It was nine o'clock in the evening when they started, and at daylight the French coast was not to be seen. Overjoyed at their escape, they commenced an attack upon the provisions and a small keg of wine; and perhaps a more joyful breakfast never was made. The sun rose in vapour, the sky threatened, but they were free and happy. The wind freshened, and the boat flew before the gale; the running seas topping over her stern and forcing them continually to bale her out; but all was joy, and freedom turned their "danger to delight." They passed several vessels at a distance, who did not observe them; and before sunset the English coast was in sight. At ten o'clock the double lights on the Lizard were on their starboard bow. They hauled up upon the larboard tack with the ebb-tide, and having passed the Lizard, kept away for Mount's Bay, to avoid the chance of falling in with any of the king's vessels, and being again impressed. At daylight they ran in under St Michael's Mount, and once more stepped upon English ground. Here, as by previous agreement, they divided the provisions, and took farewell of each other.
"Good-bye, gentlemen," said Collins; "allow me to observe that, for once, you may think yourselves fortunate in having been placed in my very respectable company!"
"Once more upon the waters." BYRON.
As Newton had lost his credentials from Captain Northfleet, as well as the vessel confided to his charge, he did not consider it necessary to pay his respects to the port-admiral at Plymouth. On the contrary, he set off, as fast as his legs would carry him, to Liverpool, to ascertain the condition of his father. We shall pass over the difficulties he experienced on his journey. There is no country where travelling is more easy or more rapid than in England, provided that you have plenty of money; but when you travel in forma pauperis, there is no country in which you get on so badly. Parish rates and poor laws have dried up the sources of benevolence; and as Newton did not apply to the overseers for his three-halfpence a mile, he got on how he could, which was badly enough. When at last he did arrive at Liverpool, he found himself a stone or two the lighter, and would have been pronounced by Captain Barclay to have been in excellent training.
Newton had written to his father, acquainting him with his impressment; but was doubtful whether the letter had ever been received, as it had been confided to the care of one of the women who left the frigate the evening previous to her sailing. When he arrived at the house he perceived his father at his bench as usual, but doing nothing, and the shop windows were bare.
Newton entered, and his father looked up.
"Why, Newton, my dear boy, is it you?" cried Nicholas; "what a long while you have been away! Well, how is Mr Hilton?—and how is your poor mother?"
"My dear father," replied Newton, taking his hand, "did not you receive my letter?"
"No, I received no letter. What a time you have been away; I declare it must be two or three months, or more."
"It is nearly twelve months, my dear father: I was pressed at Bristol, have been on board of a man-of-war, and have just escaped from a French prison."
Newton then entered into a narrative of his adventures, to the astonishment of Nicholas, who heard him with open mouth.
"Dear me! so you've been in a man-of-war, and in France; then you don't know how your poor mother is?"
"Have you not inquired, my dear father?"
"No, I thought you would come home, and tell me all about it," replied Nicholas, with a sigh.
"How have you got on here?" said Newton, to change the conversation.
"Very bad indeed, Newton,—very bad indeed; I have not had six jobs since you left me."
"I am sorry to hear it, father; have you anything to eat in the house, for I am very hungry?"
"I am afraid not much," replied Nicholas, going to the cupboard, and producing some bread and cheese. "Can you eat bread and cheese, my dear boy?"
"I could eat a horse, my dear father," replied Newton, who had walked the last twelve hours without sustenance.
Newton attacked the provender, which soon disappeared.
"I have been obliged to sell most of the shop furniture," said Nicholas, observing Newton to cast his eyes at the empty window. "I could not help it. I believe nobody wears spectacles in Liverpool."
"It can't be helped, father; we must hope for better times."
"Yes, we must trust in God, Newton. I sold my watch yesterday, and that will feed us for some time. A sailor came into the shop, and asked if I had any watches to sell: I told him that I only repaired them at present; but that when my improvement in the duplex—" Here Nicholas forgot the thread of his narrative, and was commencing a calculation upon his intended improvement, when Newton interrupted him.
"Well, sir, what did the sailor reply?"
"Oh! I forgot; I told him that I had a watch of my own that I would part with, which went very well; and that it would be cheaper to him than a new one; that it cost fifteen pounds; but I was in want of money, and would take five pounds for it. He saw how sorry I was to part with it—and so I was." Here Nicholas thought of his watch, and forgot his story.
"Well, my dear father," said Newton, "what did he give you for it?"
"Oh!—why, he was a kind, good creature, and said that he was not the man to take advantage of a poor devil in distress, and that I should have the full value of it. He put the watch in his fob and counted out fifteen pounds on the counter. I wanted to return part: but he walked out of the shop, and before I could get round the counter, he had got round the corner of the street."
"'Twas a God-send, my dear father," replied Newton, "for I have not a halfpenny. Do you know what became of my chest, that I left on board of the sloop?"
"Dear me! now I think of it, it came here by the waggon. I put it upstairs. I wondered why you sent it."
