The Trader's Wife: Part Two


HARFORD settled into the canvas chair that so neatly fitted the sides of his canoe; he savored the morning air of the journey with intense appreciation. He had such a passion for the forests of Africa as he could never have acknowledged, and when his little fleet left the open water for the glassy surface of the Gungwe River he was struck to the heart with a pang of delight. Here the mangrove trees were a hedge about the great park of the forest; the tide was near the full. On a full tide the canoes came to be amid high ground, the mangroves were great trees; in that narrower way the first lustre of the day was lost; the singing ceased, and Harford recognized the familiar rhythm of the journey.

He returned from his solitary excursions to the thought of Lucy’s probable miseries during the furies of the day, when the sunlight would flow like a river above the brown water, when with the turn of the tide the obscene roots of the mangrove trees would stand above the slime gnarled with oysters, when the débris of the flood delayed in the ooze would give off the odor of Africa, and the great heat would press upon the canoers in their hollowed tree.

Lucy sat in a canvas chair before him; he saw the back of her wide straw bonnet and her skirts crushed into the narrow compass of the canoe. She bit a pencil and wrote on a pad upon her knee. Every crocodile sprawling on a stone amid-stream and slipping like spilled water back into the flood was a wonder to her. The sinister green lip turned by the brown water against the paddle delighted her. Now and again, when a monkey spread himself like an arabesque, small against the wall of the forest, the paddlers pointed to it, responsive to her zest. She immortalized the monkey then and there with a fine phrase; she wrote about the great and awful forest, the majestic river, the noble savages that bent to the oar. And suddenly she drooped under the sunlight that thrust a wedge between the dark shadows of the river banks. Harford called a halt at the village of Zamaliga. The canoes turned into a bywater that led to the invisible village.

Through a green tunnel of forest they came to a muddy ooze left by the tide below the bank of Zamaliga. Seven men came out of the village stockade; leaning on their spears, they observed the canoes. Those paddlers who were of the clan of the inhabitants of Zamaliga shouted to them, and the villagers, with a marked and lofty deliberation, stepped out into the ooze. They drew up the canoes; one of them picked Lucy from her chair and set her carefully on the high ground. He left a stain of palm oil on her dress. The forest shed a green stain on her. Her skirts, spread over her hoops, were too wide to pass the narrow way that entered the village; those who watched the strangers through the gun holes in the walls of the headman’s house sawher remove her cage of reeds — her laughter woke the village of Zamaliga. Lucy passed into the rectangular clearing, so mediæval in its aspect, of the long narrow village, where she burst upon the vision of the old headman who had come out to greet the white man. From each of the little huts, so low under their cover of palm thatch, a leg was thrust, a head, and a body followed; the clearing, full of sunlight between the walls of the forest, was suddenly stirring with brown bodies. There was a shout from end to end of the village, and a question — was it a lad or a woman?

Lucy, weak with laughter, stooped to the entrance and drew her skirts after her into the headman’s house. The headman observed her gravely; he saw the Big Massa spread a grass mat upon his bamboo bed. The woman — for he was assured by the rowers, some of whom were his own people, that this was a woman — lay laughing in the cool gloom of his house. ‘ She is strong for talk,’ he told himself. He went out under the eaves where he kept his call drum and beat a message summoning his women from their outlying gardens — these people must be fed, he knew. ‘There are strangers in the village,’cried out the beaten drum. The headman would have liked to inform his neighbor headmen of the wonder of his guests, but there was no phrase in the old drum code that was adequate for this novelty of a white woman, lying in the palaver house of the village, laughing and chattering.

Lucy looked at the rafters; they were studded with little plaintive skulls of animals, brown and varnished with smoke — reminders of the hunt. She saw the fetish images, like dolls, seated on high standing drums in the corner; she averted her eyes from their obscene gestures and their curiously vital and significant faces. The shock of their vitality was without meaning to her. The clutter in the hut, of spears and guns and dogs and hunting nets, did not arrest her. The sound of drums, the heavy air in that brown interior, the warm thick peanut porridge that Atemba brought her and that Harford bade her eat with the bread from her basket, presently made her drowsy, and she slept, lulled by the crowd and the chatter.

