The Jam God by H. M. Egbert
A Tale of Nigeria
Lieutenant Peters, of the Royal Nigerian Service,
was lying upon the ground face downward, under a
prickly tree. The sun was nearly vertical, and the little
round shadow in which he reclined was interlaced with streaks
of hot light. As the sun moved, Peters rolled into the shade
automatically. His eyes were shut, and he was in that hot
borderland which is the nearest approach to sleep at noontide
The flies were pestering him, and he was thirsty—not with
that thirst of the mouth which may be quenched with a long
draught, but with the thirst of the throat that sands and
sears. He felt thirsty all over. He had been thirsty, like
this, ever since he struck the bend of the Niger. What made
it worse, every night he dreamed of fruits that were snatched
away, like the food of Tantalus, as he approached to grasp
them. Two nights before he had been wandering knee-deep
in English strawberry beds; the night before he had
been shaking down limes and oranges from groves of trees
set with green leaves and studded with golden fruit. Once
he had dreamed of a new fruit, a cross between a pear and
a watermelon; but when he cut into it he found nothing but
hard, small seeds, with a pineapple flavor, which he detested.
Peters was dreaming now, for he twined his fingers in the
long grass and tossed uneasily.
"I'll pick them all," he muttered sleepily. "All mixed
together, with ten or twelve pounds of damp, brown sugar,
and boiled into jam."
He woke and felt his teeth for the hundredth time, to note
whether any untoward looseness betokened the advent of
the dreaded scurvy. Reassured, he stretched his limbs and
rolled over into the shade of the tree.
"When I get back to a white man's country," he murmured—"when
I get home to England what is it I am going to do?
Why, I shall go into a restaurant and order some rich brown
soup. Then I shall have pate de foie gras sandwiches. Then
scrambled eggs, chocolate, and muffins buttered with whipped
cream. Then half a dozen cans of jam. I shall either begin
with strawberry and conclude with apricot, or else I shall
begin with apricot and wind up with raspberry. It doesn't
matter much; any kind of jam will do except pineapple."
He opened his eyes, brushed away the flies that swarmed
noisily round him, took out his hard-tack, and opened a small
can of dried beef. He munched for a while, sipping occasionally
from the tepid water in his canteen. When he had
finished he put the can-opener back in the pocket of his tunic
and rose, his face overspread with a look of resolution.
"I believe," he cried, "I believe that I could eat even a
can of pineapple!"
He rose, the light of his illusion still in his eyes, and began
staggering weakly under the blazing sun in the direction
of his camp. He was weaker than he had thought, and when
he reached the shelter of his tent he sank down exhausted
upon the bed. Through the open flap he could see, five
hundred yards away, the round, beehive-shaped huts of the
native village and, in their centre, the square palace of King
Mtetanyanga, built of sticks and Niger mud, surrounded by
its stockade, the royal flag, a Turkish bath-towel stained yellow
and blue, floating proudly above.
Lieutenant Peters had been sent by the Nigerian Government
along the upper Niger to conclude treaties with the
different kings and sweep them within the British sphere of
interest. The French were out upon a similar errand, for
in this region the two nations possessed only a vague and very
indeterminate boundary line. Peters had been successful
until he came to the village of King Mtetanyanga, who had
balked at affixing his cross to the piece of mysterious parchment
on the ground that it was unlawful to do so during the
festival of the great Ju-Ju, whose worshipers could be heard
wailing and beating tom-toms nightly in some unknown part
of the jungle. What this Ju-Ju fetish was nobody could tell;
it had come into the village recently, from the coast, men
whispered; it possessed awful and mysterious potency;
was guarded zealously by some score of priests, who veiled
its awful vision; and it was the greatest Ju-Ju for hundreds
of miles along the Niger, tribes from distant regions frequently
arriving to sacrifice pigs to it.
However, Lieutenant Raguet, the French commissioner,
had been equally unsuccessful in inducing the dusky monarch
to affix his signature to the French treaty, and the ambassadors
of the rival nations were both encamped near the village,
waiting for the Ju-Ju festivities to reach their plethoric conclusion
before the king sobered up and attended to business.
