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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe African Trader - Chapter 7
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The African Trader - Chapter 7 Post by :Tom_Sheltraw Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2582

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The African Trader - Chapter 7

CHAPTER SEVEN

I WITNESS THE EMBARKATION OF SLAVES COLLECTED AT THE BARRACOONS, AND THE CRUEL WAY IN WHICH THEY ARE TREATED AND PACKED IN THE HOLD OF THE SLAVER.--UNWILLING TO DESERT PAUL, I REMAIN ON BOARD, AND THE SLAVER PUTS TO SEA.--PAUL IS THREATENED FOR ATTEMPTING TO COMFORT THE SLAVES WITH THE GOSPEL NEWS.--THE SCHOONER RECEIVES MORE SLAVES ON BOARD ALONG THE COAST.--SOME ARE DROWNED COMING OFF--THE SLAVER GETS ON SHORE JUST AS A MAN-OF-WAR IS SEEN IN THE OFFING.--A FOG COMES ON, AND THE SCHOONER'S CREW MAKING DESPERATE EFFORTS TO GET HER OFF, SHE ESCAPES, TO MY BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT, FROM THE MAN-OF-WAR'S BOATS, ALONG THE COAST.

I found myself once more exposed to the pestilential air of an African river. I in vain tried to sleep. All night long I heard the sound of the carpenters at work fitting the slave decks, and fixing the bars across them, to which the captive negroes were to be secured. The crew were employed most of their time in hoisting water casks, and a further supply of farinha, on board.

At length when morning broke I went on deck to breathe the air, which I hoped would be somewhat cooler than that of the calm. Through an opening in the trees I saw several long low sheds with cottages and huts scattered round them, while a number of people were moving about. The door in the end of one of the sheds was thrown open, and there issued forth a long line of black figures, walking two and two, and secured together by iron shackles round their wrists.

They staggered along with unwilling steps, looking round on the trees and distant blue hills, which they were destined never again to see, and even now it seemed to me that could they have wrenched their hands from those iron bonds they would have attempted to strike a blow for freedom, and make their escape into the forest. On either side of them, however, walked ruffianly looking fellows, with pistols in their belts and heavy whips in their hands, with which, if their captives attempted to lag behind, they urged them on. One or two were whites, but most of them were negroes, and seemed to have no scruple in leading their countrymen into captivity.

So long a line came forth that it seemed impossible the building could have held so many human beings. Some were strong men, who cast scowling glances at their guards; others were youths, many mere lads and young boys, and there were a considerable number of women, mostly young, many, indeed, being mere girls. Several of the elder women had infants in their arms, and children of various ages trotted by the sides of others, or clung to their hands. The sad procession came towards the vessel. A bridge had been formed from her deck to the shore. The leading slaves hesitated as they reached it, and refused to move forward till urged on by the lash of their guards.

Their condition had been bad before, but they knew now that they were to be shut down and crowded together in the dark noisome hold of the slave ship. As they arrived on board they were compelled to go below and take their seats on the bare deck, side by side, with their legs secured to the iron bars, and so closely packed that their knees were drawn up almost to their chins. Still, although nearly a hundred had come on board, a considerable portion of the deck remained unoccupied.

I took an opportunity of going on shore, no one interfering with me. As I went through the village I passed a house of some size, in front of which the captain was seated in the verandah with another white man, with whom he appeared to be eagerly bargaining. The latter was, I found, the principle slave-dealer, to whom the sheds or barracoons, in which the slaves were confined, belonged. Going on I looked into one of the barracoons. The heat and odour which proceeded from it made me unwilling to enter. It was full of blacks, seated on narrow benches, with their arms and legs secured to long bars which ran in front of them. Here they had been placed as they were brought down from the interior, and kept in readiness for the arrival of the slaver. This, I suspect, was the gang for whom the captain had been bargaining with their owner, as they were immediately afterwards summoned out and marched down, as the others had been, to the vessel.

While I was still on shore I saw coming through the woods another long line of captives. They had come, apparently, a long distance, for they were mostly foot-sore, and several could scarcely move along; not a few were wounded, and many of the men, and even of the women, bore traces on their backs of the cruel lash which had been inflicted to make them hasten their steps when they had showed any unwillingness to proceed. They were allowed but a short time to rest in the barracoons, and having been fed with farinha, mixed into porridge, were marched down to the ship. They gazed at her with looks of dismay, for they knew that she was to convey them away over the wide ocean they had heard of, but never seen, to an unknown land, where they were to toil, unrequited, for hard task-masters.

I thought of remaining on shore rather than proceed in the slave vessel; but was unwilling to desert Paul, and he had not been allowed to land. I therefore returned, hoping to obtain his release.

"You must remain with us a little longer," said my friend the officer, who spoke English, "and we will land you on another part of the coast, where you are more likely than here to meet with a trader."

I was compelled to comply, indeed I knew by his tone and manner, that I should not be allowed to remain behind.

