A Deal in Cotton

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in Colliers Weekly for 14 December1907 and then in Cassell’s Magazine for January 1908. Actions and Reactions (1909), then Scribners Volume XXIV p. 185, Sussex Vol.VIII, p. 167 and Burwash Volume VIII.

The story

The story is set in an unspecified British Colony in Africa, which the author deliberately disguises, calling it ‘The Centro-Euro-Africo Protectorate’, in a town with a vaguely French name, but occasionally using a form of words that was in common use in Sierra Leone on the west coast. It borders French territory, and Somaliland is said to be three thousand miles away.

Young Adam Strickland, who is an Assistant Commissioner in the Protectorate, is on leave in England with his father and Stalky and their old friends, recuperating from a bout of fever. He tells how his chief has been waging a war in the north against a group of Arab slave-traders, led by Ibn Makarrah, while Adam’s great interest is to develop cotton-growing in the black soil of his District, and raise money for it.

One day a grey-haired old Mohammedan, a ‘Hajji’, is brought into his camp, poisoned and near death. Adam nurses him back to life, and they become fast friends. Then Adam falls seriously ill with fever, and during that time there is news of a slave-dealer taking slaves openly through his territory. Half delirious Adam issues orders for his arrest, tries him, and levies a heavy fine, bringing in more funds for the cotton-growing.

Once Adam has gone to bed, his father and friends demand the true story from Imam Din, Adam’s servant. As they suspect, the ‘Hajji’ was Ibn Makarrah, who had invented the tale of the delinquent slave-dealer for love of the young man, so as to get the cash he needs into Adam’s hands. Later Ibn-Makarrah becomes an ally of the British.

Critical comments

Marghanita Laski is in two minds, saying (p. 134):

“A Deal in Cotton” … is a clever story, but the patronising deceiving of the adored young man is offensive.

Charles Carrington, however, (p. 370) regards this as:

a convincing story which probably emerged from meetings with Sir George Goldie and Sir Frederick Lugard.

This was Sir Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, soldier, traveller and administrator, later Baron Lugard, who was High Commissioner for what was then known as Northern Nigeria which had come under British rule in 1903. ( Andrew Lycett, p. 354.)


© John McGivering 2010 All rights reserved