Raguet, strolling into his rival's camp that evening, found
Peters in his tent, flushed, and breathing heavily.
"Tcht! tcht! you are seeck," said the Frenchman sympathetically.
"That ees too bad. Have you quinine?"
"Quinine be hanged," cried Peters huskily. "I've taken
the stuff until I've floated in it. There's only one thing
can cure me, Raguet. I've been living on crackers and
canned beef for over a month, and I'm pining for jam. Have
you got any jam?"
"Dsham, dsham?" repeated Raguet with a puzzled
"Yes, les preserves—le fruit et le sugar, bouilli—you
know what I mean."
"Ah, ze preserve!" said the Frenchman, with an expression
of enlightenment. "Ze preserve, I have him not."
"I tell you what, Raguet," said Peters irritably, "I've got
to get some jam somewhere or I shall kick the bucket. I'm
craving for it, man. If I had one can of the stuff it would
put me upon my feet instantly, I can feel it. Now it's ten to
one I'll be too sick to see the king after the ceremonies are
over, and he'll sign your treaty instead of mine. And I've
given him three opera hats, a phonograph, and a gallon of
rum, curse the luck! What did you give him, Raguet?"
"Me? I give him a umbrella with ze gold embroider," the
"My government won't let me give the little kings umbrellas,"
said Peters in vexation. "It makes the big chiefs
jealous. I say, Raguet," he rambled on, sitting up dizzily,
"what is this Ju-Ju idol of theirs?"
"I know not," said the French lieutenant. "Only ze
king and ze priests have seen him. If zey tell, zey die—ze
idol keel zem."
"I suppose they'll be keeping up these infernal tom-toms
for another week," grumbled the sick man, lying back and
half closing his eyes from weariness. "Well, I'll have to
try to get well in time."
The Frenchman resisted the impulse to leap back in surprise,
but his eyes narrowed till they were slits in his face.
So! This Englishman did not know that this had been the
last day of the sacrifices, that at midnight a hecatomb of pigs
was to be killed and eaten in the bush in honor of the Ju-Ju.
Nor that the king, when he had broached and drunk the cask
of rum, would be in a mood to discuss the treaty. Peters
evidently was unaware how much his majesty had been
affronted by his failure to present him with an umbrella. La!
la! Fortune was evidently upon his side. All this flashed
through the Frenchman's mind in an instant. A solitary
chuckle escaped him, but he turned it into an exclamation of
grief, sighed deeply, seated himself upon the bed, and kissed
Peters affectionately on either cheek.
"My Peters, my poor friend," he began, "you must not
theenk of leaving your tent for ze next two, t'ree days. Ze
fever, he is very bad onless you receive him in bed. I shall
take care of you."
"You're a good fellow, Raguet," said Peters, wiping his
face surreptitiously with the backs of his hands. When his
visitor had left he turned over and sank into a half-delirious
doze that lasted until the sun sank with appalling suddenness,
and night rushed over the land. Tossing upon his bed, all
through the velvet darkness he was dimly conscious, through
his delirious dreams, of tom-toms beaten in the bush. His
throat was parched, and in his dreams he drank greedily
from his canteen; but each time that he awoke he saw it hanging
empty from the tent flap. Presently a large, bright, yellow
object rose up in front of him. Greedily he set his teeth into
it; and even as he did so it disappeared, and he awoke, gasping
and choking under the broiling blackness.
"I'll have to take that canteen down to the stream and
fill it," he muttered, rising unsteadily and proceeding toward
the bank. To his surprise he found that rain had fallen.
He was treading in ooze, which rose higher and higher until
it clogged his footsteps. He struggled, but now it held him
fast, and he was sinking slowly, but persistently, now to the
waist, now to the shoulders. Frantically he thrust his hands
downward to free himself, and withdrew them sticky with—jam!