All the slaves which had been collected in the depot having been received on board, the schooner cast off from the bank, and proceeded down the river. As we crossed the bar the vessel pitched heavily, and shipped several seas. The poor wretches below, as the water rushed down upon them, fancying that they were about to be drowned, gave vent to piercing shrieks and cries. The Spanish crew heard them with perfect indifference, and no one, with the exception of Paul, took the slightest trouble to calm their fears--he managing to slip down into the hold assured them that there was no danger; but he could offer them very little comfort besides as to their prospects in this world. Still he could speak to them of another and a better land, "where the weary are at rest, and the wicked cease from troubling," and where the shackles of slavery are cast aside, and to which the God of mercy invites all His creatures to come and dwell with Him, and be at rest. He was endeavouring to explain to the miserable beings the simple troths of the gospel, when he was overheard by one of the officers, and ordered on deck, with a threat that should he again be found speaking to the slaves he would be shackled along with them.

We ran down the coast and came to an anchorage in-shore. There were numerous huts and several large canoes drawn up on the beach, on which a heavy surf was breaking. In a short time people appeared collecting from all quarters and a canoe came off with a burly negro on board, who, as he climbed up the side was treated with great ceremony. He was, I found, the king of that part of the country, his chief revenue being derived from slave dealing. His business with the captain was quickly concluded. A signal was made from the vessel, and soon afterwards I saw a long line of slaves coming forth from behind a wood which concealed the barracoons where they had been confined. They were marched down to the canoes, and thrust in one after the other in spite of their struggles.

The canoes were now launched, and began to make their way through the surf. Three succeeded in getting alongside, but the fourth was overturned by a heavy roller, and the unfortunate passengers thrown out amid the foaming waters. Some, as if thus glad to escape from their persecutors, sank without making a struggle for life; others clung to the canoe, and a few were either washed back on the beach or picked up by the surrounding canoes, to which the crew had already made their way. Eight or ten human beings thus lost their lives, but the event seemed to cause no concern to the captain or his officers. He had only agreed to pay for those brought off to him in safety. The embarkation continued as before, and we were soon surrounded by canoes full of slaves, who were forthwith hoisted on board and stowed below. Their price, chiefly in goods, was then lowered into the canoes, which returned to the shore with much more caution than they had come out.

Two days afterwards we obtained an other addition to our cargo still further down the coast. On this occasion we brought up in a sheltered bay. Here the slaves were conveyed on large rafts. Every expedition was used in getting them on board, for news had been received that an English cruiser was in the neighbourhood. The moment they were stowed away the anchor was hove-up and sail was made.

As we were going out, and appeared to be clear of the harbour, I heard a grating sound, and felt the vessel's keel touch the ground. At the same moment the look-out from the mast-head gave notice that a sail was in sight in the offing.

Every effort was made to get the schooner off, but she stuck fast. One of the officers had gone aloft with a spy-glass. On his return I observed a look of consternation in the countenance of the captain and his mates. After talking eagerly together one of them went aloft. He remained for sometime with his spy-glass turned towards the stranger, which, in a short time, could be seen clearly from the deck, and from the expressions I heard them utter, I found that she was supposed to be a British man-of-war. I endeavoured to conceal my satisfaction, for I hoped that the unfortunate slaves would be rescued, and that Paul and I might be taken on board her.

It shortly, however, fell perfectly calm, and the spirits of the slaver's crew revived. The tide was rising, anchors were carried out, and desperate efforts were made to heave the vessel off. A report now came from aloft that several boats were approaching from the direction of the cruiser. The Spaniards, on hearing this, began to stamp about the deck, grinding their teeth and shaking their fists towards where the boats were supposed to be, working themselves into a perfect fury. Arms were got up on deck, and the two guns the vessel carried were loaded and run out. The savage cries and oaths, and fierce gestures of the crew, made them look more like demons than men.

I looked anxiously for Paul, fearing that in their fury they might injure him, but he had wisely taken shelter in the berth forward so as to be out of their sight. I had thought of hiding in the cabin where I slept, but felt too anxious to watch the issue of events to do so. Of one thing I felt very sure, that though the Spaniards might fight, the British seamen would soon be in possession of the slaver.

The day was drawing to a close, however, and I began to fear that the boats might not reach the schooner before darkness set in. In a short time too, I observed a thick mist gathering over the land, which rose higher and higher, and came moving towards us. We were soon completely enveloped in it. This seemed to give the slaver's crew great satisfaction, and they again began to talk and laugh in their usual tone, while all the time they continued their exertions to get the vessel off. Lazy as the Spaniards are they can work as hard as any one when they have a sufficient motive to arouse them.

I observed the captain frequently wetting his finger and holding it up, and soon I felt a light breeze blowing from the land. The sails were let fall, and the crew making another desperate effort, the schooner glided away up to her anchors. No time was lost in weighing them. I thought the crew would have shouted to show their satisfaction, but not a sound was uttered. Onward she glided, keeping close in-shore.

My heart sank within me, and my hopes of escaping from the vile slave ship vanished. The lead was kept going. I felt sure that no stranger would venture to stand in so close to the coast as we were doing. On we stood till the Spanish seamen seemed satisfied that they had made good their escape from the boats of the cruiser. As the schooner had by this time nearly a full cargo of slaves, I feared that she would not again touch on the coast, and that I was destined to make a voyage on board the hateful craft across the Atlantic.

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