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 “Cannibals went out of date with pirates.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.”