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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Most slavers were little if anything better than pirates


He

did not respond to my salutation, but, carefully placing upon the deck the bucket which he had just emptied, stood intently regarding me, with his feet wide apart and both hands upon his hips. He remained silent for so long a time that the men about him suspended their operations, regarding him with dull curiosity, while I felt my patience rapidly oozing away and my temper rising at the gratuitous insolence of his demeanour, and I was on the point of making some rather pungent remarks when he suddenly seemed to bethink himself, and said, in accents that were apparently intended to convey some suggestion of an attempt at civility:

"So you are the British naval officer that Monsieur Leroy told me about when I relieved him, are you? And you want a bath, do you? Very well; go and take one, by all means. And, hark ye, Monsieur Englishman, a word in your ear. Take my advice, and after you have had your bath get back to your cabin, and stay there until the captain has been informed of your presence in the ship; for if he were to come on deck, and unexpectedly see you, the chances are that he would blow your brains out without thinking twice about it. He is not quite an angel in the matter of temper, and I may tell you that he is not too well disposed toward Englishmen in general, and English naval officers in particular. Now be off, get your bath, and scuttle back to your cabin as quickly as may be."

"I am much

obliged to you for your warning, monsieur," said I, "and I will act upon it. Do you care to increase my obligation to you by stating why your captain has such a--prejudice, shall we call it, against British naval officers?"

"Well," replied my new acquaintance--whose name I subsequently learned was Gaston Marcel--"for one thing, this ship, which is his own property, is employed in the slave-trade, and Captain Tourville has already suffered much loss and damage through the meddlesome interference of your pestilent cruisers. But I believe he has other and more private reasons for his hatred of your nation and comrades."

So that was it. After having suffered shipwreck, I had been run down and narrowly escaped with my life, only to fall into the hands of a Frenchman--and a slaver at that! Now, most slavers were little if anything better than pirates; they were outlaws whose crimes were punishable with death; trusting for their safety, for the most part, to the speed of their ships, but fighting with the desperation of cornered rats when there was no other way of escape; neither giving nor asking quarter; and, in many cases, guilty of the most unspeakable atrocities toward those hapless individuals serving in the Slave Squadron who were unfortunate enough to fall into their hands. This was especially true in the case of those who carried on their nefarious traffic under the French flag; for they were, almost without exception, West Indian Creoles, most of whom bore a dash of negro blood in their veins, therefore adding the inherited ferocity of the West African savage to the natural depravity of those to whose unbridled passions they owed their being. If, as was more than likely, I had fallen into the power of one of these fiends, my plight was like to be desperate indeed. I came to the conclusion that I could not do better than act upon the advice of the second mate, and abide the issue of events with as much equanimity as I could muster. Accordingly, as soon as I had taken my bath I returned to the state-room which had been assigned to me by the mate, and there remained _perdu_, awaiting the moment when that somewhat formidable individual the captain should be pleased to send for me.


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