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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

With thick walls built of substantial wattles


knew that they were not hampering themselves by taking me and their other prisoners this long journey up the river--much of the paddling being done against the stream--merely for the pleasure of enjoying our society. My intuition assured me that their action had a more sinister motive than this, and in any case I had no desire to penetrate the interior of equatorial Africa; therefore so soon as I felt that my health and strength were sufficiently restored to allow of my attempting the long and perilous journey back to the sea alone, I began to consider the question of escape. But the longer I thought of it the less became my hope of success; for I very soon discovered that under no circumstances whatever were my custodians disposed to allow me to stray a yard out of their sight. Without imposing any actual restraint upon me, they invariably so contrived that, if I made the slightest attempt to withdraw myself from them, three or four of the most active of the party, always well armed, had occasion to go in precisely the same direction as myself. That, however, was not my only difficulty; for, assuming for a moment the possibility of my being able to give the savages the slip, how was I, a white man, alone, unarmed, and with no means of obtaining food, to make my way down more than two hundred miles of river, flowing through a country every inhabitant of which would undoubtedly be an enemy, whose delight it would be to hunt me to death? I told myself that if I could obtain a small, light, handy canoe and weapons, even though they should but consist of a bow and arrows, the situation would not be altogether hopeless--for I possessed a very fair share of pluck and resource; but I felt that before I could effect my escape from my watchful custodians, and obtain these necessities, I might find myself in so dire a strait as to render them and all else valueless to me. Yet I would not suffer myself to feel discouraged, for I recognised that to abandon hope was to virtually surrender myself tamely to the worst that fate might have in store for me, and this was by no means my disposition; I therefore continued to keep my eyes wide open for an opportunity.

But, watch as I might, the opportunity never presented itself, nor, thanks to the watchfulness of my companions, could I make one; so the time dragged on until, after a river voyage of more than three weeks, we one evening, about two hours before sunset, entered a creek important enough to suggest the idea that it might possibly be a small tributary of the main river. After paddling up it for a distance of about two miles we suddenly hove in sight of a native town of considerable size built upon the north bank of the creek, upon an area of ground that had been completely cleared of all undergrowth, but was well shaded by the larger trees which had been allowed to stand. That the town was of some importance, as well as of considerable size, I surmised from the fact that, with a few exceptions, the habitations, instead of being of the usual circular, bee-hive shape common to most native African towns, were of comparatively spacious dimensions and substantial construction, being for the most part quadrangular in plan, with thick walls built of substantial wattles, interwoven about stout poles sunk well into the ground and solidly plastered with clay which, having dried and hardened in the sun, had become quite weather-tight, protected as they were from the tropical rains by a thick thatch of palm leaves, with which also their steep sloping roofs were covered. The average size of these huts was about twenty feet long by twelve feet wide and eight feet high to the eaves; but there were others--about fifty of them altogether-- surrounded by and cut off from the rest by a high and stout palisade-- the points of the palisades being sharpened, in order, as I took it, to render the fence unclimbable--which were not only considerably larger and more substantial in point of construction, but which, as I afterward had opportunity to observe, evidenced some rude attempt at decoration in the form of grotesquely carved finials affixed to the roofs. This part of the town, situated in its centre, and covering, perhaps, a space of forty acres, was, I afterwards learned, the habitation of King Banda, his Court, the principal officers of his army and household, and the priests, whose temple, or fetish-house, stood on the opposite side of the square to that occupied by the "palace" of the king.


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