Compagnie Belge Maritime Du Congo. S. S. February 13th, 1907. DEAR MOTHER:
We reached Banana yesterday morning, and the mouth of the Congo, and as the soldier said when he reached the top of San Juan Hill, "Hell! well here we are!" Banana looks like one of the dozen little islands in the West Indies, where we would stop to take on some "brands of bananas," instead of the port to a country as big as Europe. We went ashore and wandered around under the palm trees, and took photos, and watched some men fishing in the lagoons, and we saw a strange fish that leaps on the top of the water just as a frog jumps on land. It is certainly hot. Milani and I went in swimming in the ocean, and got finely cool. Then we paddled the canoe back to the ship to show the blacks how good we were, and got very hot, and the blacks charged us a franc for the voyage. To-morrow we will be in Boma, the capital, which is much of a place with shops and a lawn tennis court.
Boma is more or less laid out and contains the official residences of the Government. I walked all over it in an hour, and here you walk very slow. There are three or four big trading stores AND a tennis court. It is, however, a dreary place. We called on the missionary and his wife, but she does not speak English and their point of view of everything was not cheerful or instructive. Cecil plans to remain on board while at Matadi and return with this same boat to Boma. I want her to go home in this boat or in some other, as I believe Boma most unhealthy and I know it to be most uncomfortable. She would have to go to a hotel which is very hot and rough, although it is clean and well run. I am undecided whether to go up the river for ten days, to where it crosses the equator, or to leave the upper Congo and go up the Kasai river. This is off the beaten track, and one may see something of interest. I will know better what I will do in an hour, when I get to Matadi.
We are now at Matadi. The Captain invited us to stop on board and it is well he did. We dine on deck where the wind blows but the rest of the ship is being cleaned and painted for the trip North. Four hatches are discharging cargo all at once, from four in the morning until midnight. Officers and kroo boys get four hours sleep out of the twenty-four, but I sleep right through it, so does Cecil. Sometimes they take out iron rails and then zinc roofs and steel boats, 6000 cases of gin and 1000 tons of coal. Still, it is much better than in the Hotel Africa on shore. Matadi is a hill of red iron and the heat is grand. Everything in this country is grand. The river is, in places, seven miles wide, the sunsets are like nothing earthly, and the black people are like brooding shadows of lost souls, that is, if souls have shadows. Most of the blacks in this town are "prisoners" with a steel ring around the neck, and chained in long lines. I leave on the 23d to go up the Kasai River, because that is where the atrocities come from and up there there are many missionaries. I don't want you to think I say this to "calm your fears," but I say it because it is as true of this place as of every other one in the world, and that is, that it is as easy to get about here as it is in Rhode Island. It is not half as dangerous as automobiling. I have not even felt feverish, neither has Cecil. I never felt better. Cecil stays on board and goes back to Boma. There she stops a week and then takes another ship back to London. She will not wait at Boma for me, at least, I hope not and cannot imagine her doing so. In any event, after I start, there will be no way for us to communicate, and I will act on the understanding that she has started North.
I have two very good boys and both speak English, and are from Sierra Leone. I take a two-day trip of 200 miles by rail, then four days by boat up the Kasai and then I may come back by boat or walk. It depends on how I like it, how long I stay, for I can hope to see very little, as under a year it would be impossible to write with authority of this country. But I'll see more of it than some at home, and I'll hear what those who have lived here for years have to say. It is awfully interesting, absolutely different and more uncivilized than anything I ever saw. But all the time you are depressed with how little you know and can know of it. I will be here six weeks or two months and then should get up the coast to London about the middle of May or sooner.
From diary of February 22nd, 1907.
Spent about the worst night of my life. No mattress, no pillow. Not space enough for my own cot. Every insect in the world ate me. After a bath and coffee felt better. It rained heavily until three P. M. Read Pendennis, and loved it. The picture of life at Clavering and Fairoaks, and Dr. Portman and Foker are wonderful. I do not know when I have enjoyed and admired a work so much. For some reason it is all entirely new again. I will read them all now in turn. After rain cleared took my slaves and went after "supplies." Met a King. I thought he was a witch doctor, and the boys said he was a dancing man. All his suite, wives and subjects followed, singing a song that made your flesh creep. At Hatton and Cookson's bought "plenty chop" for "boys" who were much pleased. Also a sparklet bottle, some whiskey and two pints of champagne at 7 francs the pint. Blush to own it was demi Sec. Also bacon, jam, milk, envelopes, a pillow. Saw some ivory State had seized and returned. 15 Kilo's. Some taken from Gomez across street not returned until he gave up half. No reason given Taylor agent H. & C. why returned Apparently when called will come down on the ivory question. Cuthbert Malet, coffee planter, came call on me. Only Englishman still in Service State. Had much to say which did not want printed until he out of country which will be in month or two. Anstrossi has given me side of cabin where there is room for my cot, so expect to sleep.
STANLEY POOL, Feb. 22nd, 1907. DEAR MOTHER: