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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe African Trader - Chapter 6
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The African Trader - Chapter 6 Post by :Tom_Sheltraw Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :508

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The African Trader - Chapter 6

CHAPTER SIX

A CALM COMES ON, AND WE REMAIN DURING THE NIGHT SUFFERING FROM HUNGER AND THIRST.--PAUL TELLS ME HIS HISTORY, AND I FIND THAT HE IS CHEEBO, OF WHOM I AM IN SEARCH.--HIS JOY AT HEARING OF HIS MOTHER MAKES HIM REGARDLESS OF THE SUFFERING WE ARE ENDURING--THE SCHOONER PICKS US UP.-- PAUL SUSPECTS HER CHARACTER.--BEFORE LONG WE DISCOVER THAT SHE IS A SLAVER, AND SHE RUNS UP A RIVER TO RECEIVE HER CARGO ON BOARD.

Scarcely had we caught sight of the stranger than the wind entirely fell and she lay totally becalmed. The smooth sea enabled us to free the boat completely, and now we had nothing to do but to sit down and watch the burning brigantine.

First one of the tall masts, completely encircled by the flames, fell hissing into the water. The other, after standing awhile in solitary grandeur, formed a fiery pinnacle to the flaming hull below.

At length it followed its companion, and then the fire ran riot fore and aft. Sometimes wearied by the sight, I put my hands before my eyes to shut it out, but then I could not help thinking of the sad fate of the poor captain, whose body lay on its funeral pile on board.

"Ah, he happy now," whispered Paul. He had also been thinking of him. "He say he love Jesus; he trust to Jesus, no fear for him."

Paul's words brought consolation to my heart. Our own condition might well have made me depressed, yet I felt supported by the strong faith of my companion in a way I formerly should not have thought possible.

We had no food, and not a drop of fresh water to quench our burning thirst.

Some way off we could see pieces of burnt spars floating about. I thought of trying to paddle the boat up to them with our hands, hoping to find some which might serve as oars, and enable us to reach the schooner in the distance. I quickly, however, gave up the attempt, for scarcely had I put my hand into the water than I saw a huge pair of jaws darting towards it, and I had just time to pull it out before they made a snap close to me, which would, in a moment, have bitten it off.

Night soon came down upon us as we thus sat utterly helpless in our boat, while the sea around was lighted up with the flames of the burning vessel. Loaded as she was almost entirely with combustible materials, they burned with unusual fierceness. Her whole interior, as the sides were burned away, appeared one glowing mass, surrounded by a rim of flames which fed upon her stout timbers and planking. Suddenly there came a loud hissing noise across the water, then a dense vapour ascended from her midst, and in an instant after all was darkness. The remains of the "Chieftain" had sunk into the depths of ocean.

"I am afraid our chance of being picked up by the schooner is gone," I observed to Paul. "She very probably, when the breeze comes, will stand away from us."

"There is no such thing as chance, Massa Harry," he answered. "If it is God's will she come, if not, He find some other way to save us. Let us pray that He do what He judge best."

Thereon Paul, without waiting for my reply, knelt down in the bottom of the boat and lifted up his voice in prayer to our merciful Father in heaven, for that protection which we more than ever felt we so much needed. I imitating his example, heartily joined him.

As we sat in the boat side by side talking together, for neither of us were inclined to sleep, I asked him how it was that he, a common sailor, had become so well instructed a Christian?

"Ah, Massa Harry, I knew about Jesus when I quite a little boy; but only a few years ago I learned to love Him and trust to Him as I now do," he answered. "I'll tell you how dis was. When I piccaniny I hab kind fader and moder, and we live in Yourba country, in our own village, far away. One night the enemy come and attack the village, and carry off many men and women and children. My fader take me up and run away into de wood, my moder follow, but she fall, and the slaver people catch her and take her with the rest. My poor fader, like to break him heart, but for my sake he live and hide away till the slaver people gone. He tried to find my moder, but from dat day to dis he neber hear of her more. After some time it was told him dat a great many people go to a place called Abeokuta, and dat dere day built town, and let no slave-takers come near them, so my fader go there, and we live there, and work and grow rich, and many more people come, and we not fear any of our enemies. All the people were heathens, and prayed to the fetish.

