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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

And made my way up on to the poop


"Quite

possibly; I cannot tell," answered Tourville. "It may be that I _am_ mad on this one particular point. But I do not admit the soundness of your argument, monsieur. You contend that you personally have not injured me. That may be perfectly true. But you admit that you belong to the Slave Squadron; and it is at the hands of that same squadron that I have suffered much of the injury of which I complain. Now it is impossible for me to discriminate between the individuals in that squadron who have injured me, and those who have not; and I therefore contend that I am perfectly justified in wreaking my vengeance upon any of them who chance to fall into my power. And, in any case, if I should blow out your brains I shall at least have rid myself of one potential enemy. Therefore--"

And to my immeasurable surprise the man calmly drew a pistol from his belt and levelled it across the table straight at my head. I sprang to my feet with the idea of flinging myself upon and disarming him, for I could no longer doubt the fellow was stark, staring mad upon this one particular point; but before I could get at him the weapon exploded, and the ball, passing so close to my head that I felt it stir my hair, buried itself in the panelling of the cabin behind me. With a savage snarl he raised his hand, and would have dashed the heavy pistol-butt in my face; but by that time I was upon him, and, seizing his throat with one hand, while I wrenched the weapon

from his grasp with the other, I bore him to the deck, and planted my right knee square in the middle of his chest, pinning him securely down.

"You treacherous, murderous scoundrel!" I cried. "How shall I deal with you? You are as dangerous as a wild beast! If I were to beat your brains out with the butt of this pistol I should only be treating you as you deserve! And I will do it too as sure as you are lying there at my mercy, unless you will swear by all you hold sacred that you will never again attempt my life, and that you will set me ashore, free, at the first port at which we touch. Will you swear that, or will you die?"

"I swear it, monsieur," he gasped. "Release my throat and let me rise, and I swear to you by the Blessed Virgin that I will declare a truce in your favour, and that you shall leave this ship as soon as a suitable opportunity offers."

I relaxed my grasp upon his throat, and permitted him to regain his feet, whereupon he looked at me for some moments with an expression of surprise, not altogether unmingled, methought, with fear. Then, bowing profoundly, he said:

"Leave me, monsieur, I beg of you. I will send for you again, a little later."

I passed out of the cabin, and made my way up on to the poop, where I found Monsieur Leroy, the chief mate, in charge of the watch. He nodded to me as I ascended the poop ladder, and when I joined him in his fore- and-aft promenade of the weather side of the deck, jerked his head knowingly toward the skylight and remarked:

"In his tantrums _again_? Ah! quite as I expected. It is rather unfortunate for you, monsieur, that you happen to be an Englishman, for the mere mention of the word to him has the same effect as exhibiting a red rag to a bull: it drives him perfectly frantic with rage."

"So it appears," remarked I dryly. "What is the cause of it? Have you any idea?"

"No," answered the mate. "I doubt whether anybody knows; perhaps he does not even know himself. Of course I have heard him speak of the losses which he has sustained through the interference of the ships of the Slave Squadron; but we who elect to make our living by following a vocation which civilised nations have agreed to declare unlawful must be prepared to be interfered with. For my own part I have no particular fault to find with those who have undertaken to suppress the slave- trade. We go into the business with our eyes open; we know the penalties attaching to it; and if we are foolish or unskilful enough to permit ourselves to be caught we must not grumble if those penalties are exacted from us. I like the life; I enjoy it; it is full of excitement and adventure; and when we succeed in outwitting you gentlemen the profits are handsome enough to amply repay us for all our risk and trouble. It is like playing a game of skill for a heavy wager; and I contend that no man who is not sportsman enough to bear his losses philosophically should engage in the game. But that is not precisely what ails the skipper; he takes his ill-luck grievously to heart it is true, but he insists that he has other grievances against the English as well; and, whatever they may be, they seem to have partially turned his brain."


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