Correspondent
Once Upon A Time
Real Soldiers of Fortune
Soldiers of Fortune
The Boy Scout
The Boy Scout and Other Stories for Boys
The Exiles and Other Stories
The Frame Up
The King's Jackal
The Log of the Jolly Polly
The Lost House
The Lost Road
The Make-Believe Man
The Man Who Could Not Lose
The Nature Faker
The Princess Aline
The Red Cross Girl
The Reporter Who Made Himself King
The Scarlet Car
Vera, The Medium
With The Allies
With the French in France and Salonika
A Charmed Life
Prepared by Don Lainson
A CHARMED LIFE
She loved him so, that when he went away to a little war in which his country was interested she could not understand, nor quite forgive.
As the correspondent of a newspaper, Chesterton had looked on at other wars; when the yellow races met, when the infidel Turk spanked the Christian Greek; and one he had watched from inside a British square, where he was greatly alarmed lest he should be trampled upon by terrified camels. This had happened before he and she had met. After they met, she told him that what chances he had chosen to take before he came into her life fell outside of her jurisdiction. But now that his life belonged to her, this talk of his standing up to be shot at was wicked. It was worse than wicked; it was absurd.
When the Maine sank in Havana harbor and the word "war" was appearing hourly in hysterical extras, Miss Armitage explained her position.
"You mustn't think," she said, "that I am one of those silly girls who would beg you not to go to war."
At the moment of speaking her cheek happened to be resting against his, and his arm was about her, so he humbly bent his head and kissed her, and whispered very proudly and softly, "No, dearest."
At which she withdrew from him frowning.
"No! I'm not a bit like those girls," she proclaimed. "I merely tell you YOU CAN'T GO! My gracious!" she cried, helplessly. She knew the words fell short of expressing her distress, but her education had not supplied her with exclamations of greater violence.
"My goodness!" she cried. "How can you frighten me so? It's not like you," she reproached him. "You are so unselfish, so noble. You are always thinking of other people. How can you talk of going to war--to be killed--to me? And now, now that you have made me love you so?"
The hands, that when she talked seemed to him like swallows darting and flashing in the sunlight, clutched his sleeve. The fingers, that he would rather kiss than the lips of any other woman that ever lived, clung to his arm. Their clasp reminded him of that of a drowning child he had once lifted from the surf.
"If you should die," whispered Miss Armitage. "What would I do. What would I do!"
"But my dearest," cried the young man. "My dearest ONE! I've GOT to go. It's our own war. Everybody else will go," he pleaded. "Every man you know, and they're going to fight, too. I'm going only to look on. That's bad enough, isn't it, without sitting at home? You should be sorry I'm not going to fight."
"Sorry!" exclaimed the girl. "If you love me--"
"If I love you," shouted the young man. His voice suggested that he was about to shake her. "How dare you?"
She abandoned that position and attacked from one more logical.
"But why punish me?" she protested. "Do I want the war? Do I want to free Cuba? No! I want YOU, and if you go, you are the one who is sure to be killed. You are so big--and so brave, and you will be rushing in wherever the fighting is, and then--then you will die." She raised her eyes and looked at him as though seeing him from a great distance. "And," she added fatefully, "I will die, too, or maybe I will have to live, to live without you for years, for many miserable years."
Fearfully, with great caution, as though in his joy in her he might crush her in his hands, the young man drew her to him and held her close. After a silence he whispered. "But, you know that nothing can happen to me. Not now, that God has let me love you. He could not be so cruel. He would not have given me such happiness to take it from me. A man who loves you, as I love you, cannot come to any harm. And the man YOU love is immortal, immune. He holds a charmed life. So long as you love him, he must live."
The eyes of the girl smiled up at him through her tears. She lifted her lips to his. "Then you will never die!" she said.
She held him away from her. "Listen!" she whispered. "What you say is true. It must be true, because you are always right. I love you so that nothing can harm you. My love will be a charm. It will hang around your neck and protect you, and keep you, and bring you back to me. When you are in danger my love will save you. For, while it lives, I live. When it dies--"
Chesterton kissed her quickly.
"What happens then," he said, "doesn't matter."
The war game had run its happy-go-lucky course briefly and brilliantly, with "glory enough for all," even for Chesterton. For, in no previous campaign had good fortune so persistently stood smiling at his elbow. At each moment of the war that was critical, picturesque, dramatic, by some lucky accident he found himself among those present. He could not lose. Even when his press boat broke down at Cardenas, a Yankee cruiser and two Spanish gun-boats, apparently for his sole benefit, engaged in an impromptu duel within range of his megaphone. When his horse went lame, the column with which he had wished to advance, passed forward to the front unmolested, while the rear guard, to which he had been forced to join his fortune, fought its way through the stifling underbrush.
Between his news despatches, when he was not singing the praises of his fellow-countrymen, or copying lists of their killed and wounded, he wrote to Miss Armitage. His letters were scrawled on yellow copy paper and consisted of repetitions of the three words, "I love you," rearranged, illuminated, and intensified.
Each letter began much in the same way. "The war is still going on. You can read about it in the papers. What I want you to know is that I love you as no man ever--" And so on for many pages.
From her only one of the letters she wrote reached him. It was picked up in the sand at Siboney after the medical corps, in an effort to wipe out the yellow-fever, had set fire to the post- office tent.
She had written it some weeks before from her summer home at Newport, and in it she said: "When you went to the front, I thought no woman could love more than I did then. But, now I know. At least I know one girl who can. She cannot write it. She can never tell you. You must just believe.
