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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe African Trader - Chapter 4
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The African Trader - Chapter 4 Post by :Tom_Sheltraw Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1714

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The African Trader - Chapter 4

CHAPTER FOUR

MORE VICTIMS TO THE FEVER.--THE CAPTAIN HIMSELF ATTACKED.--WE SHIP SOME KRUMEN AND OTHER BLACKS, AMONG WHOM IS A CHRISTIAN, PAUL BALINGO.--PAUL INSTRUCTS THE CAPTAIN AND ME IN THE TRUTH.--CAPTAIN WILLIS GETS SOMEWHAT BETTER, AND WE PREPARE FOR SEA.

The ship was almost full, and we had a few more empty casks, and were expecting some traders on board during the day with oil which would fill them up. When I turned out of my berth, just as morning broke, I found the captain seated in his cabin, with his head resting on his hands. He felt a little ill, he acknowledged, but said he was sure it was nothing. "We will get under weigh at daylight to-morrow morning, when the tide makes down, and I shall soon be all to rights," he observed. Still, I could not help remarking that he looked pale, and moved with difficulty. "I have agreed to ship half-a-dozen Krumen, and two or three other black seamen, who are knocking about here," he added. "This fever has made us terribly short-handed; but I hope the fellows who are sick will come round when we are in blue water again. Harry, go forward and see how they are getting on, and send Tom Raven to me." Raven was one of the two men who had hitherto escaped the lever, and being a good seaman, had been promoted to the rank of mate.

I went on deck, but saw neither him nor Grinham, the other man. I made my way forward to where the crew were berthed, under the topgallant forecastle, expecting to find them there. Grinham was in his berth; he and two other poor fellows were groaning and tossing with fever, but the rest were perfectly quiet. I thought they were asleep. What was my horror, on looking into their berths, to find that their sleep was that of death!

"Water, water," murmured Grinham. I ran and fetched some, and as I gave it to him I asked where Raven was. "I don't know," he answered, somewhat revived by the cool draught. "It's his watch on deck. He said he felt a little ill when he relieved me."

Having done what I could for the other man, I went to look for Raven. I found him in the second mate's berth. He too was ill with fever, and seemed to have forgotten that he ought to have been on deck, and that the vessel had been left without anyone to look-out. I told him that the captain had resolved to put to sea the next day. "Had he gone a week ago the lives of some of us might have been saved, but it is too late now," he answered with a groan.

Sick at heart, after attending to him, I returned to the cabin, to make my report to the captain.

"What, all! everyone of them sick!" he exclaimed, sighing deeply. "Then God have mercy upon us. You must not fall ill, Harry."

"Not if I can help it, sir," I replied.

"I must keep up," he said, and if I can get these Krumen on board we will still put to sea. They are trustworthy fellows, and, Harry, you must be my mate. You are somewhat young; but you have got a head on your shoulders. You must keep your wits alive.

"I'll do my best, sir," I answered, feeling not a little proud of the rank to which I thus was raised. I had, indeed, for some time past been performing the duties of mate, supercargo, steward, and not unfrequently helping the black cook, Sambo, and, indeed, lending a hand to everything which required to be done. Now Sambo and I were literally the only two people capable of working on board. The captain himself I feared greatly had got the fever, notwithstanding his assertions to the contrary. It was surprising that I, the youngest in the ship, and least inured to the climate, should have escaped. I had always been very healthy; had never done anything to hurt my constitution, and had followed the captain's advice in keeping out of the sun, and was inclined to feel somewhat self-satisfied on that account--not considering that it was owing to God's mercy and loving-kindness that I had been preserved.

The captain said he would go and see Raven; but having got up, after moving a few paces, he sat down again with a groan, and a deadly pallor came over his countenance. He felt that he, too, had got the fever. I advised him to lie down again and rest, but to that he would not consent. He was determined to carry on the trade as usual during the day, and to get ready for sea as soon as the black seamen, whom he expected every hour on board, arrived. He sent me up frequently to see whether they were coming off, and now, when too late, he seemed as anxious as anyone had been to get the vessel out of the river.

I was thankful when at length I found two canoes alongside with the expected blacks. The Krumen were fine athletic fellows, neatly dressed in shirts and trousers, and having all served on board men-of-war or in merchant vessels, spoke a little English. They had been hired by the captain's agent on shore; and as their wages had been settled, and they knew the duties they were required to perform, they went to work at once under their head man, who had been appointed to act as boatswain, and seemed inclined to be orderly and obedient. Besides the Krumen there were, as I have before said, several other black seamen engaged, who had been mostly recaptured slaves, and had afterwards entered on board men-of-war or merchant vessels touching at Sierra Leone. I was struck with the manner of one of them, a fine active man, as I, now the only representative of the "Chieftain's" officers and crew, stood near the gangway to receive them. Touching his hat in a respectful manner, he asked after Captain Willis. "He know me, Paul Balingo. I sail once with him some time ago. He kind man, so I come again." I told him that the captain was rather unwell. He had charged me not to let the blacks fancy that he had the fever. I added, that I was sure he would be glad to see him in the cabin.