The square of golden light that opened on the street was darkened by grave and curious faces; one and then another body entered, the men breeched with bark cloth, the women with bustles of dried grasses. They held their bustles against their thighs as they put their legs over the high threshold. Their heads were dressed with feathers and with disks of brass. They were entirely preoccupied with their scrutiny of Lucy pale in sleep; they understood that this was the white man’s woman; they would have rejoiced to see her without the many complications of her coverings, which yet were much to be coveted. Their murmurs in Fang were anatomical in trend; Harford heard them. He wondered to find himself standing guard over a wife in a Fang palaver house, and he greatly wondered to see her sleep there like a veteran.

That night Lucy slept in the bottom of the canoe. The river ran among hills; there was a mist above the river, and a moon gilded the mist. Harford dozed in his chair; the rowers in shifts made against the current; passing canoes hailed them and were hailed again — the word of Hallifodi’s white woman went up and down the river in canoes, and women in villages Lucy was never to see spoke of her daily for many days. The articulate curiosity of the women of the tribes of that river did much to stimulate Harford’s trade in those first months of his trading. Through his sleep Harford heard his rowers sing a ballad of the white man and his white woman: —

Hé-yé-é! Her eyes are like the eyes of the wood dove!
Her hair is soft like the hair of the monkey!
Her husband crossed in a canoe to get her!
And to her father her husband gave an ivory!
An ivory as big as your thigh, O Hallifodi!


On the third day Lucy woke very early in the gray dawn. In the pallor of the morning, and dark against the pale stream of the sky, the trees were full of the furious contention of parrots. That matinal domestic disorder startled her; she could not think where she was that there should be a river of sky above her and her face wet with dew. There was Harford, and his face was not set toward her. The canoe floated toward a landing, a little jetty of logs thrown out against the stream. Trees hung about the water; the river might have been a little lake. A great rectangular clearing was a breach in the forest — the walls of the forest stood sheer about four or five acres of cleared ground that sloped to the river. Along the bank and not more than fifty feet from the water’s edge there was a square high stockade. Above this, and on the upper stretch of the clearing where the ground was level, there was a cabin in a compound with a withy fence about it — this was Harford’s house and factory. Lucy saw that her husband stared at the lower stockade; he stood in the canoe still staring; he wavered and sat down. He asked a question of his headman, who told him that this was De Sopo’s barracoon, built in the last dry season; that De Sopo had sent his slaves away by canoes that made one of the Spanish ships.

The barracoon was empty, but the scent of it still hung on the air. Harford was surprised and disheartened; all his plotted future darkened and lost its zest; his distaste for the Trade turned then and there to loathing, and his pleasure in clean barter — which had attracted him as an experiment and a venture — seemed to him now a childish dream, doomed to fail. He could have overturned the canoe in his spleen, but there was Lucy ready to stir herself, to ask her million questions, and to laugh in the face of Africa.

He did not tell her that the barracoon had been built in his absence; he looked at her harshly, begging her to remember that she was in a canoe, and not be throwing herself about. Lucy laughed. She hung on her husband’s arm, climbing the slope of the hill on the little footpath that skirted the clearing and that was too narrow. It was still dark in the forest, and a smell of mould as old as time seeped through that enormous wall.

‘Is it not strange, Mr. Harford,’ Lucy asked him, ‘that I, who was born in a city and lived in Newport all my life, should have my own first home in such a wild and lonely place? Is it not romantic?’ Her husband did not answer her — he was looking grimly at his ‘factory.’

The little cabin, built on stilts and made of wide plates of the bark of trees, stood with its eyes shut in the clearing. Yellow ground was beaten hard about it. At the foot of the stairs that led to the verandah an old Fang caretaker with a broom of twigs was sweeping away what was not there — his Big Massa must see for himself that Ntu Ela swept always and forever the ground that was his care. From one of the lesser cabins behind the factory Harford’s carpenter came out to greet him; he was a mulatto from the Gold Coast. He told his wife later that his breath had gone straight away from his body at the sight of the white woman.