"Each day I hear from you, for as soon as the paper comes, I take it down to the rocks and read your cables, and I look south across the ocean to Cuba, and try to see you in all that fighting and heat and fever. But I am not afraid. For each morning I wake to find I love you more; that it has grown stronger, more wonderful, more hard to bear. And I know the charm I gave you grows with it, and is more powerful, and that it will bring you back to me wearing new honors, 'bearing your sheaves with you.'
"As though I cared for your new honors. I want YOU, YOU, YOU--only YOU."
When Santiago surrendered and the invading army settled down to arrange terms of peace, and imbibe fever, and General Miles moved to Porto Rico, Chesterton moved with him.
In that pretty little island a command of regulars under a general of the regular army had, in a night attack, driven back the Spaniards from Adhuntas. The next afternoon as the column was in line of march, and the men were shaking themselves into their accoutrements, a dusty, sweating volunteer staff officer rode down the main street of Adhuntas, and with the authority of a field marshal, held up his hand.
"General Miles's compliments, sir," he panted, "and peace is declared!"
Different men received the news each in a different fashion. Some whirled their hats in the air and cheered. Those who saw promotion and the new insignia on their straps vanish, swore deeply. Chesterton fell upon his saddle-bags and began to distribute his possessions among the enlisted men. After he had remobilized, his effects consisted of a change of clothes, his camera, water-bottle, and his medicine case. In his present state of health and spirits he could not believe he stood in need of the medicine case, but it was a gift from Miss Armitage, and carried with it a promise from him that he always would carry it. He had "packed" it throughout the campaign, and for others it had proved of value.
"I take it you are leaving us," said an officer enviously.
"I am leaving you so quick," cried Chesterton laughing, "that you won't even see the dust. There's a transport starts from Mayaguez at six to-morrow morning, and, if I don't catch it, this pony will die on the wharf."
"The road to Mayaguez is not healthy for Americans," said the general in command. "I don't think I ought to let you go. The enemy does not know peace is on yet, and there are a lot of guerillas--"
Chesterton shook his head in pitying wonder.
"Not let me go!" he exclaimed. "Why, General, you haven't enough men in your command to stop me, and as for the Spaniards and guerillas--! I'm homesick," cried the young man. "I'm so damned homesick that I am liable to die of it before the transport gets me to Sandy Hook."
"If you are shot up by an outpost," growled the general, "you will be worse off than homesick. It's forty miles to Mayaguez. Better wait till daylight. Where's the sense of dying, after the fighting's over?"
"If I don't catch that transport I sure WILL die," laughed Chesterton. His head was bent and he was tugging at his saddle girths. Apparently the effort brought a deeper shadow to his tan, "but nothing else can kill me! I have a charm, General," he exclaimed.
"We hadn't noticed it," said the general.
The staff officers, according to regulations, laughed.
"It's not that kind of a charm," said Chesterton. "Good-by, General."
The road was hardly more than a trail, but the moon made it as light as day, and cast across it black tracings of the swinging vines and creepers; while high in the air it turned the polished surface of the palms into glittering silver. As he plunged into the cool depths of the forest Chesterton threw up his arms and thanked God that he was moving toward her. The luck that had accompanied him throughout the campaign had held until the end. Had he been forced to wait for a transport, each hour would have meant a month of torment, an arid, wasted place in his life. As it was, with each eager stride of El Capitan, his little Porto Rican pony, he was brought closer to her. He was so happy that as he galloped through the dark shadows of the jungle or out into the brilliant moonlight he shouted aloud and sang; and again as he urged El Capitan to greater bursts of speed, he explained in joyous, breathless phrases why it was that he urged him on.
"For she is wonderful and most beautiful," he cried, "the most glorious girl in all the world! And, if I kept her waiting, even for a moment, El Capitan, I would be unworthy--and I might lose her! So you see we ride for a great prize!"
The Spanish column that, the night before, had been driven from Adhuntas, now in ignorance of peace, occupied both sides of the valley through which ran the road to Mayaguez, and in ambush by the road itself had placed an outpost of two men. One was a sharp- shooter of the picked corps of the Guardia Civile, and one a sergeant of the regiment that lay hidden in the heights. If the Americans advanced toward Mayaguez, these men were to wait until the head of the column drew abreast of them, when they were to fire. The report of their rifles would be the signal for those in the hill above to wipe out the memory of Adhuntas.
Chesterton had been riding at a gallop, but, as he reached the place where the men lay in ambush, he pulled El Capitan to a walk, and took advantage of his first breathing spell to light his pipe. He had already filled it, and was now fumbling in his pocket for his match-box. The match-box was of wood such as one can buy, filled to the brim with matches, for one penny. But it was a most precious possession. In the early days of his interest in Miss Armitage, as they were once setting forth upon a motor trip, she had handed it to him.
"Why," he asked.
"You always forget to bring any," she said simply, "and have to borrow some."
The other men in the car, knowing this to be a just reproof, laughed sardonically, and at the laugh the girl had looked up in surprise. Chesterton, seeing the look, understood that her act, trifling as it was, had been sincere, had been inspired simply by thought of his comfort. And he asked himself why young Miss Armitage should consider his comfort, and why the fact that she did consider it should make him so extremely happy. And he decided it must be because she loved him and he loved her.
