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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Glided in between these two islets


passage of this part of the river occupied us until noon, and was rather trying to the nerves of all hands, for not only were we constantly exposed to attack by the slavers, but there were the natives also to be reckoned with; and these, as we all knew, had a most objectionable habit of using poisoned arrows, the slightest wound from which was invariably followed by death after some eight to twelve hours of dreadful suffering. Shortly after noon we emerged from these natural entanglements into a long reach of the river where the stream expanded to a width of some three and a half miles, with a narrow deep-water channel running about midway between the banks. Here we were quite free from any possibility of ambush of any kind; and with a sigh of intense relief the captain gave the word to pipe to dinner.

About four o'clock in the afternoon we arrived at a point where the river again narrowed to a width of about a mile; but some two miles farther on it again widened out, and changed its direction, trending away almost due east, or about at right angles to its former course; and this, according to the information in the skipper's possession, indicated that we were nearing our destination. Drawing from his pocket a sketch chart which he had already consulted several times during our passage up the river, he again studied it intently for several minutes, carefully comparing the configurations delineated upon it with our actual surroundings; then,

apparently satisfied with the result, he refolded the paper, returned it to his pocket, and directed the coxswain to bear away a couple of points toward a projecting point--which we afterwards discovered to be the western extremity of an islet--on the far side of the river. As we approached the spot for which we were heading it became apparent that there were two islets instead of one between us and the river bank; and a quarter of an hour later the gig, with the rest of the flotilla following her, glided in between these two islets, and, lowering her sails, made the signal for the other boats to anchor.

The boats were now completely concealed from all possible observation, for we soon saw that the islets between which we were anchored consisted merely of mud-banks thickly overgrown with mangroves, and absolutely uninhabitable even by natives; for there did not appear to be an inch of ground upon either of the islets sufficiently solid to support even a reed hut, while the mangroves were tall enough and grew densely enough to hide the boats from all possible observation from the mainland. The only question which now troubled us was whether the presence of the boats in the river had already been observed. If the slavers had placed absolute confidence in the success of their plan to draw us away from the coast by means of the decoy schooner, they might not have troubled to keep a look-out; but if they were as cautious as such gentry usually are, and had left nothing to chance, it would be scarcely possible for the approach of the boats to have passed undetected. This was the question to which the captain was now going to seek an answer.



Distant about a mile from our hiding-place, there was, according to the captain's rough sketch map, a small peninsula enclosing a little bay, or creek, at the inner extremity of which was situated King Olomba's town; and it was here that we were led to believe we should find the slavers busily engaged in shipping their human cargoes. And truly, as seen from the boats, the ingenuity of man could scarcely have devised a more perfect spot whereat to conduct the infamous traffic; for the configuration of the land was such that boats, entering the river merely on an exploring expedition, without having first obtained, like ourselves, special information, would never have suspected the existence of the creek, or of the town which lay concealed within it. Nor would it have been possible to detect the presence of slave craft in the creek; for the peninsula which masked it was thickly overgrown with lofty trees which would effectually conceal all but the upper spars of a ship, and these would doubtless be struck or housed while she was lying in the creek.

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