The door of the cabin was painted green — a green door! And not another in a thousand miles. Nor any other stairs in that forest. The carpenter who had made the stairs could make anything; he began at first glimpse of Lucy to devise a dress for his wife — wide like Lucy’s. He opened the door of the house; in the trade room there were shelves, empty now, and a long counter. He threw back the wooden shutters; he had made these too, and admired them greatly. Off the trade room a door opened to a smaller room. Lucy saw there a slatted wooden bed, and against the wall three wooden boxes laid one above the other; she knew them for shelves, and her mind, weary with wandering among the strange things of the forest, came to rest in that room. Harford could not have guessed how much it was for her a nest. She would not see the house for the poor bleak thing it was — she curtained it and carpeted it and furnished it, and all in the moment the carpenter took to show Harford the bar he had put across the door that opened to the storehouse behind the counter. By a crazy mirror on the trade-room wall she smoothed her hair — laughing at the broken face it gave her.

Harford, standing under the eaves of the house he had thought to live in by himself and where he had thought to be the only trader, looked down the hill and into the barracoon — he could see it plainly. The high stockade of trimmed and sharpened staves was empty now, the ashes of its many little fires cold on the ground. He communed with himself; his wife, calling him, woke him to a forgotten presence. He saw her freshly against the background of the place to which he had brought her: her hardihood and vigor struck him, and it came into his mind that she was a singularly fearless woman. He remembered her lying asleep under the mists and the moonlight in the bottom of the canoe — impressing upon his inattentive memory an indestructible image, more beautiful than she had seemed to be.

They sat at a table on the verandah. Atemba, having mysteriously achieved a checkered cloth of red and white, served them, as he had learned to do, with what food was to be had, and the acquired arts of Taylor’s steward. Behind the constant fabric of Lucy’s chatter Harford heard the drums of the neighboring villages. Up and down and across the river, in villages under the cover of the forest, the Fang were drumming out the news that Hallifodi had come back with much goods for barter. Noon, he knew, would find his yard full of his neighbors. Up the path from the river, as his men brought his canoes alongside, others of them carried his bales of cotton, his bales of dried fish, his cases of rum. The great busyness of trade began to furnish his clearing with clamor, with odor, with humanity. Fortified by food and entirely engrossed in the disposal of his goods and the greetings of the headmen who pressed upon him, he was suddenly happy after his own fashion.

Harford was a born trader. He spoke the language of those with whom he traded; he had observed and he practised their customs in trading; he knew their tempo and was neither too swift nor too slow in his greetings and his bargains; he was habitually grave, but he had a reserve of sardonic humor which came into service at a moment accurately timed and effective. He was severe. For these traits he was well liked, and he was not disliked for his moody humors.

The old tattooed shrewd Fang headmen came to greet him now in their patriarchal groups, accompanied by young men beating drums, and young men carrying spears, and keepers of dogs in leashes of three, and women with painted headdresses whose bustles were painted, too. All these people welcomed him, not alone because he was the purveyor of extraordinary novelties, but because they liked him. Was he not their father, returned from paths upon the sea? And had he not passed over the tribe of the Mpongwe, defying their old taboo that none should trade with the Fang but a son of a beach tribe?

They were consumed with a passion of curiosity about Lucy. Looking at her, they sighed with wonder, snapped their fingers, and slapped their thighs; she saw herself in all those brilliant eyes, adequately mirrored and approved. Chickens were brought to Hallifodi, tied by their feet and hanging head down; fish in green leaf packets were diverted from the cooking pot; eggs — because the whites like eggs — were taken from under outraged hens; corn, peanuts, hands of bananas, honey in gourds, wild fruits of the forest — all these were brought, and not without a mingling of reluctance and calculation, to please their white man.

The trade goods were under cover before night; a Fang youth taught by Harford to keep tally had his tally ready, and it was correct. The key was turned on the heaped disorder of the storeroom; the canoe men, who would come for their pay in the morning, wandered off to the villages where they would eat and sleep; the guests, still sighing with acclamation, went away in their tribal groups.