Newton having appeased his hunger, went upstairs, and found all his wearing apparel had been forwarded by Mr Hilton, who supposed him dead, and that he was enabled to make a more respectable appearance than what the privateer's people had hitherto permitted him. In a few days he felt quite recovered from his fatigue, and sallied forth in search of employment. On the day after his arrival at Liverpool he had written to the asylum, to inquire the fate of his mother. The answer which he received was, that Mrs Forster had recovered, and remained many months in the establishment as nurse; but that ten days back she had quitted the asylum, and that her address was not known.
Newton, who had no means of prosecuting further inquiry, was obliged to be satisfied with the intelligence that his mother was alive and well. He communicated the information to Nicholas, who observed:
"Poor thing! she's looking for us, depend upon it, Newton, and will be here very soon:" and this expectation was revived whenever Nicholas thought of his wife; and he continued satisfied.
We must allow many months to pass away in one paragraph—months of ineffectual struggle against poverty and want of employment, which Newton made every exertion to obtain as mate of a merchant vessel. The way in which he had been impressed had caused a dread of the king's service, which he could not overcome; and although he had but to choose his ship as a sailor before the mast, he could not prevail upon himself to accept a berth which was not protected from the impress. Without recommendation he could not obtain the situation of mate, and he continued to work as a rigger in the docks, until his hand was unfortunately severely jammed by the heel of a topmast, and he was laid up for many weeks. Each day their fare became scantier, and they were reduced to their last shilling, when Newton was again able to go out and seek employment.
It was a rough day, blowing hard from the S.E., when Newton, who had tried his fortune on board of every vessel (crowded as they were in the docks) without success, walked in a melancholy and disappointed mood along the splendid pier which lines the river-side. Few people were out, for the gusts of wind were accompanied by smart driving showers of rain. Here and there was to be seen a boat pulling up inshore to fetch the shipping in the stream, who with a heavy strain on their cables were riding to the S.E. gale, and a strong ebb-tide. Newton had made up his mind to enter on board of one of these vessels about to sail, provided they would advance him a part of his wages for his father's support; when, as a heavy squall cleared away, he perceived that a boat had broken adrift from the outermost vessel (a large brig), with only one man in it, who was carried away by the rapid current, assisted by the gale blowing down the river, so as to place him in considerable risk. The man in the boat tossed out his oar, and pulling first on one side, and then on the other, tried to make for the shore; but in vain. He was swept away with a rapidity which threatened in less than an hour to carry him out to sea, unless assistance were afforded him.
Another heavy squall again hid the boat from the sight of Newton, who had been anxiously watching to ascertain if any relief was sent from the shipping, and who was now convinced that the disaster had not been perceived. He therefore ran down the bank of the river, waiting until the squall should blow over, and enable him to discover the boat.
In about ten minutes the squall passed over, and the boat was again presented to his sight; she was still in the centre of the stream, about three hundred yards from the shore. The man who was in her, finding all his attempts futile, had lain on his oar, and was kneeling in the sternsheets, apparently in supplication. Newton could not resist the appeal; it appeared to point out to him that he was summoned to answer the call made upon Providence. The boat was now a quarter of a mile further down the river than where he stood, and about three miles from the town and shipping, both of which were no longer discernible from the thickness of the weather. Newton threw off his coat, and plunging into the agitated water, the cold of which nearly checked his respiration, swam off into the stream in a direction so as to allow himself to fetch to windward of the boat. He was soon carried down to it by the rapidity of the tide, and, as he approached, he shouted to announce his presence. The man in the boat started up at the sound of a human voice, and perceiving Newton close to the bows, leant over and extended his hand towards him. Newton seized hold of it, and then was whirled round by the tide fore and aft with the side of the boat, with such violence as nearly to drag the other man out, and half fill the boat with water. It was with great difficulty, although assisted by the occupant, that Newton contrived at last to get in; when, exhausted with the efforts he had made, he remained a few seconds without motion; the man, whom he had thus risked his life to save, perceiving his condition, and not speaking to him.
"We have no time to lose," said Newton, at last: "take an oar, and let us pull in for the shore. If once we are swept down to the narrows there will be little chance for us."
The other complied, without speaking; and, after a few minutes' exertion, the boat was safely landed on the Liverpool side of the river.
"The Lord be praised!" ejaculated Newton's companion, as he laid on his oar. "I did not call upon Him in vain; your accident has been the means of my preservation."
"How do you mean?" inquired Newton.
"Why, did you not fall overboard?" replied the other.
Newton then explained to his companion what we have already related to the reader, ending his narrative with the observation, that when he perceived him praying for assistance in his peril, he could not resist the appeal.
"God will reward you, young man," continued he: "and now I will explain to you how it was that I was adrift, like a bear in a washing-tub. My first mate was below. I had just relieved the deck, for in this blowing weather we must keep watch in harbour. The men were all at their dinner, when I heard the boat thumping under the main channels. I got into her to ease off a fathom or two of the painter; but as I hauled her ahead to get at the bend, it appears that the monkey of a boy who made her fast, and has been but a few months at sea, had made a 'slippery hitch,' so away it went, and I was adrift. I hailed them on board; but they did not hear me, although the first mate might have, for he was in the cabin, and the stern-window was up; but hailing to windward is hard work, such weather as this; the words are blown back again down your own throat. And now, let me know a little about you, my lad, and see whether I cannot in return be of some use to you."