"I go when you tell I come on board," answered Paul. "Sorry to hear him ill."

"Oh, he says its nothing," I observed, "and as soon as the tide serves we are to go down the river, and put to sea."

I made this remark in obedience to the captain's instructions. I now gave directions to the black boatswain to get the cargo stowed without delay.

The captain was much pleased to hear that Paul Balingo had joined the vessel, and said he would see him at once. "I remember him well," he observed, "a good steady fellow."

I told Paul to come down, and he received a friendly welcome. I then reminded the captain that there was another duty to be performed. It was to bury the men who had died during the night. This was beyond the strength of those who still survived.

"I see to it, sir," said Paul.

"The sooner the better then," observed the captain. "And when you return we will trip the anchor, if there is wind enough to help us along."

Four bodies were lowered into the canoe, and Paul and some of his companions took them on shore. He had fastened them up in canvas, for there was no time to make coffins; indeed, the carpenter was among them. I should like to have accompanied him to pay the last mark of respect I could to the poor fellows, but there were too many duties to be performed on board to allow of this. I watched them, however, through the glass as they stood on the beach, which formed our burial place. To my surprise, after the graves were dug, I observed Paul Balingo take off his hat--his companions imitating his example--when he seemed to be lifting up his hands in prayer. Then he addressed a number of natives who were standing round, and the bodies were carefully lowered into the graves, and covered up.

When he returned on board I told him that the captain was very much obliged to him for what he had done. "And I saw too," I observed, "that you were praying for the poor fellows."

"No, massa; I no pray for dem," he answered. "If when dey died dey loved Jesus Christ, den dey no want my prayers; if dey no love Him, den He no love dem. No, massa, me pray for dose that stand round, and for dose still alive. I pray dat God's Holy Spirit would come into dere hearts, and told dem to love Jesus, and dat He died for sinners. I prayed dat dey would hear His Word, and love Him and serve Him. Den I tell dem that Jesus Christ came down on earth, and become man, and be obedient to God, and do all dat good child should do who lub him parents, and dat He pure and holy like lamb widout spot or blemish, and dat He died on de cross, and be punished instead of wicked man, and dat God den say dat one who not deserve punishment being punished He will forgive all dose His dear Son present to Him, who lub Him and serve Him. Den I tell dem dat Jesus Christ died for dem, and dat if dey trust to Him He put away all dere sins, and God not look at dere sins any more. Den I turn de matter about, and I say dat you and all men are poor and naked and covered with dirt and sores, and not fit to go into de presence of pure and holy God; but if you love Christ and trust dat He died and was punished instead of you, den He put on you a white robe, cover you wid His righteousness, and den when you go to God He longer see that you are poor and naked, but He only see the white robe, and He say, 'Now you may come into dis pure and bright heaven, and live wid Me.' Then once more I say again, look here, God put you into this world, and you owe God everything. You ought to obey Him and serve Him, and give Him all your strength and health, and to try and please Him in all things every moment of your life. Next I remind dem dat none of us do it, so we owe God a debt, and the longer we live the greater is the debt. It is not den all the things that we do dat God reckon, but the many things that we ought to do and which we leave undone. We receive all the good things from God, and we give Him nothing in return. Then we have no means to pay this debt, so Jesus Christ, because He love us, say He pay it, and God say He accept His payment and set us free. Den I say to the people, Do you believe dis? If you do, and try to love God, and serve God, and do what Jesus Christ did when He was on earth, den you have living faith, and you are free, and God no say longer that you owe Him debt, but He call you His dear children, and when you leave this world He receive you in heaven."

"Why, Paul," I exclaimed, after listening with astonishment to what he had said, "I little expected to hear such things come out of a--" (I was going to say negro's mouth, but changed it to) "African sailor's mouth. You ought to be a missionary."

"Every Christian man ought to be a missionary," he answered. "If he love the Lord Jesus, and know that the Lord Jesus love him, then he ought to tell that love to others, and if he knows the value of his own soul then he values the souls of others, and try to win those souls for Christ. The truth is, massa, I do want to be missionary, and I seek to go to England to learn more. I there learn to preach the gospel, and when I come back I carry the glad tidings of salvation to my ignorant countrymen."

I was very much struck with Paul's earnestness and zeal, though at that time I could scarcely comprehend all he said--I myself knew nothing experimentally of the great love of Jesus of which he spoke. The poor black Christian was far more enlightened than I was. Still I felt a satisfaction at having him on board. He at once showed that he was not a mere theoretical Christian, for as soon as his duty on board the ship was over, he devoted himself to attending on the sick men. All the hours he could snatch from sleep he spent by the side of their bunks, urging them to trust to Jesus, and to repent of their sins while yet there was time.

The poor second mate grew worse and worse. Paul visited him, and he heard from the lips of the black seaman, perhaps for the first time, the full and free message of salvation; and, I believe, from what Paul told me, and from the remarks the mate made to me before he died, that he had fully accepted God's gracious offer of reconciliation.