Having arrived at that conclusion, he had asked her to marry him, and upon the match-box had marked the date and the hour. Since then she had given him many pretty presents, marked with her initials, marked with his crest, with strange cabalistic mottoes that meant nothing to any one save themselves. But the wooden matchbox was still the most valued of his possessions.
As he rode into the valley the rays of the moon fell fully upon him, and exposed him to the outpost as pitilessly as though he had been held in the circle of a search-light.
The bronzed Mausers pushed cautiously through the screen of vines. There was a pause, and the rifle of the sergeant wavered. When he spoke his tone was one of disappointment.
"He is a scout, riding alone," he said.
"He is an officer," returned the sharp-shooter, excitedly. "The others follow. We should fire now and give the signal."
"He is no officer, he is a scout," repeated the sergeant. "They have sent him ahead to study the trail and to seek us. He may be a league in advance. If we shoot HIM, we only warn the others."
Chesterton was within fifty yards. After an excited and anxious search he had found the match-box in the wrong pocket. The eyes of the sharp-shooter frowned along the barrel of his rifle. With his chin pressed against the stock he whispered swiftly from the corner of his lips, "He is an officer! I am aiming where the strap crosses his heart. You aim at his belt. We fire together."
The heat of the tropic night and the strenuous gallop had covered El Capitan with a lather of sweat. The reins upon his neck dripped with it. The gauntlets with which Chesterton held them were wet. As he raised the matchbox it slipped from his fingers and fell noiselessly in the trail. With an exclamation he dropped to the road and to his knees, and groping in the dust began an eager search.
The sergeant caught at the rifle of the sharpshooter, and pressed it down.
"Look!" he whispered. "He IS a scout. He is searching the trail for the tracks of our ponies. If you fire they will hear it a league away."
"But if he finds our trail and returns--"
The sergeant shook his head. "I let him pass forward," he said grimly. "He will never return."
Chesterton pounced upon the half-buried matchbox, and in a panic lest he might again lose it, thrust it inside his tunic.
"Little do you know, El Capitan," he exclaimed breathlessly, as he scrambled back into the saddle and lifted the pony into a gallop, "what a narrow escape I had. I almost lost it."
Toward midnight they came to a wooden bridge swinging above a ravine in which a mountain stream, forty feet below, splashed over half-hidden rocks, and the stepping stones of the ford. Even before the campaign began the bridge had outlived its usefulness, and the unwonted burden of artillery, and the vibrations of marching men had so shaken it that it swayed like a house of cards. Threatened by its own weight, at the mercy of the first tropic storm, it hung a death trap for the one who first added to its burden.
No sooner had El Capitan struck it squarely with his four hoofs, than he reared and, whirling, sprang back to the solid earth. The suddenness of his retreat had all but thrown Chesterton, but he regained his seat, and digging the pony roughly with his spurs, pulled his head again toward the bridge.
"What are you shying at, now?" he panted. "That's a perfectly good bridge."
For a minute horse and man struggled for the mastery, the horse spinning in short circles, the man pulling, tugging, urging him with knees and spurs. The first round ended in a draw. There were two more rounds with the advantage slightly in favor of El Capitan, for he did not approach the bridge.
The night was warm and the exertion violent. Chesterton, puzzled and annoyed, paused to regain his breath and his temper. Below him, in the ravine, the shallow waters of the ford called to him, suggesting a pleasant compromise. He turned his eyes downward and saw hanging over the water what appeared to be a white bird upon the lower limb of a dead tree. He knew it to be an orchid, an especially rare orchid, and he knew, also, that the orchid was the favorite flower of Miss Armitage. In a moment he was on his feet, and with the reins over his arm, was slipping down the bank, dragging El Capitan behind him. He ripped from the dead tree the bark to which the orchid was clinging, and with wet moss and grass packed it in his leather camera case. The camera he abandoned on the path. He always could buy another camera; he could not again carry a white orchid, plucked in the heart of the tropics on the night peace was declared, to the girl he left behind him. Followed by El Capitan, nosing and snuffing gratefully at the cool waters, he waded the ford, and with his camera case swinging from his shoulder, galloped up the opposite bank and back into the trail.
A minute later, the bridge, unable to recover from the death blow struck by El Capitan, went whirling into the ravine and was broken upon the rocks below. Hearing the crash behind him, Chesterton guessed that in the jungle a tree had fallen.
They had started at six in the afternoon and had covered twenty of the forty miles that lay between Adhuntas and Mayaguez, when, just at the outskirts of the tiny village of Caguan, El Capitan stumbled, and when he arose painfully, he again fell forward.
Caguan was a little church, a little vine-covered inn, a dozen one- story adobe houses shining in the moonlight like whitewashed sepulchres. They faced a grass-grown plaza, in the centre of which stood a great wooden cross. At one corner of the village was a corral, and in it many ponies. At the sight Chesterton gave a cry of relief. A light showed through the closed shutters of the inn, and when he beat with his whip upon the door, from the adobe houses other lights shone, and white-clad figures appeared in the moonlight. The landlord of the inn was a Spaniard, fat and prosperous-looking, but for the moment his face was eloquent with such distress and misery that the heart of the young man, who was at peace with all the world, went instantly out to him. The Spaniard was less sympathetic. When he saw the khaki suit and the campaign hat he scowled, and ungraciously would have closed the door. Chesterton, apologizing, pushed it open. His pony, he explained, had gone lame, and he must have another, and at once. The landlord shrugged his shoulders. These were war times, he said, and the American officer could take what he liked. They in Caguan were noncombatants and could not protest. Chesterton hastened to reassure him. The war, he announced, was over, and were it not, he was no officer to issue requisitions. He intended to pay for the pony. He unbuckled his belt and poured upon the table a handful of Spanish doubloons. The landlord lowered the candle and silently counted the gold pieces, and then calling to him two of his fellow-villagers, crossed the tiny plaza and entered the corral.