Newton's history was soon told; and, at the conclusion, he had the satisfaction of finding that he had obtained the very situation which he had been in search of.
"I have no second mate on board," observed the captain of the brig; "but I intended to have shipped one tomorrow. I was only divided between which to take of two who have offered themselves, with equally good recommendations. Fortunately, I would promise neither; and, as I think your own recommendation stronger than theirs, the berth is at your service. I only wish, for your sake, that it was that of first mate. I am sure you would prove yourself fit for the situation; and I cannot say that I am very partial to the one that I have at present; but he is a relation of the owner."
The arrangements were soon made. Mr Berecroft, the master of the vessel, advanced Newton a sum to fit himself out, and agreed with the owner at Liverpool that one-half of Newton's wages should be allotted monthly to his father. The next morning, as the vessel had a pilot on board, and the weather had moderated, Newton took leave of his father, and with a light heart accompanied his new acquaintance on board of the vessel.
It was early in the morning when they embarked in a hired boat,—the one belonging to the brig still remaining down the river, where they had landed. The first mate, as it appeared, was in the cabin shaving himself, previous to his going on shore to the owner to report the supposed loss of his superior. The sailors were either busy or down below, so that no notice was taken of the boat coming alongside; and Newton, with the master, were both on deck before the circumstance was known to the first mate. It so happened, that at the very same moment that they came on board, the first mate was ascending the companion hatch, to order a boat to be lowered down and manned. When he perceived Mr Berecroft, he fell back with astonishment, and turned pale.
"I thought you were gone," said he: "why, what could have saved you? did you not drift out to sea?"
"It appears, then, Mr Jackson, that you knew that I was adrift," replied the master, seriously, looking him steadfastly in the face.
"That is,"—replied the mate, confused—"I thought—of course, seeing the boat was not alongside—that you had drifted away in her: how it happened—of course, I know not."
"I should trust, for your conscience' sake, Mr Jackson, that you did not; however, here I am again, as you see, by the blessing of Providence, and the exertions of this young man, whom I must introduce to you as our second mate."
Jackson cast an angry glance at Newton upon the conclusion of this speech. The master had truly observed that it was strange the first mate did not hear him when he had hailed the brig for assistance. The fact was, that Jackson had both heard him and seen him; but he was a wretch devoid of all feeling, who consulted nothing except his own interest. He had made sure that the master would be carried out to sea, there to perish by a most miserable death, and that he would succeed in command of the vessel. He was then going on shore to report the supposed "falling overboard" of the master: which, as the brig was to sail as soon as the weather moderated, would have secured to him the command, and, at the same time, have put an end to the search which (should he have reported the truth) would immediately have taken place for the boat in which the master had been adrift. Foiled in his hopes, by the courage of Newton, Jackson had already formed towards him a deadly hatred and determination of revenge.
That evening the wind abated, and the vessel sailed. The ensuing morning she was clear of the sands, and a pilot-vessel off Holyhead having received the pilot, she steered down the Irish Channel to join a convoy for the West Indies, collecting at Falmouth.
Mr Berecroft, the master of the vessel, who has not hitherto been described, was a spare, light-built person, of about sixty years of age, still active, and a thorough seaman. He had crossed the ocean for forty-five years, and his occasional narratives, as he walked the deck, or sat over his evening glass of grog, proved that his life must have been one of no ordinary variety and interest. He was serious and rationally devout. He checked all swearing from the men under his command, and rebuked it, although he could not prevent it, in the first mate; who, to annoy him, seldom made his appearance on deck without making use of some execration or another. It was Mr Berecroft's custom to call down the seamen into his cabin every evening, and read to them a short prayer; and, although this unusual ceremony often caused a leer in some of the newly-entered men, and was not only unattended but ridiculed by Jackson, still the whole conduct of Berecroft was so completely in unison, that even the most idle and thoughtless acknowledged that he was a good man, and quitted the ship with regret. Such was Mr Berecroft; and we have little further to add, except that he was very superior to the generality of masters of merchant vessels. His family, it was reported, were strict Quakers.
Jackson, the first mate, was a bull-headed, sandy-haired Northumbrian; as we before stated, a relation of the owner's, or he never would have been permitted to remain in the ship. The reader has already had some insight into his diabolical character. It will be sufficient to add, that he was coarse and blustering in his manners; that he never forgot and never forgave an injury; gratitude was not in his composition; and, to gratify his revenge, he would stop at nothing.