It was cool in the empty clearing. Harford sat on the steps of his house, which looked west, smoking his pipe, dressed once again in no more than a shirt and trousers. Atemba brought good Fang chop to the red and white tablecloth. Lucy, pale with a long day of effort and minus her hoops, was too bewildered and weary to speak, and peace fell upon that little group — so small, so dominant, and so lost in the forest. The dark settled in, and Atemba lit a lantern. Lucy leaned her head on her hand — she was devising a dress that would fit the circumstance. Harford was half asleep when his wife told him that their bed was ready; he had not thought to find a hammock for himself among the loads, and he lay down beside Lucy in the small dark room where he had bunked in times past, and which was already furnished by his wife’s undisciplined presence. He felt a movement of tenderness for her fatigue, her innocent trust and courage, her facile abandonment and passion. But when she slept and moonlight fell upon her white arms and her bundles of dark hair, and her clothing hung in billows against the wall, he was oppressed; he rose and went out.

The shadow of his house was black under a blazing moon; silver struck the plumes of the banana trees that stood about his clearing; to the west and down the hill the river wore its veil of mist, and white in the moonlight was the empty yard of the barracoon. He stretched himself in his old canvas chair. The river was audible, and from the villages came the incessant trouble of the dance drums. His circumstance was perfectly familiar to him; nothing of it claimed his attention; every element in it released the man in him that Africa had made in fifteen years.

He thought of De Sopo as he had known him five years before; the two of them were then in the Trade, Harford with a firm of New Yorkers — the last of slave trading for him. De Sopo had been with a group of Portuguese, dealing directly with Bahia. These operations had been off the Muni River, which was then little visited by the British Patrol. De Sopo should be in his early thirties now — grown perhaps, Harford thought to himself, a tricky and a dirty fellow. He would be upriver now, dealing with his slaving chiefs; doubtless he would expect to be lodged when he should come down to his barracoon and while he was holding his kaffle for shipment. Taylor had spoken of De Sopo as shipping with him, but Harford had not thought to ask where he held his slaves. None of the Fang had spoken of the barracoon; it might be, as Harford knew, that they supposed De Sopo to be a partner with himself — there was nothing to forbid. He had spent a year in making his clearing and in building his houses, in establishing his trade among the Fang, and in that time he had not bought a slave, though many had been offered him. But the Fang would not so easily disassociate a white man from the Trade, and he must take his measures before De Sopo returned with his new cargo. He considered abandoning this clearing for another, turning over in his mind the locality as he knew it. But he came to the conclusion that he must dispose of his stock before coming to a decision. And he slept under the shadow of his eaves.


The Southern Cross leaned to its setting. It was the month of March; the rainy season was near. In the villages the people were making a magic for the felling of trees. Soon Tolo, the constellation of the Hare, would incline to the roofs of the houses in the early dark — then the sons of the Fang would burn the trees they had felled to make their new gardens. Their women would plant the seed, and all the things of man known from the birth of men would go forward. Yet there were these new things in the forest — a trader who did not barter for slaves, and a white woman. Strange things, not to be explained.

On a day soon after, Efa Ngoto, with a small company of his young men, came to Harford with a slave. The fame of Harford’s goods was irresistible. Efa had no ivory, but he had a girl who had been left in pawn with him by a friend who was now an enemy. She was not a tractable girl — she was given, rather, to audible rehearsals of her irregular position and her grievances. Harford, leaning on the rail of his verandah, heard the account of her virtues as a fine working woman, obedient, sure to breed, for she had done so. He listened to Efa’s offer of exchange for the customary tale of goods. He waited with his acquired and admirable patience until Efa had come to an end of oratory and flourishing of his staff. The girl, drawn forward by a bamboo noose about her neck, leaned back against it. Lucy arrived to exclaim and question — and little did she guess how her husband cursed in his heart these rifts in an established contact, based on understood intonations and intervals.

‘ When the sun is in the middle,’ Harford told Efa, ’I shall call upon the drum all real men of the forest. And when they shall have gathered in answer to my drumming I shall tell them the way and the kind of my trade — what I shall buy of the tribe of the Fang. Return then with your brothers.'

