Don Quixote on the Ivory Coast
THERE are two ways of looking at this unique book. You may read it as a record of adventure among savage beasts and savager men : " Aye, I've been fighting all the time and building Empire—so-called. Me first fight was up my rivers and me last one was when I was with Kitchener's Cattle Thieves in the Boer War. Unless you count being on a mine-sweeper when the big scrap was on . . . And before that there was General Villa's turn-up in Mexico . . . And we'll throw in the old Matabele War long ago." Or you can look at it as a treasury of world-wisdom of a man who has had to deal with the sternest realities of wild nature at its wildest, one of which Alfred Aloysius " Horn" (which is not his real surname) has built his faith and his philosophy. " Pity's a fancy_ article Nature in her wisdom can only leave to humanity." But Nature, red in tooth and claw, has also her kindly and simple sides: " if we'd think of Death as the hand of Nature it'd be no worse than' lying down to sleeii in a cornfield," and " there's a simplicity comes frOm the worship of Nature," for " you forget the animosities of religion when you are living a life close to her." And sophis- ticated civilization hag yet much to leain from her : " Aye, Nature sure has spread some of the ingenuity of man over the wilder races. 'Tis not all reserved for Piccadilly." But the hunter-aphorist has his lighter as well as deeper moods. Could anything be etched more truly and sharply than this little sketch of a lady philanthropist who came to see him when he was down and out in a Johannesburg doss-house- " Stout body, used to the job. Talks pleasant and never listens to what you are telling her." And again : " One of those weighty daughters of Israel that's only just getting used to having a house to play with." From whatever angle you approach it, this book is a very big thing, and Mrs. Ethelreda Lewis is entitled to our fullest gratitude for bringing it into the world.
Quite briefly, this instalment (there is a hinted and joyful .possibility of yet more to come) deals with the story of a white trader's life on the Ogowe River fifty years ago. Aloysius -" Horn " himself writes the formal life in his own delightfully peculiar spelling and fine Victorian style ; Mrs. Lewis contri- butes the inner life of the adventurer in " Conversations " taken down full, shrewd, and burning as they fell from the old man's lips.
And what a life and what an experience was his I " In the world of literature [he muses] you're dust and ashes if you haven't got a background of facts," and facts he pours out in ,a golden stream. The pivot of the book is Lola D---, a beautiful half-white girl with auburn hair set off with " a dressing of white. hair-pins made of hippo_ ivory inlaid with ebony,"„whom a tribe of cannibals held as _a virgin goddess in sacred captivity, and whom at dead, of . night " Horn " along with another white man rescued and took down to the coast, when they got her on board a steamer and " Peru " married her 1" amongst the seabirds." The, imagination , of a Haggard is outdone by this incident and by the Watch Walls of the Dead—" a flight of steps right up from the river. An .amphitheatre at the top and big granite squares at thehottom . . where the quaggas cried from the walls and .played up and down the stairway with their little hoofs echoing." And then comes the touch which ineluctably stamps the truth, of the picture—" they must a' been doing it for long enough— judging hy the thickness of the dung at the top there." We see the old trader-hunter (though, he was young _then) camped on a sandbank in the mellow searchlight of the tropic moon, while " the harmless. hippos could often be seen feeding on the banks and showed up plainly by a fosforescent glow round the jaws .as they chewed tack food," the silence of the night broken ever and anon by the low trumpetings of the elephants and the growl of a gorilla "that feels like a tremor you could touch, if you put your hand to the ground. The Dawn=Maker the natives call him, same as we say Chanticleer." Gangs of slaves go do#n river ; a white-haired grandmother, her day of usefulness past, is tossed into the rapids for the crocodiles ; young slave-girls are brutally handled by buyers. And all the time glides on the great river " like a snake with green sides. The middle stream its silvery belly," while " the kingfishers thread to and fro in front of your canoe like bobbins o' bright silk.", As we read this magnificent book some of us may think of borrow, but Borrow was milk and water to "Horn" ; some of the great African hunters—Harris, Gordon Cumming, Baldwin, and Selous, but these inen's 'careers, adventurous as they were, held nothing of the deadly starkness of what befell Aloysius " Horn." Some may think of white men gone native, like John Dunn, the Zulu chief, or of traders and pioneers like dear old Sam Edwards of Matabeleland, " Far Interior Sam." But to none of them was given a career like that of this old travel- ling hawker, who at the end of his seventy-three years has written his life in a Johannesburg doss-house, who was made blood-brother to cannibals, the strength of whose manhood was not wasted, but yet poured out so lavishly in " Africa, P.Ia'arn. Africa—as Nature meant her to be, the home of the black man and the quiet elephant. -Never a sound, Ma'am, in a great landscape at noon—only the swish of elephants in grass."
' What's any book, after all, but a compilation of facts. plus ideas ? And here are both, in a book indeed. .. - M. J. C. M.