On the third day, the brig, which was named the Eliza and Jane, after the two daughters of the owner, arrived at Falmouth, where she anchored in the outer roads, in company with thirty or forty more, who had assembled at the appointed rendezvous. On the second day after their arrival, a fifty-gun ship, frigate, and two corvettes, made their appearance off the mouth of the harbour; and after a due proportion of guns, some shotted and some not, the whole convoy were under weigh, and hove-to round their protectors. The first step taken by the latter was to disembarrass their proteges of one-third of their crews, leaving them as defenceless as possible, that they might not confide in their own strength, but put their whole trust in the men-of-war, and keep as close to them as possible. Having taken out every unprotected man, they distributed convoy signals in lieu, and half a dozen more guns announced that they were to make sail—an order immediately complied with: the merchant vessels, loaded with canvas below and aloft, while the men-of-war, with their topsails on the caps, sailed round and round them, firing shot at every unfortunate vessel which was not able to sail as well as the rest.
The convoy left Falmouth, seventy-five in number but in a few days there were but forty in sight. Those who remained behind either made their voyage how they could, or were taken by the enemy's privateers, who followed in the wake of the convoy. Some few were carried into the French ports; and the underwriters of the policy ate but little dinner on the day which brought the intelligence of their capture. Others were retaken by the English blockading squadrons, who received then one-eighth for salvage. At last the men-of-war were fairly running down the traders, with about twenty-five of the best sailers in company: and the commodore deemed it advisable to take particular care of the few which remained, lest he should be "hauled over the coals" by the Admiralty. Nothing worth comment occurred during the remainder of the passage. They all arrived safe at Barbadoes, when the commodore brought in his returns to the admiral, and complained bitterly of the obstinacy of the masters of merchant vessels, who would part company with him, in defiance of all his injunctions, and in spite of all the powder which he fired away to enforce his signals. There certainly was a fault somewhere.
During the passage, which lasted seven weeks, Newton had ample opportunity of ascertaining his situation. The master invariably treated him with kindness and consideration; and before the voyage was completed, he treated him as if he were his own son. Jackson lost no opportunity of annoying or insulting him; but the support of his patron indemnified Newton for the conduct of the first mate, and he resolved to take no notice of that which could not well be prevented. On their arrival at Barbadoes, Mr Berecroft went on shore to the house of the consignee; and then it was that the malignity of Jackson broke out in all its violence.
The brig had discharged her cargo, and was lying in Carlisle Bay, waiting for the sugars which were to be shipped for Liverpool. One morning, when Newton, who for some time had submitted to the tyranny of Jackson without complaint, was standing at the main hatchway, giving directions to the men below, who were arranging the dunnage at the bottom of the vessel, the first mate came on deck, and watching his opportunity, staggered, with a rope in his hand, against Newton, as if by accident, so as to throw him over the coombings. Newton, who would have immediately fallen to the bottom of the hold upon the ballast at the risk of his life, suddenly seized hold of the first mate, not in sufficient time to recover his own balance, but so firmly as to drag Jackson with him; and down they were both precipitated together. The first mate, having hold of one of the ropes leading down the mainmast, clung fast to save himself, and in so doing also broke the fall of Newton; but the weight of their bodies dragged the rope through Jackson's hands, which were lacerated to the bone. Neither party was much hurt by the fall; so that the treachery of Jackson recoiled upon himself. After this specimen of animosity, which was duly reported to Mr Berecroft, on his return on board, by the seamen, who detested Jackson and anything like foul play, his protector determined that Newton should no longer be subjected to further violence. At the request of Mr Berecroft, Newton was invited to stay at the house of Mr Kingston, the gentleman to whom the vessel had been consigned—an offer which was gladly accepted.
Newton had not been many days on shore, when Mr Kingston, who had taken a strong interest in him, proposed, in answer to many of his questions relative to the slave trade, that they should make a party to visit a plantation, the proprietor of which had been a resident since his youth, and judge for himself as to the truth of the reports so industriously circulated by those who were so inimical to the employment of a slave population.
"Aboan.—The innocent! Oroonoko.—These men are so, whom you would rise against. If we are slaves, they did not make us slaves, But bought us in the honest way of trade, As we have done before 'em, bought and sold Many a wretch, and never thought it wrong. They paid our price for us, and we are now Their property, a part of their estate, To manage as they please."
At an early hour the party, consisting of Mr Kingston, the master of the brig, and Newton, set off upon mules for the habitation of the planter. The sun had illumined the sky, but had not yet made his appearance, although the golden fringes upon the clouds, which floated in broad belts in the horizon, indicated his glorious yet withering approach. The dew moistened each leaf, or hung in glittering pendant drops upon the thorn of the prickly pears which lined the roads. The web of the silver-banded spider was extended between the bushes, and, saturated with moisture, reflected the beams of the rising orb, as the animals danced in the centre, to dazzle their expected prey. The mist still hovered on the valleys, and concealed a part of the landscape from their view; and the occasional sound of the fall of water was mingled with the twittering and chirping of the birds, as they flew from spray to spray. The air was fresh, even to keenness, and anyone suddenly wafted to the scene would little have imagined that he was under the torrid zone.
"How different this is from the ideas generally formed of the climate in the West Indies!" observed Newton. "In England, we couple it with unsufferable heat and the yellow fever."