At five o’clock of that afternoon Harford’s clearing was filled with headmen and lesser men; with dogs and dog bells; with spears, staves, and guns; with headdresses painted green, yellow, white, strung with beads, studded with shells, buttons, and brass; with bodies painted with clay, with ochre, and with the crimson powder of the camwood tree; with bodies breeched in bark cloth, naked bodies, and bodies striding in leopard skins.

Lucy on the verandah was perfectly silent because Harford had begged her to be so; she put a little parasol between her face and the selling sun and was the more observed for this. She admired her husband deeply, approving the silence with which the noisy crowd attended him when he rose to speak. She could not know what he was saying, but she saw him call for the slave girl who had returned with Efa, and who was drawn by the leash into the centre of the group. The girl hung back, intimidated for the moment by the public eye. Harford untied the cord about her neck, telling Efa Ngoto that there — so far as he was concerned — stood every slave girl that was brought him for purchase.

‘I will give you for your ivories,’ he told them, ‘the right count of goods for an ivory, and all the goods fine. But do not wake me in the night to sell me a slave, thinking, “ He is a man who will not buy a slave in the daytime, but when night comes he will buy a slave.” Do not call me in the morning to sell me a woman who has run away at night and whom with the dawn you have overtaken and said to her, “Aha, you who run away! I shall take you to the white man, and try running away from him!” Do not hasten back from your quarrels with your enemy tribes bringing young men with you, thinking that I will buy them. Never on any day, rainy season or dry, will I buy a slave from you; and any slave that you bring to my factory in bonds I shall unloose with my own hand and you may deal as you can with the one that stands free. As for your own slaves that you have in your own towns, deal with them after your own fashion — what have I to do with them? Have you heard?’

‘We have heard!’ The automatic response in its unison and volume startled Lucy, unused to these conventions. A chief rose to ask. What of the barracoon that the white man had built at the foot of the hill and that he had already filled with two fillings of slaves? How were they to understand a tribe of men that both did and did not deal in slaves?

Of white men, as of black men, Harford told them, there are tribes and tribes, customs and customs. De Sopo was of a slaving tribe. For himself, whose name was Hallifodi and who had been a slaver in his youth, there was now a strong, unbreakable, and permanent taboo without end — he would not slave.

‘It is for him taboo!’

Harford knew suddenly that he had said the inevitable, convincing, and last word; he was for the Fang disestablished as a slaver, and that by the logic of a word. His humanity was, moreover, established, for was he not a man with a taboo? A small square bottle of rum went by the hand of Atemba to the hand of every headman, and the palaver was done. In clannish groups and with many words of farewell and of begging, the Fang went away from the clearing. Harford was well pleased and happily complacent; he rehearsed his speech in part to Lucy, but he did not tell her what he had said when he loosed the rope on the neck of the Fang girl, and Lucy did not know then, or ever, that her husband was a man with a taboo. But Atemba heard, and understood, and he saw the girl released.


Lucy had not worn out her first pair of kid shoes when the first rains fell. Harford had put her in a little cabin of one room, built for herself and removed from the smell of salt fish and the constant coming and going of the Fang. Curtains hung at the windows, native mats woven of grass were laid on the floor, and this was made of planks that Harford had had brought upriver. The rough little house, with its thatch of palm mats, its rude shutters, and its green door, delighted Lucy beyond reason; it preoccupied her; she saw it as exiles see their shelters that are achieved at strange expense. She felt for it a mystic attachment that was the beginning in her of the inevitable action of African exile. At night on her slatted bamboo bed in the dark she saw in her mind her little house flooded with light and she rejoiced in all its least arrangement.

Her delight in it was shared by the Fang women who hung about the steps and who saw it after their own fashion and with an excessive admiration. They appropriated to themselves Lucy, on the score of their common sex, and her house as the house of a woman; their innate hardihood overcame their timidity; with a growing boldness they flocked to the spectacle of the white woman with her long hair, her slim waist, her mincing airs that amused them, her excess of clothes that became a legend. Groups of them standing on the ground before her house would summon her in their loud laughing voices; they would question her in the modified tender idiom that the Fang people reserve for children, and her answers in their own tongue, imperfect and halting, pleased them, increasing in them the conviction that she was a child and the legitimate object of their facile maternal solicitude.