"After some time many people come from Sierra Leone, who had been carried off in slavers, and taken by the English cruisers, and landed there. They find relations and friends in Abeokuta, and so they stop to live with us. Some of them had learned in Sierra Leone about God and His Son Jesus Christ, and they tell us, and many of the people of Abeokuta say they will no longer pray to the fetish, but will only pray to God, and love Him and serve Him. My fader was among these, and now the only thing he cared for in life was to listen to the missionaries and hear about Jesus Christ. Only one thing made him unhappy, that was that my poor moder should not learn the truth of the gospel. He knew that she was carried away by bad people, and he afraid that she become bad like them; but he pray day and night that God in His mercy would make known to her His great love, as He had made it known to him.

"Oh, if I could but hear that she had become a Christian how happy I should be!" he used to say to me over and over again. "Paul," that was the name I had got when I was christened, "you must pray for your moder wid me, and I am sure that God will hear our prayers."

"At last my fader grew sick, and he made me promise, if he died, that I would go to Sierra Leone and try to find if my moder was dere. My fader grew worse and worse, but still him very happy, and taking my hand, he say, 'Paul, you must meet me in heaven, and you must bring your moder there, and then we all live together for ever and ever, where there are no more slave-dealers, and no more war, and no more cruelty,' and den him die.

"After dat I set off to go to Sierra Leone, but slave-dealer catch me on the way and take me on board slaver, with nearly four hundred other black fellows, and we were all put down in ship's hold, and carried away to the coast of Brazil. But English man-of-war catch the slaver. The English captain find out that I was a Christian, and so he ask me if I like to serve on board de man-of-war, and I say yes. The captain, good Christian man himself, so I learn to speak English, and he taught me to read Bible, and I learn still more about Jesus than I did in Abeokuta. At last we got back to Sierra Leone, and then I remember my promise to my father, and while I on shore trying to learn about my moder, the ship sail away, and no more come back. I no hear about my moder, and have no money, so I ship on board merchant vessel, and after sailing in her along the coast for some time I go on board another, and then I again go on board man-of-war. At last I get back to Sierra Leone, and fall very sick, and sent to hospital, then a good missionary come to me and I tell him what my fader had said, and he ask me if I think I going to heaven, and then he tell me more about the right way, and pray with me. And now I find Jesus as my own Saviour and Friend, and love Him, and wish to serve Him, and obey Him. Then the wish came into my heart to preach the gospel to my countrymen, but I, still poor and very ignorant, and I thought if I could make two or three voyages and save money, I would go to England and study there, and be better able to declare the glad tidings of salvation, and that the people would more willingly listen to me.

"It was on the second trip I made that the vessel I was in was wrecked not far from the mouth of the Bonny, and I was making my way with some of those who had escaped with me to Sierra Leone when Captain Willis engaged me to serve on board the 'Chieftain.'"

While Paul was giving me this sketch of his history an idea had forcibly taken possession of my mind. "Tell me," I exclaimed suddenly, "what was your name before you were christened?"

"Cheebo," he answered.

"And your father's name," I inquired eagerly.

"My father, him called Quamino," he said, in a surprised tone.

"Oh Paul!" I cried out, seizing his hand, "I have indeed then good news for you. Your father's and your prayers have been answered, for I can assure you that your mother is a true and faithful Christian. I have known her all my life, her name she has told me was Ambah, and that she was torn away from her husband and child as your mother was from you."

"Yes, yes, Ambah was my mother's name, and did she tell you that her husband's name was Quamino, and their piccaniny was called Cheebo?" he asked, almost gasping for breath.

"Those were the very names she gave me, and I wrote them in my pocket book so that I might not forget them." I answered.

"Oh, Massa Harry, that is indeed joyful news," he cried out. "Then I and my mother and father will all meet in heaven, Praise God! I now not fear what man can do unto me."

It would be difficult to do justice to the feeling displayed by Paul, even were I to repeat all he said, his piety, his gratitude, and his joy. He could talk of nothing else during the night. He seemed to be insensible to hunger and thirst, and to forget altogether the dangerous position in which we were placed. Now he kneeled down in prayer, now he gave vent to his feelings in a hymn of praise. I could not help sympathising with him, and rejoicing that I had been the means of giving him the information which made him so happy. Still I must confess that I myself suffered not a little from the pangs of hunger, and would have given much for a glass of cold water.

