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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

But what about the barracoon which you destroyed to day


agreed the captain, "I admit that to be somewhat difficult to account for. And yet, perhaps not so very difficult either; because if the fellows who gave Captain Harrison the information upon which he acted happened to have a grudge against the owners of that factory they would naturally be more than glad if, while groping about in search of the imaginary slavers and barracoon, we should stumble upon the real thing and destroy it. All this, however, is mere idle conjecture, which may be either well founded or the opposite; but there is one indisputable fact about this business, which is--unless Mr Purchase is altogether mistaken, which I do not for a moment believe--that the _Psyche_ was last night cut adrift from her anchors and wrecked by somebody who must have a lurking-place in this immediate neighbourhood; and I intend to have a hunt for that somebody to-morrow."



As the evening progressed it became evident to me that our new captain had developed a very preoccupied mood; he fell into long fits of abstraction; and often answered very much at random such remarks as happened to be addressed to him. He appeared to be turning over some puzzling matter in his mind; and at length that matter came to the surface and found expression in speech.

"Mr Purchase," he

said, "I have been trying to put two and two together--or, in other words, I have been endeavouring to find an explanation of the puzzle which this business of the wreck of the _Psyche_ presents. I can understand quite clearly that poor Captain Harrison was deliberately deceived and misled by certain persons in Sierra Leone in order that the ship might be cast away. But why _here_ particularly? For if my theory be correct that the supposed decoy schooner actually sailed out of this river with a full cargo of black ivory, there must certainly be a barracoon somewhere close at hand from which she drew her supplies; and the people who planned the destruction of the sloop could scarcely have been so short-sighted as to have overlooked the fact that such a happening would leave us here stranded in close proximity to a slave factory which, presumably, they would be most anxious should remain undiscovered by us. That is the point which I cannot understand; and I have come to the conclusion that my theory with regard to the schooner must be altogether wrong, or there must be something else in the wind--that, in short, the wreck of the sloop is only a part instead of the whole of their plan."

"But what about the barracoon which you destroyed to-day, sir?" asked Purchase. "Might not that be the place from which those fellows draw their supplies of slaves?"

"It might, of course," admitted the skipper; "but, all the same, I do not believe it was. For the people who supplied Captain Harrison with false information would surely know enough of him and his methods to be certain that, failing to find anything in the nature of a slave factory at King Olomba's town, we should not leave the river again until we had thoroughly explored it; and if they knew the river at all they would also know that the factory on the Camma Lagoon could scarcely be overlooked by us. No; in my own mind I feel convinced that the factory which we destroyed to-day was not the one in which those fellows are interested; there is another one somewhere in the river; and I will not leave until I have discovered and destroyed it. But that only brings me back to the point from which I started, and once more raises the question, Why did they cast us away within a few miles of this other factory which I am persuaded exists? Is it that the place is so strongly fortified that they are confident of our inability to take it? Or is there something else at the back of it all, of which we have not yet got an inkling?"

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