"The American pig," he whispered, "wishes to buy a pony. He tells me the war is over; that Spain has surrendered. We know that must be a lie. It is more probable he is a deserter. He claims he is a civilian, but that also is a lie, for he is in uniform. You, Paul, sell him your pony, and then wait for him at the first turn in the trail, and take it from him."
"He is armed," protested the one called Paul.
"You must not give him time to draw his revolver," ordered the landlord. "You and Pedro will shoot him from the shadow. He is our country's enemy, and it will be in a good cause. And he may carry despatches. If we take them to the commandante at Mayaguez he will reward us."
"And the gold pieces?" demanded the one called Paul.
"We will divide them in three parts," said the landlord.
In the front of the inn, surrounded by a ghostlike group that spoke its suspicions, Chesterton was lifting his saddle from El Capitan and rubbing the lame foreleg. It was not a serious sprain. A week would set it right, but for that night the pony was useless. Impatiently, Chesterton called across the plaza, begging the landlord to make haste. He was eager to be gone, alarmed and fearful lest even this slight delay should cause him to miss the transport. The thought was intolerable. But he was also acutely conscious that he was very hungry, and he was too old a campaigner to scoff at hunger. With the hope that he could find something to carry with him and eat as he rode forward, he entered the inn.
The main room of the house was now in darkness, but a smaller room adjoining it was lit by candles, and by a tiny taper floating before a crucifix. In the light of the candles Chesterton made out a bed, a priest bending over it, a woman kneeling beside it, and upon the bed the little figure of a boy who tossed and moaned. As Chesterton halted and waited hesitating, the priest strode past him, and in a voice dull and flat with grief and weariness, ordered those at the door to bring the landlord quickly. As one of the group leaped toward the corral, the priest said to the others: "There is another attack. I have lost hope."
Chesterton advanced and asked if he could be of service. The priest shook his head. The child, he said, was the only son of the landlord, and much beloved by him, and by all the village. He was now in the third week of typhoid fever and the period of hemorrhages. Unless they could be checked, the boy would die, and the priest, who for many miles of mountain and forest was also the only doctor, had exhausted his store of simple medicines.
"Nothing can stop the hemorrhage," he protested wearily, "but the strongest of drugs. And I have nothing!"
Chesterton bethought him of the medicine case Miss Armitage had forced upon him. "I have given opium to the men for dysentery," he said. "Would opium help you?"
The priest sprang at him and pushed him out of the door and toward the saddle-bags.
"My children," he cried, to the silent group in the plaza, "God has sent a miracle!"
After an hour at the bedside the priest said, "He will live," and knelt, and the mother of the boy and the villagers knelt with him. When Chesterton raised his eyes, he found that the landlord, who had been silently watching while the two men struggled with death for the life of his son, had disappeared. But he heard, leaving the village along the trail to Mayaguez, the sudden clatter of a pony's hoofs. It moved like a thing driven with fear.
The priest strode out into the moonlight. In the recovery of the child he saw only a demonstration of the efficacy of prayer, and he could not too quickly bring home the lesson to his parishioners. Amid their murmurs of wonder and gratitude Chesterton rode away. To the kindly care of the priest he bequeathed El Capitan. With him, also, he left the gold pieces which were to pay for the fresh pony.
A quarter of a mile outside the village three white figures confronted him. Two who stood apart in the shadow shrank from observation, but the landlord, seated bareback upon a pony that from some late exertion was breathing heavily, called to him to halt.
"In the fashion of my country," he began grandiloquently, "we have come this far to wish you God speed upon your journey." In the fashion of the American he seized Chesterton by the hand. "I thank you, senor," he murmured.
"Not me," returned Chesterton. "But the one who made me 'pack' that medicine chest. Thank her, for to-night I think it saved a life."
The Spaniard regarded him curiously, fixing him with his eyes as though deep in consideration. At last he smiled gravely.
"You are right," he said. "Let us both remember her in our prayers."
As Chesterton rode away the words remained gratefully in his memory and filled him with pleasant thoughts. "The world," he mused, "is full of just such kind and gentle souls."
After an interminable delay he reached Newport, and they escaped from the others, and Miss Armitage and he ran down the lawn to the rocks, and stood with the waves whispering at their feet.
It was the moment for which each had so often longed, with which both had so often tortured themselves by living in imagination, that now, that it was theirs, they were fearful it might not be true.
Finally, he said: "And the charm never failed! Indeed, it was wonderful! It stood by me so obviously. For instance, the night before San Juan, in the mill at El Poso, I slept on the same poncho with another correspondent. I woke up with a raging appetite for bacon and coffee, and he woke up out of his mind, and with a temperature of one hundred and four. And again, I was standing by Capron's gun at El Caney, when a shell took the three men who served it, and only scared ME. And there was another time--" He stopped. "Anyway," he laughed, "here I am."
"But there was one night, one awful night," began the girl. She trembled, and he made this an added excuse for drawing her closer to him. "When I felt you were in great peril, that you would surely die. And all through the night I knelt by the window and looked toward Cuba and prayed, and prayed to God to let you live."
