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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe African Trader - Chapter 1
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The African Trader - Chapter 1 Post by :Tom_Sheltraw Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3506

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The African Trader - Chapter 1



Our school was breaking up for the midsummer holidays--north, south, east, and west we sped to our different destinations, thinking with glee of the pleasures we believed to be in store for us.

I was bound for Liverpool, where my father, a West India merchant, now resided. He had for most of his life lived in Jamaica, where I was born, and from whence I had a few years before accompanied him to England to go to school.

"I am sorry we shall not see you back, Bayford," said the good doctor, as he shook me warmly by the hand. "May our heavenly Father protect you, my boy, wherever you go."

"I hope to go as a midshipman on board a man-of-war, sir," I answered. "My father expects to get me appointed to a ship this summer, and I suppose that is the reason I am leaving."

The doctor looked kindly and somewhat sadly at me. "You must not, Harry, raise your hopes on that point too high," he answered, in a grave tone. "When I last heard from your father, saying he desired to remove you, he was very unwell. I grieve to have to say this, but it is better that you should be prepared for evil tidings. God bless you Harry Bayford. The coach will soon be up; I must not detain you longer."

The doctor again warmly wrung my hand.

I hastened after Peter the porter, who was wheeling my trunk down to the village inn where the coach stopped, and I had just time to mount on the top when the guard cried out, "All right;" the coachman laid his whip along the backs of the horses, which trotted gaily forward along the dusty road.

My spirits would naturally have risen at finding myself whirled along at the rate of ten miles an hour on my way homeward, but the last words spoken by the doctor continually recurred to me, and contributed greatly to damp them. I managed, however, at length, to persuade myself that my anticipations of evil were mere fancies. On reaching Liverpool, having called a porter to carry my things, I hurried homewards, expecting to receive the usual happy greetings from my father and sisters. My spirits sank when looking up at the windows, I saw that all the blinds were drawn down. I knocked at the door with trembling hand. A strange and rough-looking man opened it. "Is my father at home?" I asked, in a low voice. The man hesitated, looking hard at me, and then said, "Yes; but you can't see him. There are some ladies upstairs--your sisters, I suppose--you had better go to them."

There was an ominous silence in the house; no one was moving about. What had become of all the servants? I stole gently up to Jane and Mary's boudoir. They, and little Emily our younger sister, were seated together, all dressed in black. Sobs burst from them, as they threw their arms round my neck, without uttering a word. I then knew to a certainty what had happened--our kind father was dead; but I little conceived the sad misfortunes which had previously overtaken him and broken his heart, leaving his children utterly destitute.

Jane, on recovering herself, in a gentle sad voice told me all about it. "Mary and I intend going out as governesses, but we scarcely know what to do for dear Emily and you Harry, though we will devote our salaries to keep you and her at school."

"Oh, I surely can get a place as a nursemaid," said Emily, a fair delicate girl, looking but ill-adapted for the situation she proposed for herself. "And I, Jane, will certainly not deprive you and Mary of your hard-earned salaries, even were you to obtain what would be required," I answered, firmly. "I ought rather to support you, and I hope to be able to do so by some means or other."

My sisters even then were not aware of the sad position in which we were placed. Our father had been a man of peculiarly reserved and retiring manners; he had formed no friendships in England, and the few people he knew were simply business acquaintances. An execution had been put into the house even before his death, so that we had no power over a single article it contained.

The servants, with the exception of my sisters' black nurse, had gone away, and we had not a friend whose hospitality we could claim. She, good creature (Mammy, as we called her), finding out, on seeing my trunk in the hall, that I had arrived, came breathless, from hurrying up stairs, into the room, and embracing me, kissed my forehead and cheeks as if I had still been a little child; and I felt the big drops fall from her eyes as she held me in her shrivelled arms. "Sad all this, Massa Harry, but we got good Fader up dere, and He take care of us though He call massa away," and she cast her eyes to heaven, trusting with a simple firm faith to receive from thence that protection she might have justly feared she was not likely to obtain on earth.

"We all have our sorrows, dear children," she continued, "massa had many sorrows when he lose your mother and his fortune, and I have my sorrows when I was carried away by slaver people, and leave my husband and piccaniny in Africa, and now your sorrows come. But we can pray to the good God, and he lift us out of dem all."

Mammy had often told us of the cruel way in which she had been kidnapped, and how her husband had escaped with her little boy; and after she became a Christian (and a very sincere one she was), her great grief arose from supposing that her child would be brought up as a savage heathen in ignorance of the blessed truths of the gospel. My sisters and I, as children, had often wept while she recounted her sad history, but at the time I speak of, I myself was little able to appreciate the deeper cause of her sorrow. I thought, of course, that it was very natural she should grieve for the loss of her son, but I did not understand that it arose on account of her anxiety for his soul's salvation.

"I pray day and night," I heard her once tell Jane, "dat my piccaniny learn to know Christ, and I sure God hear my prayers. How He bring it about I cannot tell."

We and Mammy followed our father to the grave, and were then compelled to quit the house, leaving everything behind us, with the exception of my sisters' wardrobes and a few ornaments, which they claimed as their property. Mammy did her best to cheer us. She had taken, unknown to my sisters, some humble, though clean, lodgings in the outskirts of the town, and to these she had carried whatever we were allowed to remove.

"See, Massa Harry," she said, showing me an old leathern purse full of gold. "We no want food for long time to come, and before then God find us friends and show us what to do."

My sisters possessed various talents, and they at once determined to employ them to the best advantage. Jane and Mary drew beautifully, and were adepts in all sorts of fancy needle-work. Emily, though young, had written one or two pretty tales, and we were sure that she was destined to be an authoress. Mammy, therefore, entreated them not to separate, assuring them that her only pleasure on earth would be to labour and assist in protecting them. Had they had no other motive, for her sake alone, they would have been anxious to follow her advice.