Harford, busy with his own affairs, would be roused by their shouts of laughter, and would look out to wonder at the sight of his wife, in a white dress without hoops, leaning over the rail of her little verandah into a group of the dark bodies of women—tattooed, oiled, painted, turning up to her their faces all smiling and lit with a tender amusement. Their certain uncouthness, their obvious diseases, the known suspicion of cannibalism that hung about the tribe, seemed then to be overlaid by an affinity between women, powerful and touching.

The first rains had not fallen before Lucy ventured into the nearer villages, following Atemba along the tunneled paths of the forest that debouched from a green gloom into the intolerable light of the clearings. A wooden stool would be set for her in one and another of the huts of the village; the clay floor would be swept in her honor; warm curiosities would play about her. Daintily she would taste from a folded leaf the mushroom soup or the fish stew that was the best of the village fare. The headman, getting word of this, would saunter down the clearing to put his head in under the eaves of the favored house, to wonder and laugh at the sight of her; and her personal importance, somehow slipping away, would reestablish itself and would embellish her.

She would come back from these excursions with extravagant talk of the charms of Fang babies, and smelling of the fires that burn on the floors of Fang cabins. And she began to write romantically about her life in the forest. Harford, going about the clearing, would see her sitting at a table she had made of boxes; he knew, he thought, the sort of thing she would be writing — remembering the book of hers that he had read before he met her. He had admired it, liking an authoress to be romantic and sentimental. He remembered that he had read it in a lonely deserted fort on the Gold Coast, sitting in a large, dusty, and empty room, reading Lucy’s impossible tale in a small pool of light from a lantern. He had got it from the captain of a ship out of Boston. Life had been at the slack with him then, between two adventures. It was small time he had to be reading now, for his trade was going well, ivory was coming in, was being weighed and sent down the river to Taylor. The Fang of the river valley — the headmen and their favorite wives — were decked in the colored calicoes of his trading; they were drinking his rum and eating his salt fish in all the villages; matches were struck in huts where the fire stick had been the only use; fishhooks were betraying the fish in the river, and gunpowder from Hallifodi furnished the horns of the hunters. Gifted cheats were busy devising ways to overreach him, and he was divining their villainy; all was as it should be in the factory of Hallifodi on the Nkomo River.

A leopard stole a goat that Lucy had meant to milk; Harford had a fever and resented his wife’s care; a thief was found to be digging through the ground below the level of the storehouse where Harford kept his reserves; and Atemba was snake-bitten. But Atemba recovered, Harford recovered, the thief was apprehended and put over the log — Harford calling upon the headman of the recreant’s own town to beat him. Only Lucy did not entirely recover from the wound of her husband’s ill-humored and morose convalescence, when he had shut his door against her, begging her to send Atemba to serve him. She had then wept bitterly and had written a letter home — speaking of the great loneliness of her life and the unlikeness between men and women in their characters and habits. And indeed it would seem that she was right, for when she sickened with the fever, as she presently did, she accepted her husband’s ministrations gratefully, and wrote about them at length in another letter and another vein. It is not strange, therefore, that Lucy’s friends were later divided in their understanding of Harford’s character and conduct.

With the passing of time and the falling of the rain, Lucy’s letters ceased. Atemba, who was fascinated by the travels of her hand upon the page and by the marks she made, felt aggrieved; her ink, he told her, was drying. He begged her to teach him to write, and so for a little time she did; Harford would see Atemba’s face happy and intent above his slowtraveling hand. But Lucy wearied of the teaching; a languor grew upon her in that small house which was shut in by the dark walls of the rain. Atemba thought, ‘She should visit her father’s town.’ She complained to Harford of the roaches, of the rats that rustled in the leaf thatch of her cabin. There were a hundred roaches on her wall of an evening, she said, and the rats carried away her stockings. She sickened of the daily fare and lost her zest for invention. At the height of the rainy season, when the great rains swept daily through the clearing and fell enormously on the roof, she had black-water fever, and for two nights Harford tended her without hope. On the third night he slept; there was no lantern lit in the white man’s clearing, and Lucy, convalescent, lay in the sinister trough of a gray weakness, watching the moonlight on her bark wall.