Chesterton bent his head and kissed the tips of her fingers. After a moment he said: "Would you know what night it was? It might be curious if I had been--"
"Would I know!" cried the girl. "It was eight days ago. The night of the twelfth.An awful night!"
"The twelfth!" exclaimed Chesterton, and laughed and then begged her pardon humbly. "I laughed because the twelfth," he exclaimed, "was the night peace was declared. The war was over. I'm sorry, but THAT night I was riding toward you, thinking only of you. I was never for a moment in danger."
A Question of Latitude
by Richard Harding Davis
Of the school of earnest young writers at whom the word muckraker had been thrown in opprobrium, and by whom it had been caught up as a title of honor, Everett was among the younger and less conspicuous. But, if in his skirmishes with graft and corruption he had failed to correct the evils he attacked, from the contests he himself had always emerged with credit. His sincerity and his methods were above suspicion. No one had caught him in misstatement, or exaggeration. Even those whom he attacked, admitted he fought fair. For these reasons, the editors of magazines, with the fear of libel before their eyes, regarded him as a "safe" man, the public, feeling that the evils he exposed were due to its own indifference, with uncomfortable approval, and those he attacked, with impotent anger. Their anger was impotent because, in the case of Everett, the weapons used by their class in "striking back" were denied them. They could not say that for money he sold sensations, because it was known that a proud and wealthy parent supplied him with all the money he wanted. Nor in his private life could they find anything to offset his attacks upon the misconduct of others. Men had been sent to spy upon him, and women to lay traps. But the men reported that his evenings were spent at his club, and, from the women, those who sent them learned only that Everett "treats a lady just as though she IS a lady."
Accordingly, when, with much trumpeting, he departed to investigate conditions in the Congo, there were some who rejoiced.
The standard of life to which Everett was accustomed was high. In his home in Boston it had been set for him by a father and mother who, though critics rather than workers in the world, had taught him to despise what was mean and ungenerous, to write the truth and abhor a compromise. At Harvard he had interested himself in municipal reform, and when later he moved to New York, he transferred his interest to the problems of that city. His attack upon Tammany Hall did not utterly destroy that organization, but at once brought him to the notice of the editors. By them he was invited to tilt his lance at evils in other parts of the United States, at "systems," trusts, convict camps, municipal misrule. His work had met with a measure of success that seemed to justify Lowell's Weekly in sending him further afield, and he now was on his way to tell the truth about the Congo. Personally, Everett was a healthy, clean-minded enthusiast. He possessed all of the advantages of youth, and all of its intolerance. He was supposed to be engaged to Florence Carey, but he was not. There was, however, between them an "understanding," which understanding, as Everett understood it, meant that until she was ready to say, "I am ready," he was to think of her, dream of her, write love-letters to her, and keep himself only for her. He loved her very dearly, and, having no choice, was content to wait. His content was fortunate, as Miss Carey seemed inclined to keep him waiting indefinitely.
Except in Europe, Everett had never travelled outside the limits of his own country. But the new land toward which he was advancing held no terrors. As he understood it, the Congo was at the mercy of a corrupt "ring." In every part of the United States he had found a city in the clutch of a corrupt ring. The conditions would be the same, the methods he would use to get at the truth would be the same, the result for reform would be the same.
The English steamer on which he sailed for Southampton was one leased by the Independent State of the Congo, and, with a few exceptions, her passengers were subjects of King Leopold. On board, the language was French, at table the men sat according to the rank they held in the administration of the jungle, and each in his buttonhole wore the tiny silver star that showed that for three years, to fill the storehouses of the King of the Belgians, he had gathered rubber and ivory. In the smoking-room Everett soon discovered that passengers not in the service of that king, the English and German officers and traders, held aloof from the Belgians. Their attitude toward them seemed to be one partly of contempt, partly of pity.
"Are your English protectorates on the coast, then, so much better administered?" Everett asked.
The English Coaster, who for ten years in Nigeria had escaped fever and sudden death, laughed evasively.
"I have never been in the Congo," he said. "Only know what they tell one. But you'll see for yourself. That is," he added, "you'll see what they want you to see."
They were leaning on the rail, with their eyes turned toward the coast of Liberia, a gloomy green line against which the waves cast up fountains of foam as high as the cocoanut palms. As a subject of discussion, the coaster seemed anxious to avoid the Congo.
"It was there," he said, pointing, "the Three Castles struck on the rocks. She was a total loss. So were her passengers," he added. "They ate them."
Everett gazed suspiciously at the unmoved face of the veteran.
"WHO ate them?" he asked guardedly. "Sharks?"
"The natives that live back of that shore-line in the lagoons."
Everett laughed with the assurance of one for whom a trap had been laid and who had cleverly avoided it.
"Cannibals," he mocked. "Cannibals went out of date with pirates. But perhaps," he added apologetically, "this happened some years ago?"
"Happened last month," said the trader.
"But Liberia is a perfectly good republic," protested Everett. "The blacks there may not be as far advanced as in your colonies, but they're not cannibals."
"Monrovia is a very small part of Liberia," said the trader dryly. "And none of these protectorates, or crown colonies, on this coast pretends to control much of the Hinterland. There is Sierra Leone, for instance, about the oldest of them. Last year the governor celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the year the British abolished slavery. They had parades and tea-fights, and all the blacks were in the street in straw hats with cricket ribbons, thanking God they were not as other men are, not slaves like their grandfathers. Well, just at the height of the jubilation, the tribes within twenty miles of the town sent in to say that they, also, were holding a palaver, and it was to mark the fact that they NEVER had been slaves and never would be, and, if the governor doubted it, to send out his fighting men and they'd prove it. It cast quite a gloom over the celebration."
"Do you mean that only twenty miles from the coast--" began Everett.
"TEN miles," said the Coaster. "wait till you see Calabar. That's our Exhibit A. The cleanest, best administered. Everything there is model: hospitals, barracks, golf links. Last year, ten miles from Calabar, Dr. Stewart rode his bicycle into a native village. The king tortured him six days, cut him up, and sent pieces of him to fifty villages with the message: 'You eat each other. WE eat white chop.' That was ten miles from our model barracks."
For some moments the muckraker considered the statement thoughtfully.
"You mean," he inquired, "that the atrocities are not all on the side of the white men?"
"Atrocities?" exclaimed the trader. "I wasn't talking of atrocities. Are you looking for them?"
"I'm not running away from them," laughed Everett. "Lowell's Weekly is sending me to the Congo to find out the truth, and to try to help put an end to them."
In his turn the trader considered the statement carefully.
"Among the natives," he explained, painstakingly picking each word, "what you call 'atrocities' are customs of warfare, forms of punishment. When they go to war they EXPECT to be tortured; they KNOW, if they're killed, they'll be eaten. The white man comes here and finds these customs have existed for centuries. He adopts them, because--"
"One moment!" interrupted Everett warmly. "That does not excuse HIM. The point is, that with him they have NOT existed. To him they should be against his conscience, indecent, horrible! He has a greater knowledge, a much higher intelligence; he should lift the native, not sink to him."
The Coaster took his pipe from his mouth, and twice opened his lips to speak. Finally, he blew the smoke into the air, and shook his head.
"What's the use!" he exclaimed.
"Try," laughed Everett. "Maybe I'm not as unintelligent as I talk."
"You must get this right," protested the Coaster. "It doesn't matter a damn what a man BRINGS here, what his training WAS, what HE IS. The thing is too strong for him."
"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.
Not only to every one was he a stranger, but to him everything was strange; so strange as to appear unreal. This did not prevent him from at once recognizing those things that were not strange, such as corrupt officials, incompetence, mismanagement. He did not need the missionaries to point out to him that the Independent State of the Congo was not a colony administered for the benefit of many, but a vast rubber plantation worked by slaves to fill the pockets of one man. It was not in his work that Everett found himself confused. It was in his attitude of mind toward almost every other question.
At first, when he could not make everything fit his rule of thumb, he excused the country tolerantly as a "topsy-turvy" land. He wished to move and act quickly; to make others move quickly. He did not understand that men who had sentenced themselves to exile for the official term of three years, or for life, measured time only by the date of their release. When he learned that even a cablegram could not reach his home in less than eighteen days, that the missionaries to whom he brought letters were a three months' journey from the coast and from each other, his impatience was chastened to wonder, and, later, to awe.
His education began at Matadi, where he waited until the river steamer was ready to start for Leopoldville. Of the two places he was assured Matadi was the better, for the reason that if you still were in favor with the steward of the ship that brought you south, he might sell you a piece of ice.
Matadi was a great rock, blazing with heat. Its narrow, perpendicular paths seemed to run with burning lava. Its top, the main square of the settlement, was of baked clay, beaten hard by thousands of naked feet. Crossing it by day was an adventure. The air that swept it was the breath of a blast-furnace.
Everett found a room over the shop of a Portuguese trader. It was caked with dirt, and smelled of unnamed diseases and chloride of lime. In it was a canvas cot, a roll of evil-looking bedding, a wash-basin filled with the stumps of cigarettes. In a corner was a tin chop-box, which Everett asked to have removed. It belonged, the landlord told him, to the man who, two nights before, had occupied the cot and who had died in it. Everett was anxious to learn of what he had died. Apparently surprised at the question, the Portuguese shrugged his shoulders.
"Who knows?" he exclaimed. The next morning the English trader across the street assured Everett there was no occasion for alarm. "He didn't die of any disease," he explained. "Somebody got at him from the balcony, while he was in his cot, and knifed him."
The English trader was a young man, a cockney, named Upsher. At home he had been a steward on the Channel steamers. Everett made him his most intimate friend. He had a black wife, who spent most of her day in a four-post bed, hung with lace curtains and blue ribbon, in which she resembled a baby hippopotamus wallowing in a bank of white sand.
At first the black woman was a shock to Everett, but after Upsher dismissed her indifferently as a "good old sort," and spent one evening blubbering over a photograph of his wife and "kiddie" at home, Everett accepted her. His excuse for this was that men who knew they might die on the morrow must not be judged by what they do to-day. The excuse did not ring sound, but he dismissed the doubt by deciding that in such heat it was not possible to take serious questions seriously. In the fact that, to those about him, the thought of death was ever present, he found further excuse for much else that puzzled and shocked him. At home, death had been a contingency so remote that he had put it aside as something he need not consider until he was a grandfather. At Matadi, at every moment of the day, in each trifling act, he found death must be faced, conciliated, conquered. At home he might ask himself, "If I eat this will it give me indigestion?" At Matadi he asked, "If I drink this will I die?"