I was the only one of the family who felt unable to do anything for myself. I wrote too bad a hand to allow me any hopes of obtaining a situation in a counting-house; and though I would have gone out as an errand boy or page rather than be a burden to my sisters, I was sure they would not permit this, and, besides, I felt that by my taking an inferior position they would be lowered in the cold eyes of the world. I had ardently wished to go to sea, and I thought that the captain who had promised to take me as a midshipman would still receive me could I reach Portsmouth. I did not calculate the expense of an outfit, nor did I think of the allowance young gentlemen are expected to receive on board a man-of-war.

I had wandered one day down to the docks to indulge myself in the sight of the shipping, contemplating the possibility of obtaining a berth on board one of the fine vessels I saw fitting out, and had been standing for some time on the quay, when I observed a tall good-looking man, in the dress of a merchantman's captain, step out of a boat which had apparently come from a black rakish looking brigantine lying a short distance out in the stream. I looked at him hard, for suddenly it occurred to me that I remembered his features. Yes, I was certain. He had been junior mate of the "Fair Rosomond," in which vessel we had come home from Jamaica, and a great chum of mine. "Mr Willis," I said, "do you remember me? I am Harry Bayford."

"Not by looks, but by your voice and eyes I do, my boy," he answered, grasping my hand and shaking it heartily. "But what has happened? I see you are in mourning."

I told him of my father's misfortunes and death; and as we walked along frankly opened out on my views and plans. "You will have no chance in the navy without means or friends, Harry," he answered. "There's no use thinking about the matter; but if your mind is set on going to sea I'll take you, and do my best to make a sailor of you. I have command of the 'Chieftain,' an African trader, the brigantine you see off in the stream there. Though we do not profess to take midshipmen, I'll give you a berth in my cabin, and I don't see that in the long run you will run more risk than you would have to go through on board vessels trading to other parts of the world."

"Thank you, Captain Willis, very much," I exclaimed, "I little expected so soon to go to sea."

"Don't talk of thanks, Harry," he answered, "your poor father was very kind to me, and I am glad to serve you. I had intended calling on him before sailing; and if your sisters will allow me, I'll pay them a visit, and answer any objections they may make to your going."

After dining with the captain at an inn, I hurried home with, what I considered, this good news. My sisters, however, were very unwilling to sanction my going. They had heard so much of the deadly climate of the African coast, and of dangers from slavers and pirates, that they dreaded the risk I should run. Captain Willis, according to his promise, called the next day, and not without difficulty quieted their apprehensions.

Mammy, though unwilling to part with me, still could not help feeling a deep interest in my undertaking, as she thought that I was going to visit her own still-loved country; and while assisting my sisters to prepare my outfit she entertained me with an account of its beauties and wonders, while I promised to bring her back from it all sorts of things which I expected to collect. "And suppose, Mammy, I was to fall in with your little piccaniny, shall I bring him back to you?" I asked, with the thoughtlessness of a boy--certainly not intending to hurt her feelings. She dropped her work, gazing at me with a tearful eye.

"He fine little black boy, big as you when four year old," she said, and stopped as if in thought, and then added, "Ah, Massa Harry, he no little boy now though, him great big man like him fader, you no know him, I no know him."

"But what is his name, Mammy? That would be of use," I said.

"Him called Cheebo," she answered, heaving a deep sigh. "But Africa great big country--tousands and tousands of people; you no find Cheebo among dem; God only find him. His eye everywhere. He hears Mammy's prayers, dat great comfort."

"That it is, indeed," said Jane, fearing that my careless remarks had needlessly grieved poor Mammy, by raising long dormant feelings in her heart. "And oh, my dear Harry, if you are brought into danger, and inclined to despair--and I fear you will have many dangers to go through--recollect that those who love you at home are earnestly praying for you; and at the same time never forget to pray for yourself, and to feel assured that God will hear our united prayers, and preserve you in the way He thinks best."

"I will try to remember," I said, "but do not fancy, Jane, that I am going to run my head into all sorts of dangers. I daresay we shall have a very pleasant voyage out, and be back again in a few months with a full cargo of palm oil, ivory, gold-dust, and all sorts of precious things, such as I understand Captain Willis is going to trade for."

"You will not forget Cheebo though, Massa Harry," said Mammy, in a low voice. The idea that I might meet her son was evidently taking strong possession of her mind.

"That I will not," I answered. "I'll ask his name of every black fellow I meet, and if I find him I'll tell him that I know his mother Mammy, and ask him to come with me to see you."

"Oh, but he not know dat name," exclaimed Mammy. "Me called Ambah in Africa; him fader called Quamino. You no forget dat."

"I hope not; but I'll put them in my pocketbook," I said, writing down the names, though I confess that I did so without any serious thoughts about the matter, but merely for the sake of pleasing old Mammy. When I told Captain Willis afterwards, he was highly amused with the notion, and said that I might just as well try to find a needle in a bundle of hay as to look for the old woman's son on the coast of Africa.

The day of parting from my poor sisters and our noble-hearted nurse arrived. I did not expect to feel it so much as I did, and I could then understand how much grief it caused them.

"Cheer up, Harry," said Captain Willis, as the "Chieftain," under all sail, was standing down the Mersey. "You must not let thoughts of home get the better of you. We shall soon be in blue water, and you must turn to and learn to be a sailor. By the time you have made another voyage or so I expect to have you as one of my mates, and, perhaps, before you are many years older, you will become the commander of a fine craft like this."

I followed the captain's advice, and by the time we had crossed the line I could take my trick at the helm, and was as active aloft as many of the elder seamen on board.

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