Bellow does this so smoothly and efficiently that I’m appreciating his writing style more and more. It is impossible to pick out and lay them all out here, but there are little events, little worries voiced by Henderson in reminding us of what he feels he is, what he’s doing here in Africa, and the colossal mess he’s made of things so far–the frog episode and the dead man in the hut–that have the reader holding his breath as he takes part in the rain ceremony.
He makes a wager with the King that on this bright, cloudless day no amount of ritualizing can bring rain, and then worries about exactly what the King wants. The King, Dahfu, has been friendly but cautious and a bit aloof. He has already explained to Henderson that all his luxuries, his naked women, the rich and gaudy clothing and his tendency to expend little energy are short-lived, and that he will be dethroned and killed when he shows any sign of weakness (Darwin here, survival of the species in action as the strongest, most virile vie for rights to rule and procreate). Henderson has plenty then to fret about, and as we watch the contest in the arena to pick up and move the heavy statues of the gods in a bid for rain, we know damn well Henderson’s train of thought.
So inflamed was my wish to do something. For I saw something I could do. Let these Wariri whom so far (with the corpses in the night and all in all) I didn’t care for–let them be worse than the sons of Sodom and Gomorrah combined, I still couldn’t pass up this opportunity to do, and to distinguish myself. To work the right stitch into the design of my destiny before it was too late. (p. 176)
So little by little we realize just as Henderson does, what it may be that he’s looking for. In the meantime, Bellow grants us that no-don’t go there stomach churn of the adventure novel.