Upsher told him of a feud then existing between the chief of police and an Italian doctor in the State service. Interested in the outcome only as a sporting proposition, Upsher declared the odds were unfair, because the Belgian was using his black police to act as his body-guard while for protection the Italian could depend only upon his sword-cane. Each night, with the other white exiles of Matadi, the two adversaries met in the Cafe Franco-Belge. There, with puzzled interest, Everett watched them sitting at separate tables, surrounded by mutual friends, excitedly playing dominoes. Outside the cafe, Matadi lay smothered and sweltering in a black, living darkness, and, save for the rush of the river, in a silence that continued unbroken across a jungle as wide as Europe. Inside the dominoes clicked, the glasses rang on the iron tables, the oil lamps glared upon the pallid, sweating faces of clerks, upon the tanned, sweating skins of officers; and the Italian doctor and the Belgian lieutenant, each with murder in his heart, laughed, shrugged, gesticulated, waiting for the moment to strike.
"But why doesn't some one DO something?" demanded Everett. "Arrest them, or reason with them. Everybody knows about it. It seems a pity not to DO something."
Upsher nodded his head. Dimly he recognized a language with which he once had been familiar. "I know what you mean," he agreed. "Bind 'em over to keep the peace. And a good job, too! But who?" he demanded vaguely. "That's what I say! Who?" From the confusion into which Everett's appeal to forgotten memories had thrown it, his mind suddenly emerged. "But what's the use!" he demanded. "Don't you see," he explained triumphantly, "if those two crazy men were fit to listen to SENSE, they'd have sense enough not to kill each other!"
Each succeeding evening Everett watched the two potential murderers with lessening interest. He even made a bet with Upsher, of a bottle of fruit salt, that the chief of police would be the one to die.
A few nights later a man, groaning beneath his balcony, disturbed his slumbers. He cursed the man, and turned his pillow to find the cooler side. But all through the night the groans, though fainter, broke into his dreams. At intervals some traditions of past conduct tugged at Everett's sleeve, and bade him rise and play the good Samaritan. But, indignantly, he repulsed them. Were there not many others within hearing? Were there not the police? Was it HIS place to bind the wounds of drunken stokers? The groans were probably a trick, to entice him, unarmed, into the night. And so, just before the dawn, when the mists rose, and the groans ceased, Everett, still arguing, sank with a contented sigh into forgetfulness.
When he woke, there was beneath his window much monkey-like chattering, and he looked down into the white face and glazed eyes of the Italian doctor, lying in the gutter and staring up at him. Below his shoulder-blades a pool of blood shone evilly in the blatant sunlight.
Across the street, on his balcony, Upsher, in pajamas and mosquito boots, was shivering with fever and stifling a yawn. "You lose!" he called.
Later in the day, Everett analyzed his conduct of the night previous. "At home," he told Upsher, "I would have been telephoning for an ambulance, or been out in the street giving the man the 'first-aid' drill. But living as we do here, so close to death, we see things more clearly. Death loses its importance. It's a bromide," he added. "But travel certainly broadens one. Every day I have been in the Congo, I have been assimilating new ideas." Upsher nodded vigorously in assent. An older man could have told Everett that he was assimilating just as much of the Congo as the rabbit assimilates of the boa-constrictor, that first smothers it with saliva and then swallows it.
Everett started up the Congo in a small steamer open on all sides to the sun and rain, and with a paddle-wheel astern that kicked her forward at the rate of four miles an hour. Once every day, the boat tied up to a tree and took on wood to feed her furnace, and Everett talked to the white man in charge of the wood post, or, if, as it generally happened, the white man was on his back with fever, dosed him with quinine. On board, except for her captain, and a Finn who acted as engineer, Everett was the only other white man. The black crew and "wood-boys" he soon disliked intensely. At first, when Nansen, the Danish captain, and the Finn struck them, because they were in the way, or because they were not, Everett winced, and made a note of it. But later he decided the blacks were insolent, sullen, ungrateful; that a blow did them no harm.
According to the unprejudiced testimony of those who, before the war, in his own country, had owned slaves, those of the "Southland" were always content, always happy. When not singing close harmony in the cotton-fields, they danced upon the levee, they twanged the old banjo. But these slaves of the Upper Congo were not happy. They did not dance. They did not sing. At times their eyes, dull, gloomy, despairing, lighted with a sudden sombre fire, and searched the eyes of the white man. They seemed to beg of him the answer to a terrible question. It was always the same question. It had been asked of Pharaoh. They asked it of Leopold. For hours, squatting on the iron deck-plates, humped on their naked haunches, crowding close together, they muttered apparently interminable criticisms of Everett. Their eyes never left him. He resented this unceasing scrutiny. It got upon his nerves. He was sure they were evolving some scheme to rob him of his tinned sausages, or, possibly, to kill him. It was then he began to dislike them. In reality, they were discussing the watch strapped to his wrist. They believed it was a powerful juju, to ward off evil spirits. They were afraid of it.
One day, to pay the chief wood-boy for a carved paddle, Everett was measuring a bras of cloth. As he had been taught, he held the cloth in his teeth and stretched it to the ends of his finger-tips. The wood-boy thought the white man was giving him short measure. White men always HAD given him short measure, and, at a glance, he could not recognize that this one was an Everett of Boston.
So he opened Everett's fingers.
All the blood in Everett's body leaped to his head. That he, a white man, an Everett, who had come so far to set these people free, should be accused by one of them of petty theft!