"Your reports are from those who seldom leave the harbours or towns, where such indeed prevail," replied Kingston. "There is no island in the Caribbean Sea where the early riser may not enjoy this delightful, bracing atmosphere. At Jamaica in particular, where they collect as much snow as they please in the mountains; yet, at the same time, there is not a more fatal and unhealthy spot than Port Royal harbour, in the same island."
"Is the plantation we are going to situated as high above the level of the sea as we are now?"
"No; most plantations are in the ravines, between the hills. The sugar-cane requires heat. As soon as we are on the summit of this next hill we shall descend to it."
In half an hour they arrived at the end of their journey, when they stopped at an extensive range of low buildings, situated at the head of the valley, which descended to the sea,—now for the first time presented to their view since they had quitted Bridgetown. The owner of the estate was at the door to receive them. He was a tall, spare man, dressed in nankeen jacket and trousers, with a large-brimmed straw hat upon his head.
"Welcome, gentlemen, welcome. Kingston, how are you?" said he, as they stopped. "Now dismount, gentlemen; the boys will take the mules. Boy Jack, where are you? Where's Baby, and where's Bulky? Come here, you lazy rascals, and take the mules. Now then, gentlemen, I'll show you the way. I ordered breakfast on the table, as I saw you coming down the hill."
So saying, the old gentleman led the way through a portico. At the sight of strangers, the windows underneath were crowded with faces of various degrees of colour—eyes and mouths wide open, the latter displaying rows of teeth, so even and so brilliantly white, that they might cause a sensation of envy to many an English belle.
The party were ushered into a spacious and cool apartment on the ground-floor, where a table was covered with all the varieties of a tropical breakfast, consisting of fried fish, curries, devilled poultry, salt meats, and everything which could tend to stimulate an enfeebled appetite.
"Now, gentlemen, let me recommend you to take a white jacket; you'll be more at your ease, and there is no ceremony here. Boy Jack, where's the sangoree? This is a fine climate, Captain Berecroft; all you have to attend to is—to be temperate, and not to check the perspiration."
Boy Jack who, par parenthese, was a stout, well-looking negro, of about forty years of age, now made his appearance with the sangoree. This was a beverage composed of half a bottle of brandy and two bottles of Madeira, to which were added a proportion of sugar, lime-juice, and nutmeg, with water ad lib. It was contained in a glass bowl, capable of holding two gallons, standing upon a single stalk, and bearing the appearance of a Brobdingnag rummer. Boy Jack brought it with both hands, and placed it before his master.
"Now, sir, will you drink?" said the planter, addressing Mr Berecroft.
"Thank you," replied Mr Berecroft, "I never drink so early in the morning."
"Drink! why this is nothing but swizzle. Here's your health, sir, I'll show you the way."
The large goblet was fixed to his lips for upwards of a minute: at last they unwillingly separated, and the old planter recovered his respiration with a deep sigh. "Now then, gentlemen, do you take a little; don't be afraid; there's nothing you mayn't do in this climate, only be temperate, and don't check the perspiration." At this moment Newton was startled, and looked under the table.
"I thought it was a dog, but it's a little black child."
"Oh! there's one out, is there? Why, Boy Jack, did I not tell you to shut them all in?"
"Yes, sar, so I did," said the black man, looking under the table. "Eh!—it's that d—d little nigger—two-year old Sambo—no possible keeping him in, sar.—Come out, Sambo."
The child crawled out to his master, and climbed up by his knee: the old planter patted his woolly head, and gave him a piece of grilled turkey, with which he immediately dived again under the table.
"The fact is, captain, they are accustomed to come in at breakfast-time; they are only shut out to-day because I have company. That door behind me leads into the nursery-yard."
"Yes, I'll show it you by-and-bye; there's plenty of them there."
"Oh, pray let us have them in—I wish to see them, and should be sorry to be the cause of their being disappointed."
"Open the door, Boy Jack." As soon as it was open, about twenty black children, from seven to three years old, most of them naked, with their ivory skins like a polished table, and quite pot-bellied from good living, tumbled into the room, to the great amusement of Newton and the party. They were followed by seven or eight more, who were not yet old enough to walk; but they crawled upon all-fours almost as fast as the others who could walk erect after the image of their Maker.
The company amused themselves with distributing to the children the contents of the dishes on the table—the elder ones nestling alongside of the planter and his friends with the greatest familiarity, while the younger sat upright on the floor, laughing as they devoured their respective portions.
"Of course, these are all slaves?" observed Mr Berecroft.
"Yes, bred them all myself," replied the planter; "indeed, out of two hundred and fifteen which I have on the estate, I think that there are not more that twelve who were not born on this property, during my father's time or mine. Perhaps, as breakfast is over, you will like to inspect my nursery."
The planter led the way into the yard from which the children had entered. It was a square, of about two roods of ground, three sides of which were enclosed by rows of small houses, of two rooms each; and most of them were occupied by female slaves, either nursing children at the breast, or expecting very soon to have that duty to perform. They received their master with a smiling face, as he addressed a question to each of them when he entered their abode.