When morning dawned the schooner was still in sight. I looked anxiously round for the sign of a breeze, hoping that if it did come the stranger would stand towards us. At all events it seemed probable that having seen the burning vessel those on board, in common humanity, would sail over the spot where she had been, on the chance of picking up any of her crew who might have escaped. Paul, however, did not seem to wish this as much as I did. I saw him narrowly watching the vessel, then he shook his head as if he did not like her looks.

The sun rose high in the sky, and beat down on our heads. My thirst became intolerable, and whatever might be the character of the stranger, I could not help longing that she would pick us up. The breeze came at last, her sails filled. How eagerly I watched her.

"She is standing towards us," I cried out, "we must soon be seen." I stood up on a thwart and waved a handkerchief.

"Better not Massa Harry," said Paul, but I did not heed him.

The schooner came on rapidly. Again I waved my handkerchief, and held it between my two hands, so that it might flutter in the breeze. The stranger approached. She was a fine large square topsail schooner, with a black hull and taunt raking masts. She rounded to close to us, so that she could drop down to where our boat lay.

A rope was hove to us, and I clambered up her side, Paul following me. We were both so weak when we reached her deck that we could scarcely stand. I pointed to my mouth, just able to murmur, "water! water!"

"Si, si, aqua aqua," said a man, who appeared to be an officer; when one of the men dipped a mug into a cask on deck, and brought it to us. I took part of the contents then handed it to Paul; but the seaman signed to me to drain it myself, casting, I thought, a contemptuous glance at my negro companion. However, he brought another cup full, and even though I emptied it to the bottom, still my thirst was scarcely quenched.

An officer now appeared from below, and addressing me in English, asked me how I came to be in the boat. I told him exactly what had occurred.

"It is fortunate for you that we picked you up, for another vessel might not pass this way for days to come," he observed. "But what a pity so rich a cargo should have been lost."

The unhappy fate of the poor captain did not seem to concern him much.

I could not make out the character of the vessel.

She was Spanish, I guessed, and her officers and crew appeared smart active fellows; and though she looked in some respects like a man-of-war, she certainly was not one. Her hatches were off, and as far as I could judge there was nothing to show that she was a slaver.

The officer who had spoken to me finding that I was a young gentleman, politely invited me down into the cabin, telling Paul that he might go forward among the men. Paul thanked him, and took advantage of the permission granted him. The officers were going to breakfast, and I was very thankful when they invited me to join them. Altogether they treated me very civilly.

I found an opportunity of speaking to Paul during the day.

"Bad vessel this," he whispered. "Dey put you on shore soon Massa Harry, and so no harm come to you, but I fear they make me slave, and I no get back to see my moder. Still I pray God that He find a way for escape."

I had too much reason soon afterwards to know that Paul was right in his conjectures.

The next day we came in sight of a large vessel. Signals were exchanged, and we hove-to near each other. The boats were then actively engaged in bringing numerous articles on board the schooner--arms and ammunition, and cutlery, and Manchester goods, and farinha (the meal on which slaves on board ship are fed), and cases which I found contained slave shackles. There was no secret indeed made about the matter.

The schooner having taken her cargo on board, the other vessel sailed away while we stood towards the coast. The carpenters were busily employed in fitting an additional deck in the hold, and Paul told me that it was called the slave deck, and that the slaves we were to take on board would be seated along it, packed close together side by side, and that they would thus be kept during the whole run to the Brazils, or wherever the schooner was bound with her hapless freight.

"You see what this vessel is," said the officer who had spoken to me in English. "We have saved your life, and must exact a promise from you not to appear as a witness against any one on board should you at any future period be called on to do so. Let me advise you indeed not to take notice of anything that occurs on board and it will be the better for you. We do not wish to harm you, but there are those among us who hold human life very cheap, and they are not likely to stand on ceremony should you interfere with their proceedings."

I replied that I was very grateful to him and the other officers for treating me kindly, and that I only desired to be put on board an English trader, in which I could work a passage home, "and I hope," I added, "that my black companion will be allowed to accompany me."

"As to that I can make no promise," he answered. "The captain will decide the matter; but, I have no doubt, that if we fall in with an English trader you will be allowed to go on board her."

A bright look-out was kept from the mast-head, and twice the schooner altered her course to avoid a sail seen in the distance. At length we came off the mouth of a river. A signal was made from the shore. With a fair breeze we ran in, and proceeding up some distance, dropped anchor in a creek, where the schooner lay concealed by the tall trees which grew on its banks.

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