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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

I had resolved to make myself either a flute or a flageolet


One

of the greatest discomforts from which I suffered at this time was the outcome of the peculiar musical taste of King Banda's subjects. Though I was then happily unaware of the fact, the period of the great annual festival, or Customs, was approaching, and the joy of the populace began to find vent in nocturnal concerts inordinately prolonged, the musical instruments consisting of tom-toms, each beaten by two, three, or four performers--according to the size of the tom- tom--with a monotony of cadence that soon became positively maddening, further aggravated by the discordant squealing of a number of flageolet- like instruments made of stout reeds.

Now, although I have not hitherto had occasion to mention the fact, I was passionately fond of music, and rather fancied myself as a performer upon the flute; one night, therefore, when one of these hideous concerts was in full blast, and when, consequently, it was useless to attempt to sleep, I sallied forth, accompanied as usual by my guards, and made my way round to the great square in front of the king's house, where, squatted round a huge fire, some twenty of these enthusiasts were tootling and thumping with a vigour that I could not help regarding as utterly misplaced. I stood watching them for a few minutes, and then approaching one of the flageolet players I held out my hand and pointed to his instrument, signifying that I desired to examine it.

With some

show of hesitation the man surrendered the thing, and upon inspection I found it to be a reed of about a foot in length, with a mouthpiece shaped something like that of a whistle, and with four small holes drilled in the length of the tube, whereby an expert performer might produce seven distinct tones; but the tones were not consecutive, and the instrument was altogether a very poor and inefficient affair. It furnished me with an idea, however, and on the following day, by dint of much suggestive gesticulation, I contrived to intimate to my guard my desire to obtain a reed similar to those from which the native instruments were made. They offered no objection, but conducted me some distance beyond the town, through the bush, to a spot on the bank of the river where the reed was growing in abundance. I had resolved to make myself either a flute or a flageolet, whichever might prove easiest, and I accordingly selected with great care half-a-dozen of the most suitable reeds that I could find, and, borrowing his spear from one of my guards, cut them, taking care that they should be of ample length for my purpose.

Then I hunted about for some soft wood wherefrom to make mouthpieces and the stopped end of the flute; and it was while I was thus engaged that I made a most important discovery, which was nothing less than that there were several very fine specimens of the cinchona tree growing in the jungle quite close to the town. This was a singularly fortunate and opportune discovery, for I had already observed that fever and ague were very prevalent among the inhabitants, and I hoped that if by means of a decoction of cinchona bark I could effect a cure, I might be able very materially to improve and strengthen my position in the town. I therefore collected as much of the bark as I could conveniently carry, and took it back with me to my hut, where I lost no time in preparing a generous supply of tolerably strong solution of quinine. This done, I sallied forth on the look-out for patients, and soon found as many as I wanted. But it was one thing to find them, and quite another to persuade them to swallow my medicine, and it was not until at length I administered a pretty stiff dose to myself that I prevailed upon a man to allow me to experiment upon him. That, however, was quite sufficient; for it did him so much good that not only did he come to my hut clamouring for more, but brought several fellow-sufferers with him, with the result that before the week was out I had firmly established my reputation as a powerful witch-doctor. I very soon found, however, that this reputation was by no means an unmixed blessing; for the people jumped to the conclusion that if I could cure one disease I could of course cure all; and I speedily found myself consulted by patients suffering from ailments of which I did not even know the names, and expecting to be cured of them. Yet, astonishing to say, I was marvellously successful, all things considered, for when at a loss I administered pills compounded of meal dough and strongly flavoured with the first harmless substance that came to hand, and so profound was the belief of these people in my ability that at least half of them were cured by the wonderful power of faith alone.


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