"Now these are all my breeding women; they do no work, only take care of the children, who remain here until they are eight or nine years old. We have a surgeon on the estate, who attends them as well as the other slaves when they are sick. Now, if you feel inclined, we will go round the works."
The old planter, in a few minutes' walk, brought them to an extensive row of detached cottages, each centred in a piece of garden-ground, well stocked with yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, and other tropical productions. Poultry of all descriptions were scattered in profusion about the place, and pigs appeared to be abundant.
"Now, captain, these are the cottages of the working slaves. The garden-ground is allowed to them; and whatever they can make by its produce, or by their pigs and their poultry, is all their own."
"But how are they subsisted?"
"By rations, as regularly served out as yours are on board of your vessel, and they have as much as they can consume."
"Are they all single men?"
"No, mostly married to slave girls on the estate: their wives live with them, unless they breed, and then they are removed up to the nurseries."
"And what work do you exact from them?"
"Eight hours a day—except in crop-time, and then we are very busy; so that they have plenty of leisure to look after their own interests if they choose."
"Do they ever lay up much money?"
"Very often enough to purchase their freedom, if they wished it."
"If they wished it!" replied Mr Berecroft with surprise.
"Yes; without explanation, that may appear strange to you, and still more strange, the fact, that freedom offered has often been refused. A man who is a clever workman as a carpenter, or any other trade, will purchase his freedom if he can, because artisans can obtain very high wages here; but a slave who, if I may use the term, is only a common labourer, would hardly support himself, and lay by nothing for his old age. They are aware of it. I have offered emancipation to one or two who have grown old, and they have refused it, and now remain as heirlooms on the estate, provided with everything, and doing little or no work, if they please. You saw that old man sweeping under the portico? Well, he does that every day; and it is all he has done for these five years. Now, if you please, we will go through the plantations, and visit the sugar-mills."
They passed the slaves, who were at work hoeing between the canes; and certainly, if an estimate of their condition was to be taken by the noise and laughter with which they beguiled their labour, they were far from demanding pity.
"But, I must confess, that there is something in that cart-whip which I do not like," observed Newton.
"I grant it; but custom is not easily broken through; nor do we know any substitute. It is the badge of authority, and the noise of it is requisite to summon them to their labour. With me it is seldom used, for it is not required; and if you were captain of a man-of-war, I should answer you as I did Captain C——; to wit—I question much whether my noisy whip is half so mischievous as your silent cat."
The sugar-mills, stables of mules, boilers, coolers, &c., were all examined, and the party returned to the plantation-house.
"Well, captain, now you have witnessed what is termed slavery, what is your opinion? Are your philanthropists justified in their invectives against us?"
"First assure me that all other plantations are as well regulated as your own," replied Mr Berecroft.
"If not, they soon will be: it is to the interest of all the planters that they should; and by that, like all the rest of the world, they will be guided."
"But still there have been great acts of cruelty committed; quite enough to prepossess us against you as a body."
"I grant that such has been the case, and may occasionally be so now; but do not the newspapers of England teem with acts of barbarity? Men are the same everywhere. But, sir, it is the misfortune of this world, that we never know when to stop. The abolition of the slave-trade was an act of humanity, worthy of a country acting upon an extended scale like England; but your philanthropists, not content with relieving the blacks, look forward to the extermination of their own countrymen, the whites—who, upon the faith and promise of the nation, were induced to embark their capital in these islands."
"Doubtless they wish to abolish slavery altogether," replied Berecroft.
"They must be content with having abolished the horrors of it, sir," continued the planter. "At a time when the mart was open, and you could purchase another slave to replace the one that had died from ill-treatment, or disease, the life of a slave was not of such importance to his proprietor as it is now. Moreover, the slaves imported were adults, who had been once free; and, torn as they were from their natural soil and homes, where they slept in idleness throughout the day, they were naturally morose and obstinate, sulky, and unwilling to work. This occasioned severe punishment; and the hearts of their masters being indurated by habit, it often led to acts of barbarity. But slavery, since the abolition, has assumed a milder form—it is a species of bond slavery. There are few slaves in existence who have not been born upon the estates, and we consider that they are more lawfully ours."
"Will you explain what you mean by more lawfully?"
"I mean, captain (for instance), that the father of that boy (pointing to one of the negro lads who waited at breakfast) was my slave; that he worked for me until he was an old man, and then I supported him for many years until he died. I mean, that I took care of this boy's mother, who, as she bore children, never did any work after her marriage, and has since been only an expense to me, and probably will continue to be so for some years. I mean, that that boy was taken care of, and fed by me until he was ten years old, without my receiving any return for the expense which I incurred; and I therefore consider that he is indebted to me as a bond-slave, and that I am entitled to his services; and he, in like manner, when he grows too old to work, will become a pensioner, as his father was before him."
"I perceive the drift of your argument; you do not defend slavery generally."
"No; I consider a man born free, and made a slave, is justified in resorting to any means to deliver himself; but a slave that I have reared is lawfully a slave, and bound to remain so, unless he can repay me the expense I have incurred. But dinner is ready, captain; if you wish to argue the matter further, it must be over a bottle of claret."