He caught up a log of fire wood and laid open the scalp of the black boy, from the eye to the crown of his head. The boy dropped, and Everett, seeing the blood creeping through his kinky wool, turned ill with nausea. Drunkenly, through a red cloud of mist, he heard himself shouting, "The BLACK nigger! The BLACK NIGGER! He touched me! I TELL you, he touched me!" Captain Nansen led Everett to his cot and gave him fizzy salts, but it was not until sundown that the trembling and nausea ceased.
Then, partly in shame, partly as a bribe, he sought out the injured boy and gave him the entire roll of cloth. It had cost Everett ten francs. To the wood-boy it meant a year's wages. The boy hugged it in his arms, as he might a baby, and crooned over it. From under the blood-stained bandage, humbly, without resentment, he lifted his tired eyes to those of the white man. Still, dumbly, they begged the answer to the same question.
During the five months Everett spent up the river he stopped at many missions, stations, one-man wood posts. He talked to Jesuit fathers, to inspecteurs, to collectors for the State of rubber, taxes, elephant tusks, in time, even in Bangalese, to chiefs of the native villages. According to the point of view, he was told tales of oppression, of avarice, of hideous crimes, of cruelties committed in the name of trade that were abnormal, unthinkable. The note never was of hope, never of cheer, never inspiring. There was always the grievance, the spirit of unrest, of rebellion that ranged from dislike to a primitive, hot hate. Of his own land and life he heard nothing, not even when his face was again turned toward the east. Nor did he think of it. As now he saw them, the rules and principles and standards of his former existence were petty and credulous. But he assured himself he had not abandoned those standards. He had only temporarily laid them aside, as he had left behind him in London his frock-coat and silk hat. Not because he would not use them again, but because in the Congo they were ridiculous.
For weeks, with a missionary as a guide, he walked through forests into which the sun never penetrated, or, on the river, moved between banks where no white man had placed his foot; where, at night, the elephants came trooping to the water, and, seeing the lights of the boat, fled crashing through the jungle; where the great hippos, puffing and blowing, rose so close to his elbow that he could have tossed his cigarette and hit them. The vastness of the Congo, toward which he had so jauntily set forth, now weighed upon his soul. The immeasurable distances; the slumbering disregard of time; the brooding, interminable silences; the efforts to conquer the land that were so futile, so puny, and so cruel, at first appalled and, later, left him unnerved, rebellious, childishly defiant.
What health was there, he demanded hotly, in holding in a dripping jungle to morals, to etiquette, to fashions of conduct? Was he, the white man, intelligent, trained, disciplined in mind and body, to be judged by naked cannibals, by chattering monkeys, by mammoth primeval beasts? His code of conduct was his own. He was a law unto himself.
He came down the river on one of the larger steamers of the State, and, on this voyage, with many fellow-passengers. He was now on his way home, but in the fact he felt no elation. Each day the fever ran tingling through his veins, and left him listless, frightened, or choleric. One night at dinner, in one of these moods of irritation, he took offence at the act of a lieutenant who, in lack of vegetables, drank from the vinegar bottle. Everett protested that such table manners were unbecoming an officer, even an officer of the Congo; and on the lieutenant resenting his criticism, Everett drew his revolver. The others at the table took it from him, and locked him in his cabin. In the morning, when he tried to recall what had occurred, he could remember only that, for some excellent reason, he had hated some one with a hatred that could be served only with death. He knew it could not have been drink, as each day the State allowed him but one half-bottle of claret. That but for the interference of strangers he might have shot a man, did not interest him. In the outcome of what he regarded merely as an incident, he saw cause neither for congratulation or self-reproach. For his conduct he laid the blame upon the sun, and doubled his dose of fruit salts.
Everett was again at Matadi, waiting for the Nigeria to take on cargo before returning to Liverpool. During the few days that must intervene before she sailed, he lived on board. Although now actually bound north, the thought afforded him no satisfaction. His spirits were depressed, his mind gloomy; a feeling of rebellion, of outlawry, filled him with unrest.
While the ship lay at the wharf, Hardy, her English captain, Cuthbert, the purser, and Everett ate on deck under the awning, assailed by electric fans. Each was clad in nothing more intricate than pajamas.
"To-night," announced Hardy, with a sigh, "we got to dress ship. Mr. Ducret and his wife are coming on board. We carry his trade goods, and I got to stand him a dinner and champagne. You boys," he commanded, "must wear 'whites,' and talk French."
"I'll dine on shore," growled Everett.
"Better meet them," advised Cuthbert. The purser was a pink- cheeked, clear-eyed young man, who spoke the many languages of the coast glibly, and his own in the soft, detached voice of a well- bred Englishman. He was in training to enter the consular service. Something in his poise, in the assured manner in which he handled his white stewards and the black Kroo boys, seemed to Everett a constant reproach, and he resented him.
"They're a picturesque couple," explained Cuthbert. "Ducret was originally a wrestler. Used to challenge all comers from the front of a booth. He served his time in the army in Senegal, and when he was mustered out moved to the French Congo and began to trade, in a small way, in ivory. Now he's the biggest merchant, physically and every other way, from Stanley Pool to Lake Chad. He has a house at Brazzaville built of mahogany, and a grand piano, and his own ice- plant. His wife was a supper-girl at Maxim's. He brought her down here and married her. Every rainy season they go back to Paris and run race-horses, and they say the best table in every all-night restaurant is reserved for him. In Paris they call her the Ivory Queen. She's killed seventeen elephants with her own rifle."