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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

The gig was of course provided with a boat compass


All these unpleasantnesses were sharply accentuated by the darkness, which fell upon us like a pall; for now the stars began to be obscured by great black clouds that came sweeping in from seaward, while the increasing roar and swish in the boughs overhead seemed to indicate that the wind was freshening. Progress was difficult enough, under such conditions, while we were traversing solid ground and had no special need to pick our footsteps; how would it be, I wondered, when it came to our re-crossing the belt of mangroves and mud that lay between us and the gig? Then, to add still further to our difficulties, the dank, heavy, pestilential fog that rises from the tropical African rivers at nightfall began to gather about us, and in a few minutes, from being bathed in perspiration from our exertions, we were chilled to the bone, with our teeth chattering to such an extent that we could scarcely articulate an intelligible word.

"Plenty too much fever here come," remarked Cupid, while his teeth clattered together like castanets. "Sar, you lib for carry dem quinine powder dat dem doctor sarve out dis morning?"

"Certainly, Cupid," jibbered the skipper. "M-m-many thanks for the hint. M-m-m-mister Fortes--ugh! t-t-take a p-p-pow-ow-der at once."

I did so, and handed one to the Krooboy, who simply put it, paper and all, into his mouth, and swallowed the whole. Having done this, Cupid announced, as well as his chattering teeth would permit, that in view of the fog and the intense darkness it would be simply suicidal for us to attempt the passage of the mangroves without a light, and that therefore he proposed to make his way alone to the gig, not only to reassure her crew as to our safety, but also to procure a lantern. And he enjoined the skipper and me to remain exactly where we were until he should return. After an absence which seemed to be an age in duration, but which was really not quite three-quarters of an hour, he reappeared, accompanied by the coxswain of the boat and two other seamen, who brought along with them a couple of lighted lanterns. Thus reinforced and assisted, we got under way again, and eventually, after a most fatiguing and dangerous journey, reached the boat and shoved off into the stream. The gig was of course provided with a boat compass, and we knew the exact bearing of the spot where the other boats lay hidden; but we already knew also how complicated and confusing was the set of the currents in the river, and how hopeless would consequently be any attempt to find our friends in that thick fog. We therefore did not make the attempt, but, pushing off into the stream until we were clear of the mosquitoes and other winged plagues that had been tormenting all hands for so many hours, let go our anchor in one and a half fathoms of water, and proceeded to take a meal prior to turning-in for the night.

Never in my life before, I think, had I spent so absolutely uncomfortable a night. What with the rats, cockroaches, fleas, and other vermin with which the ship was overrun, to say nothing of the complication of stenches which poisoned the atmosphere, the midshipmen's berth aboard the _Psyche_ was by no means an ideal place to sleep in, but it was luxury compared with the state of affairs in the gig. For aboard the _Psyche_ we at least slept dry, while in the boat we were fully exposed to the encroachments of that vile, malodorous, disease- laden fog which hemmed us in and pressed down upon us like a saturated blanket, penetrating everywhere, soaking our clothing until we were wet to the skin, chilling us to the very marrow, despite our greatcoats, so that we were too miserable to sleep; while it so completely enveloped us that, even with the help of half a dozen lanterns, we could not see a boat's length in any direction. As the foul water went swirling away past us great bubbles came rising up from the mud below, from time to time, bursting as they reached the surface, and giving off little puffs of noxious, vile-smelling gas that were heavy with disease-germs. Yet, singularly enough, when at length the morning dawned and the fog dispersed, not one of us aboard the gig betrayed the slightest trace of fever, although, among them, the other boats mustered nearly a dozen cases.


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