The dinner was well dressed, and the Madeira and claret (the only wines produced) of the best quality. Their host did the honours of his table with true West Indian hospitality, circulating the bottle after dinner with a rapidity which would soon have produced an effect upon less prudent visitors; and when Mr Berecroft refused to take any more wine, he ordered the ingredients for arrack punch.
"Now, Mr Forster, you must take a tumbler of this, and I think that you'll pronounce it excellent."
"Indeed!———" replied Newton.
"Nay, I will take no denial; don't be afraid; you may do anything you please in this climate, only be temperate, and don't check the perspiration."
"Well, but," observed Newton, who placed the tumbler of punch before him. "You promised to renew your argument after dinner; and I should like to hear what you have to urge in defence of a system which I never have heard defended before."
"Well," replied his host, upon whom the wine and punch had begun to take effect, "just let me fill my tumbler again to keep my lips moist, and then I'll prove to you that slavery has existed from the earliest times, and is not at variance with the religion we profess. That it has existed from the earliest times, you need only refer to the book of Genesis; and that it is not at variance with our religion, I must refer to the fourth Commandment. How can that part of the commandment be construed, 'and the stranger that is within thy gates'? To whom can this possibly apply but to the slave? After directing that the labour of all the household, 'man-servant and maid-servant,' should cease, it then proceeds to the ox and the ass, and the stranger that is within thy gates. Now, gentlemen, this cannot be applied to the stranger in the literal sense of the word, the hospitality of the age forbidding that labour should be required of him. At that time slaves were brought from foreign lands, and were a source of traffic, as may be inferred by the readiness with which the Ishmaelites purchased Joseph of his brethren, and resold him in Egypt.
"Nay, that slavery was permitted by the Almighty is fully proved by the state of the Jewish nation, until He thought proper to bring them out of the house of bondage.
"If, then, the laws of God provided against the ill-treatment of the slave, slavery is virtually acknowledged as not being contrary to His Divine will. We have a further proof, subsequent to the mission of our Saviour, that the apostles considered slavery as lawful."
"I remember it: you refer to Paul sending back the runaway slave Onesimus. Well, I'll admit all this," replied Mr Berecroft, who had a great dislike to points of Scripture being canvassed after dinner; "and I wish to know what inference you would draw from it."
"That I was just coming to: I assert that my property in slaves is therefore as legally mine as my property in land or money; and that any attempt to deprive me of either is equally a robbery, whether it be made by the nation or by an individual. But now, sir, allow me to ask you a question, show me where liberty is?—Run over all the classes of society, and point out one man who is free?"
Mr Berecroft, who perceived the effect of the arrack punch, could not refrain from laughing, as he replied, "Well, your friend Mr Kingston, is he not free?"
"Free! Not half so free as that slave boy who stands behind your chair. Why, he is a merchant; and whether he lives upon a scale of princely expenditure, whether wholesale or retail, banker, or proprietor of a chandler's shop, he is a speculator. Anxious days and sleepless nights await upon speculation. A man with his capital embarked, who may be a beggar on the ensuing day, cannot lie down upon roses: he is the slave of Mammon. Who are greater slaves than sailors? So are soldiers, and all who hold employ under government. So are politicians: they are slaves to their tongues; for opinions once expressed, and parties once joined, at an age when reason is borne down by enthusiasm, and they are fixed for life against their conscience, and are unable to follow its dictates without blasting their characters. Courtiers are slaves, you must acknowledge."
"I beg your pardon," interrupted Kingston, "but I perceive that you make no distinction between those enthralled by their own consent, and against it."
"It is a distinction without a difference," replied the planter, "even if it were so, which it is not, but in particular cases. The fact is, society enthrals us all. We are forced to obey laws, to regard customs, to follow the fashion of the day, to support the worthless by poor-rates, to pay taxes, and the interest of a debt which others have contracted, or we must go to prison."
"And the princes and rulers of the land—do you include them?" inquired Newton.
"They are the greatest of all; for the meanest peasant has an advantage over the prince in the point on which we most desire to be free—that of the choice in his partner in life. He has none, but must submit to the wishes of his people, and trammelled by custom, must take to his bed one whom he cannot take to his heart."
"Well, by your account, there is nobody free, unless it be Liberty herself."
"Why, sir," rejoined the planter, "to prove to you that I was correct when I asserted that there was no such thing in this world as liberty, paradoxical as it may appear, Liberty is but Liberty when in bondage. Release her, and she ceases to exist; she has changed her nature and character; for Liberty unrestrained becomes Licentiousness."
"Well," said Mr Kingston, laughing with the rest at this curious remark, "as you have now arrived at your climax, with your leave we will go to bed."
"Have I convinced you?" demanded the planter, taking the tumbler from his lips.
"At least you have silenced us. Now, if you please, we will put on our coats and retire to our apartments."