He scooped up great handsful greedily; and even as
he raised it to his mouth it vanished, and he awoke once more
in his tent.
He flung himself out of bed with an oath, took down his
canteen, and started toward the river. The noise of the
tom-toms was louder than ever, proceeding, apparently, from
some point in the bush a little to the left of the king's palace.
Scrambling and struggling through the thorn thickets, he
reached the sandy bed of the stream, filled his water-bottle
at a pool, and drank greedily.
It was that still hour of night when the many-voiced clamor
of the bush grows hushed, because the lions are coming down
to drink at the waters. The rising moon threw a pale light
over the land. The tom-toms were still resounding in the
bush, but to Peters's distorted mind they took on the sound of
ripe mangoes falling to the ground and bursting open as they
struck the soil. He counted, "one, two, three," and waited.
He counted again. There must be thousands of them.
Peters began to edge his way through the reeds in the direction
of the sound. After a while he came to a wall of rocks
perpendicular and almost insurmountable. He paused and
considered, licking his lips greedily as the thud, thud continued,
now, apparently, directly in front of him. All at once
his eyes, curiously sensitive to external impressions, discovered
a little, secret trail between two boulders. He
followed it; a great stone revolved at his touch, and he found
himself inside the sacred groves. He went on, gulping
greedily in anticipation of the feast which awaited him.
Suddenly he stopped short. He had seen something that
brought back to him with a rush the realization of his whereabouts.
Seated in the shelter of a cactus tree, not fifty yards
away, was King Mtetanyanga, wearing his three opera hats,
one upon another, in the form of a triple crown, and drinking
his own rum with Raguet, under the shade of Raguet's
umbrella. Prone at their feet crouched Tom, the interpreter.
"His Majesty say, 'How you fix him Ju-Ju?'" translated
"Tell His Majesty, my Ju-Ju stronger than the Englishman's
Ju-Ju," answered the Frenchman. "My Ju-Ju eat
up his Ju-Ju. He very sick. If I choose, he die."
"Ugh!" grunted the king, when this explanation was
vouchsafed, apparently impressed.
"Tell His Majesty my Ju-Ju stronger than his own Ju-Ju.
If he no sign treaty, eat up his Ju-Ju," Raguet went on.
A flow of language came from the king's lips.
"His Majesty say, he bring his Ju-Ju, see whose greater,"
said the interpreter.
Vaguely aware that treachery was impending, but crazed
now by the falling mangoes, Peters left them palavering and
followed the trail. All at once he emerged into a tiny clearing
and stood blinking at a fire, round which a group of men—priests,
as he knew, from their buffalo horns and crane
feathers—were reclining, hammering upon tom-toms and
shouting in various stages of intoxication. The firelight
blinded their eyes. Peters stood still uncertainly. Then
his eyes fell upon a sawed-off tree-trunk, in the hollow of
which lay something wrapped in a white cloth, surrounded
with snake-skins. He had come by this secret road into the
actual presence of the great Ju-Ju.
Curiously he inserted his hand, lifted the object out, and
examined it. Inside was something of a strange, yet familiar
shape, oval, and flattened at the ends. He lifted it out of its
wrappings, and there, in his hand, he saw a can, bearing the
GREENAWAY'S BEST JAM.
He looked at it in solemn and holy meditation; then, sitting
down, he drew the can-opener from his tunic and wiped
it clean upon his sleeve.
After awhile a babel of sound broke in upon his ears. Men
had come running up, brandishing spears, stopped, flung
themselves upon the ground prostrate in front of him. The
priests were there, frantically abasing themselves; Mtetanyanga,
his opera hats rolling, unheeded, on the ground.
Their cries ceased; they veiled their eyes. Then from the
dust came the feeble tones of the interpreter.
"His Majesty say, you eat him Ju-Ju—yours greatest
Ju-Ju, he want to sign treaty."
But Peters, waving the empty can over his head, shouted:
"I've eaten jam, I've eaten jam! It's pineapple—and
I don't care!"