VI. OLD CALABAR
"I drink champagne," said the clerk, "because for three years I have myself alone in the bush lived, but, can I to my directors go with a book not balanced?" He laid his hand upon his heart and shook his head. "It is my heart that tells me 'No!'"
After three weeks he gave a shout, his face blushed with pleasure, and actual tears were in his eyes. He had dug out the error, and at once he celebrated the recovery of the single sixpence by giving me twenty-four shillings' worth of champagne. It is a true story, and illustrates, I think, the training and method of the German mind, of the industry of the merchants who are trading over all the seas. As a rule the "trade" goods "made in Germany" are "shoddy." They do not compare in quality with those of England or the States; in every foreign port you will find that the English linen is the best, that the American agricultural implements, American hardware, saws, axes, machetes, are superior to those manufactured in any other country. But the German, though his goods are poorer, cuts the coat to please the customer. He studies the wishes of the man who is to pay. He is not the one who says: "Take it, or leave it."
The agent of one of the largest English firms on the Ivory Coast, one that started by trading in slaves, said to me: "Our largest shipment to this coast is gin. This is a French colony, and if the French traders and I were patriots instead of merchants we would buy from our own people, but we buy from the Germans, because trade follows no flag. They make a gin out of potatoes colored with rum or gin, and label it 'Demerara' and 'Jamaica.' They sell it to us on the wharf at Antwerp for ninepence a gallon, and we sell it at nine francs per dozen bottles. Germany is taking our trade from us because she undersells us, and because her merchants don't wait for trade to come to them, but go after it. Before the Woermann boat is due their agent here will come to my factory and spy out all I have in my compound. 'Why don't you ship those logs with us?' he'll ask.
"'Can't spare the boys to carry them to the beach,' I'll say.
"'I'll furnish the boys,' he'll answer. That's the German way.
"The Elder-Dempster boats lie three miles out at sea and blow a whistle at us. They act as though by carrying our freight they were doing us a favor. These German ships, to save you the long pull, anchor close to the beach and lend you their own shore boats and their own boys to work your cargo. And if you give them a few tons to carry, like as not they'll 'dash' you to a case of 'fizz.' And meanwhile the English captain is lying outside the bar tooting his whistle and wanting to know if you think he's going to run his ship aground for a few bags of rotten kernels. And he can't see, and the people at home can't see, why the Germans are crowding us off the Coast."
Just outside of Duala, in the native village of Bell Town, is the palace and the harem of the ruler of the tribe that gave its name to the country, Mango Bell, King of the Cameroons. His brother, Prince William, sells photographs and "souvenirs." We bought photographs, and on the strength of that hinted at a presentation at court. Brother William seemed doubtful, so we bought enough postal cards to establish us asetrangers de distinction, and he sent up our names. With Pivani, Hatton &Cookson's chief clerk we were escorted to the royal presence. The palace is a fantastic, pagoda-like building of three stories; and furnished with many mirrors, carved oak sideboards, and lamp-shades of colored glass. Mango Bell, King of the Cameroons, sounds like a character in a comic opera, but the king was an extremely serious, tall, handsome, and self-respecting negro. Having been educated in England, he spoke much more correct English than any of us. Of the few "Kings I Have Met," both tame and wild, his manners were the most charming. Back of the palace is an enormously long building under one roof. Here live his thirty-five queens. To them we were not presented.
Prince William asked me if I knew where in America there was a street called Fifth Avenue. I suggested New York. He referred to a large Bible, and finding, much to his surprise, that my guess was correct, commissioned me to buy him, from a firm on that street, just such another Bible as the one in his hand. He forgot to give me the money to pay for it, but loaned us a half-dozen little princes to bear our purchases to the wharf. For this service their royal highnesses graciously condescended to receive a small "dash," and with the chief clerk were especially delighted. He, being a sleight-of-hand artist, apparently took five-franc pieces out of their Sunday clothes and from their kinky hair. When we left they were rapidly disrobing to find if any more five-franc pieces were concealed about their persons.