With the odor of musty canvass
Leaving a wake along the trail,
As it was hacked into existence
By the blade and brawn
Of his dark-skinned porters,
Trader Horn merged adventure
With enterprise in a treacherous Eden
That treasured salt over sapphire.
Life in 1876 was nowhere easy,
Not in the plush parlors of Liverpool
From whence he hailed,
Certainly not in the disease-ridden
Brothels of East London,
Least of all here in equatorial Africa
Along the banks of the Ogowe River
Where survival was a gift of the moment.
But for reasons that were beyond reason
To those in his present company,
Trader Horn was driven,
With the notion of supplying Victoria,
And the minions in her empire,
With an abundance of ivory
To satiate their implacable appetite
For trinkets and talismans.
A mere four hours—
Though it seemed forty—
Had passed since the rain-swollen
Rapids had laid claim to
Their Okoume-wood canoes,
Salvaging little more in the melee
Than their lives,
Their rifles and knives and
Several satchels of water-logged supplies.
Though his senses beckoned him
To retreat to his post,
A youthful disregard for danger,
Bolstered by determination to defy the river,
Prevailed over sensibility,
Rekindling within his dampened spirits
The hope of aligning his sights
On the colossal bull whose tusks,
By all accounts, would rival those of
The mighty mastodon in millennia past.
Four hours more had passed
When the intrepid explorer
And his hapless companions
Succumbed to fatigue and
The relentless heat that was
Intensified by the direct rays of the sun—
A sun that now seared the equator
And its environs on this
The eve of the vernal equinox.
Though his mind was addled
As with overindulgence of absinthe,
It was clear enough indeed to recognize
The futility of forging ahead.
Backtrack an 'af mile
In the light that remains, he reasoned,
To overnight there on a mid-stream island
That would serve as a redoubt
From the indigenous Pahouins
And their unrefined palates
That savored human flesh.
Upon turning about to face the flame that
Moments before had parched their backs,
They saw not the sun, as expected,
For the sun had been eclipsed
By a towering pachyderm
Less than ten paces hence,
Staring down at our man and his men
With the unmistakable look
Of a monarch on his throne
Who can give life or take it on a whim.
With fear prevailing over fatigue,
Trader Horn knew his wit and his weapons
Were powerless to affect the outcome
Of the current encounter
With the bull elephant
He then and there recognized
As the legendary Colossus.
By some twist of fate,
The one being stalked
Had become the stalker.
Were the tables turned
Trader Horn, unlike the beast,
Would not have hesitated
In dealing a swift blow of death.
Perhaps the cruel beast was
Merely savoring the moment,
Relishing some form of
Elephantine irony that the ivory
His foe had yearned for
Would instead serve as a skewer
For his foe.
But without explanation for his reasons,
And in his own time,
The elephant shook his gargantuan head
And slowly turned and walked away,
Leaving Trader Horn with a pounding heart
And a perplexing question: Which of them—
Man or beast—stood on higher moral ground?
— Lon Roberts