Stories by English Authors in Africa
King Bemba's Point
We were for the most part a queer lot out on that desolate southwest African
coast, in charge of the various trading stations that were scattered along the
coast, from the Gaboon River, past the mouth of the mighty Congo, to the
Portuguese city of St. Paul de Loanda. A mixture of all sorts, especially bad
sorts: broken-down clerks, men who could not succeed anywhere else, sailors,
youths, and some whose characters would not have borne any investigation; and
we very nearly all drank hard, and those who didn't drink hard took more than
was good for them.
I don't know exactly what induced me to go out there. I was young for one thing,
the country was unknown, the berth was vacant, and the conditions of it easy.
Imagine a high rocky point or headland, stretching out sideways into the sea, and
at its base a small river winding into a country that was seemingly a blank in
regard to inhabitants or cultivation; a land continuing for miles and miles, as far
as the eye could see, one expanse of long yellow grass, dotted here and there
with groups of bastard palms. In front of the headland rolled the lonely South
Atlantic; and, as if such conditions were not dispiriting enough to existence upon
the Point, there was yet another feature which at times gave the place a still
more ghastly look. A long way off the shore, the heaving surface of the ocean
began, in anything like bad weather, to break upon the shoals of the coast.
Viewed from the top of the rock, the sea at such times looked, for at least two
miles out, as if it were scored over with lines of white foam; but lower down, near
the beach, each roller could be distinctly seen, and each roller had a curve of
many feet, and was an enormous mass of water that hurled itself shoreward until
it curled and broke.
When I first arrived on the Point there was, I may say, only one house upon it,
and that belonged to Messrs. Flint Brothers, of Liverpool. It was occupied by one
solitary man named Jackson; he had had an assistant, but the assistant had died
of fever, and I was sent to replace him. Jackson was a man of fifty at least, who
had been a sailor before he had become an African trader. His face bore
testimony to the winds and weather it had encountered, and wore habitually a
grave, if not melancholy, expression. He was rough but kind to me, and though
strict was just, which was no common feature in an old African hand to one who
had just arrived on the coast.
He kept the factory--we called all houses on the coast factories--as neat and
clean as if it had been a ship. He had the floor of the portion we dwelt in
holystoned every week; and numberless little racks and shelves were fitted up all
over the house. The outside walls glittered with paint, and the yard was swept
clean every morning; and every Sunday, at eight o'clock and sunset, the ensign