It was a grievance with her, after this illness, that she had lost track of the days of the week and could not be sure again if it were Sunday or another day. Incessantly she struggled with this problem, calling on Harford to solve it for her — endlessly tracing her way back to a known day and baffled always by her weakness. But with the dry season she forgot this and other obsessions; the falling of the sunlight among the last light veils of rain flooded her with joy, and she came back to her housewifery and her visits in the villages.

It began to appear to Harford that her recurrent fevers were anticipated by an increase in her vitality — she would then be restless and her initiative would revive; she would go nutting with the Fang women in the forest or swimming in the river to the sound of their joyous cries. He grew to dread these adventures and her returns from them. Lucy dragging her skirts in from a native village, her hair smelling of wood smoke and her eyes already shadowed with illness, was a provocation to Harford; he then felt a strangeness in her and his face was set against her. But Lucy pale and listless, recovering from her fever, following after him for company and in gratitude for his care of her, touched him; he softened. He could then suffer it that she loved him devotedly. He was grateful to her that she spoke less often; he would find it in his heart to talk with her, recounting the day’s business and the gossip of the neighborhood, and Lucy would listen in a happy languor.


Harford was a careful master and his clearing was well ordered — a white man might come upon it unannounced and there would be no scurry there to shame the factor. But no white man came until, on a day in January, De Sopo arrived in a canoe and was at the door of the factory before he was observed.

It was noon. Lucy and Harford sat at table under the eaves of the factory. Lucy, when she saw a white face, felt such a surprise as was painful; she put her hand to her hair and smoothed her dress; she remembered the holes in her shoes and that her skirt was short after a fashion she had devised for her isolated circumstance. She was pale and intimidated, letting her husband do the honors, and these Harford extended without zeal. With the lapse of time he had ceased to take account of De Sopo; Mpongwe traders in passing had told him that the Spaniard was in his own town beyond the sea; and latterly Harford had heard that he was operating in the Muni River, as the dangers of the Trade were now excessive in the Gaboon estuary. The barracoon, so long idle, had ceased to spoil Harford’s every prospect; grass had grown on the floor of it, and the roofs of the thatch shelter that ran along the inner wall were falling under the weight of sweet-potato vine. It was a deserted clearing, soon to revert to forest.

And here at the door was De Sopo.

He was thinner than Harford remembered him to be, of a bad color, and nearly bald. His manner, Harford was bound to agree, was correct. He had heard from his paddlers that Harford had a woman, and he had supposed this to be a Mpongwe woman, such as he himself had. She was with him now; coming in on his heels, she spread out for him a deerskin stool she carried, and then stood against the wall. She was a dark creature, slight and round, without a trace of tattoo, her hair without beads and pinned with a gold ornament; her square of cloth, violet-colored and bordered with red, was tautened under her arms. Harford wondered where De Sopo had got a girl of her quality. Atemba, who was bringing food to De Sopo, observed her and was by her observed. Only Lucy, looking at her with great pleasure, did not know that she was De Sopo’s woman; she did not understand why De Sopo, presently, and when he had found himself in a family, sent her away. She went away down the steps into the violent light of the clearing and down the path to the canoe; but Harford sent Atemba after her to bring her back into the hut of the headman’s wife, where she would be fed — if indeed she would eat the food of a Fang woman. Lucy watched the two black people, single file, stride away with an African elegance.

De Sopo, who spoke to Harford in Spanish, spoke to Lucy in beach English, and the corruption of this speech offended her. She made little out of his assurances that he ‘catch plenty nigger, fine too much, never die for canoe, never kill him for gun, make him fine journey two-three moons, keep him now ship live for come. Catch him ship plenty quick.’ She did not understand when he offered her a fine girl pickaninny, half grown. And later when he went away, and when she would have asked Harford her thousand questions, — the tides of her vitality having risen under excitement, — he was moody and taciturn. He followed De Sopo down to the river, and told him that he could not have him in the house. The Spaniard must sleep in the villages until he should have a shelter of his own.

(To be concluded)