Tales of Unrest HTML version

An Outpost Of Progress
There were two white men in charge of the trading station. Kayerts, the chief,
was short and fat; Carlier, the assistant, was tall, with a large head and a very
broad trunk perched upon a long pair of thin legs. The third man on the staff was
a Sierra Leone nigger, who maintained that his name was Henry Price. However,
for some reason or other, the natives down the river had given him the name of
Makola, and it stuck to him through all his wanderings about the country. He
spoke English and French with a warbling accent, wrote a beautiful hand,
understood bookkeeping, and cherished in his innermost heart the worship of evil
spirits. His wife was a negress from Loanda, very large and very noisy. Three
children rolled about in sunshine before the door of his low, shed-like dwelling.
Makola, taciturn and impenetrable, despised the two white men. He had charge
of a small clay storehouse with a dried-grass roof, and pretended to keep a
correct account of beads, cotton cloth, red kerchiefs, brass wire, and other trade
goods it contained. Besides the storehouse and Makola's hut, there was only one
large building in the cleared ground of the station. It was built neatly of reeds,
with a verandah on all the four sides. There were three rooms in it. The one in
the middle was the living-room, and had two rough tables and a few stools in it.
The other two were the bedrooms for the white men. Each had a bedstead and a
mosquito net for all furniture. The plank floor was littered with the belongings of
the white men; open half-empty boxes, torn wearing apparel, old boots; all the
things dirty, and all the things broken, that accumulate mysteriously round untidy
men. There was also another dwelling-place some distance away from the
buildings. In it, under a tall cross much out of the perpendicular, slept the man
who had seen the beginning of all this; who had planned and had watched the
construction of this outpost of progress. He had been, at home, an unsuccessful
painter who, weary of pursuing fame on an empty stomach, had gone out there
through high protections. He had been the first chief of that station. Makola had
watched the energetic artist die of fever in the just finished house with his usual
kind of "I told you so" indifference. Then, for a time, he dwelt alone with his
family, his account books, and the Evil Spirit that rules the lands under the
equator. He got on very well with his god. Perhaps he had propitiated him by a
promise of more white men to play with, by and by. At any rate the director of the
Great Trading Company, coming up in a steamer that resembled an enormous
sardine box with a flat-roofed shed erected on it, found the station in good order,
and Makola as usual quietly diligent. The director had the cross put up over the
first agent's grave, and appointed Kayerts to the post. Carlier was told off as
second in charge. The director was a man ruthless and efficient, who at times,
but very imperceptibly, indulged in grim humour. He made a speech to Kayerts
and Carlier, pointing out to them the promising aspect of their station. The
nearest trading-post was about three hundred miles away. It was an exceptional
opportunity for them to distinguish themselves and to earn percentages on the
trade. This appointment was a favour done to beginners. Kayerts was moved