I am going ahead though too fast in my narrative. Before the morning came that we were to have left our anchorage Captain Willis himself was laid prostrate with the fever, and having now no one on board to navigate the vessel, we could not venture to sea. I would have done my best to find our way to Sierra Leone, but the black boatswain refused to leave the harbour without an officer capable of taking charge of the brigantine. We were compelled, therefore, to wait till Captain Willis should recover sufficiently, or till the arrival of another English vessel which could spare one of her mates to take charge of the "Chieftain."

Before many days were over Captain Willis, and Sambo, the black cook, and I, were the only persons of those who had come into the river, still alive on board. Had the Krumen been badly disposed, they might, without difficulty, have taken possession of the vessel, and made off with her rich cargo; but they appeared, as far I could judge, to intend to act faithfully, and perform their various duties as well as if the captain's eye had been constantly upon them. About Paul I had no doubt. Little as I knew of vital religion myself, I was sure that he was a true man, and that he acted according to his professions. Nothing could exceed his attention to the captain; he or I were constantly at his bedside; and Paul showed considerable skill in treating the disease. I believe that it was mainly owing to him, through God's mercy, that the captain did not succumb to it, as the rest of the crew had done.

"Paul," said the captain one morning, when he felt himself getting a little better, "I owe you my life, I will try not to forget you."

"Oh, no, no captain, poor fellow like me not able to do you good; give God de praise," he answered solemnly, looking upwards. "Oh, if you did but know how God loves you, how He takes care of you, and gives you all the good things of life, and saves you from danger, and wishes you to come and live with Him, and be happy for ever and ever, you would try to love Him and serve Him, and obey Him in all things."

"I don't think that God can care for one who has cared so little for Him," answered the captain. "I don't mean to say that I call myself a bad man, or that I have many great sins on my conscience, and so, I suppose, if I died He would hot shut me out of heaven altogether."

"Captain," said Paul, fixing his eyes steadily on him, "the debil told you dat; he a liar from the beginning. God says, 'There is none that doeth good, no not one,' 'The soul that sinneth shall surely die.' What does dat mean? Not, surely, that if you sinner He let you get into heaven. I ask you, captain, whether you are a sinner, or whether you pure and holy, and trust to Christ, and love Christ, and fit to go and live for ever and ever in the pure and holy heaven with Him? Understand, I do not ask whether you are a great sinner in your own sight, but whether you have ever committed any sins; and remember, God says, 'the soul that sinneth,' not only the soul that is a great sinner."

The captain looked much annoyed. "Yes, of course, I have committed some sins; but I don't see why God has any right to charge them against me."

"God made this world, and all things that are therein. God rules this world, and God made His laws, and He says they are just and right, and God says, 'The soul that sinneth shall surely die,'" answered Paul, solemnly. "Captain understand, it is not I who say that. God says it. But though God is a God of justice He is full of love and mercy, and He has therefore formed a plan for the benefit of sinning men, by which man's sins can be washed away, by which His justice will be satisfied, His love and mercy shown. He has allowed another to be punished instead of the sinner," Paul continued, explaining to the captain God's plan of salvation much in the same terms as he had already explained it to me.

"I never understood that matter before," said the captain. "But still I do not see how God can expect us to be as good as you say."

"Massa Captain, I do not say dat God expect us to be good; but still He has a right to demand that we should be good. He made man pure and holy and upright, and He gave him free will to act as he chose; but man disobeyed God and went away from Him, and forgot Him, and so God has the right to punish man. But den God is full of love and mercy, and He does not want to punish him, but wants him to come back to Him, and so He has sent His message to man to tell him how he may do that. Now as man cannot be good and pure and holy and do nothing but good, but, on the contrary, does much harm, he must either accept God's plan of salvation, or be punished. You have heard, captain, about the thief on the cross, even when he was dying he put faith in Jesus, and Jesus told him that he should be that night with Him in paradise. So you see, captain, there is hope for the sinner, even at the last, and this shows that God does not expect us to do anything good in order to be saved, but only just to put faith in the sacrifice of His dear Son--that is to say, to believe that He was punished instead of us. But then remember, captain, that only one thief was saved; and that shows to us that we must not put off turning to Jesus to the last, and, therefore, I pray you, captain, go to Him at once; trust to Him now, and you will not feel unhappy; and if this fever takes you away, as it has taken away so many people on board this ship, you will hab no fear of death, for you will go to live with Jesus, and be happy with Him for ever and ever."

Captain Willis groaned. "I'll pray wid you, captain," said Paul, and he knelt down by the side of the bed, and lifted up his voice in prayer, and earnestly besought God to send His Holy Spirit to soften the captain's heart, and to enlighten his mind.

I had listened attentively to all that Paul had said, and I prayed that the blessing which he asked for the captain might descend on me also; for I had begun to discover that my heart was very hard, and prone to evil, and that I had no love for Jesus, no desire to obey His law. Thus the truths of the gospel, as they fell from the lips of the black sailor, first came home to my heart.

Several days passed by--the "Chieftain" was got ready for sea, and the captain considered himself well enough to take the command.

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