"Yes—do," replied the other, who was not very steady; "do—or you may check the perspiration. Boy Jack, where are the lights? Good-night, gentlemen."
The negro led the way to a large room with two beds in it, for Newton and the master of the brig. Having first pointed out to them that there was a jug of sangoree, "suppose gentlemen thirsty," he wished them good-night, and left the room.
"Well, Newton," said Mr Berecroft, as soon as they were alone, "what do you think of the planter?"
"I think that, considering his constant advice to be temperate, he swallowed a very large quantity of arrack punch."
"He did indeed; but what think you of his arguments?"
"I hardly can say, except that none of them were sufficiently convincing to induce me to be a slave proprietor. We may perhaps, as he asserts, have contented ourselves with the shadow instead of the substance; but even the shadow of liberty is to be venerated by an Englishman."
"I agree with you, my boy. His discourse did, however, bring one idea into my head; which is, that there is a remarkable connection between religion and slavery. It was in a state of bondage that the Jews were prepared to receive the promised land; and whenever they fell off from the true worship, they were punished by captivity. It was through the means of slavery that the light of the true faith was first brought to our island, where it has burnt with a purer flame than elsewhere; for, if you recollect, the beauty of some English children exposed for sale at Rome, assisted by a Latin pun, caused the introduction of Christianity into Great Britain; and who knows but that this traffic, so offensive to humanity, has been permitted by an Allwise Power, with the intent that some day it shall be the means of introducing Christianity into the vast regions of African idolatry?"
"True," observed Newton; "and the time may not be far distant."
"That it is impossible to calculate upon. He worketh by His own means, which are inscrutable. It was not the cause of virtue, but a desire that vice might be less trammelled, which introduced the Reformation in England. The more we attempt to interfere with the arrangements of the Almighty, the more we shall make evident our own folly and blindness, and His unsearchable and immutable wisdom.—Good-night, my boy."
"Lucy—Are all these wretches slaves? Stanley—All sold, they and their posterity, all slaves. Lucy—O! miserable fortune! Bland—Most of them know no better, but were Born so, and only change their masters." Oroonoko
The party were up at an early hour on the ensuing morning, that they might enjoy the delightful freshness of the air, which so soon evaporates before the scorching rays of the tropical sun. They were joined at breakfast by the doctor who attended the estate, and who had called in to announce the birth of a little negro boy in the early part of the night.
"Who did you say, doctor?" answered the planter, "Mattee Sally? Why, I thought Jane Ascension was in advance of her."
"They were running it neck and neck, sir," replied the surgeon.
"How is she—quite hearty?"
"Quite, sir; but very anxious about the child's name, and requests to speak with you as soon as you have breakfasted."
"We will go to her. You have no idea," observed the planter to Mr Berecroft and Newton, "what importance these people attach to the naming of their children. Nothing but a fine long name will satisfy them. I really believe, that if I refused her, or called the boy Tom, she would eat dirt. I believe we have all done: Boy Jack, bring the sangoree. Doctor, I daresay that your clay wants moistening, so take the first pull."
This important commencement and finale to the repast having been duly administered, they proceeded to the range of buildings before mentioned, in one of which they found the lady in the straw, sitting up, and showing her white teeth at her master's approach, as if nothing very particular had occurred.
"Well, Mattee, how are you?" said the planter. "Where's the piccaninny?"
"Ab um here, sar—keep im warm," replied the woman, pointing to a roll of blanket, in which the little creature was enveloped.
"Let us see him, Mattee."
"No sar, too cold yet—bye bye, massa, see um; make very fine sleep now. Suppose white piccaninny, suppose black piccaninny—all same—like plenty sleep. Um know very well, hab plenty work to do bye bye—sleep all dey can, when lilly."
"But you'll smother him," observed Newton.
"Smoder him?—what dat—eh?—I know now massa mean, stop um breath. No: suppose him no smoder before, no smoder now, sar. Massa," continued the woman, turning to the planter, "no ab name for piccaninny?"
"Well, Mattee, we must find one; these gentlemen will give him a name. Come, captain, what name do you propose?"
"Suppose we christen him Snub," replied Berecroft, winking at the rest.
"Snob! What sart a name you call dat, sar?" replied the woman, tossing up her head. "Snob! no, sar, you 'front me very much. Snob not proper name."
"Well, then, Mr Forster," said the planter, "try if you can be more fortunate."
"What do you think of Chrononhotonthologus?" said Newton to the woman.
"Eh! what dat?—say that again, sar," replied the woman.
"Eh! dat real fine name for piccaninny," cried the woman, with delight in her countenance. "Many tanky, sar. Chroton—polygarse."
"No, no," replied Newton, laughing; "Chrononhotonthologus."
"Es, hab um now—Hoton—tolyglass."
"No, that's only part. Chronon—hoton—thologus."
"I see—very fine name—Proton—choton—polyglass."
"Yes, that's nearer to it," replied Newton.
"Well, then, that point's settled," said the planter to the woman. "Is it all right, Mattee?"
"Es, massa; many tanks to gentleman—very fine name, do very well, sar."
"Doctor, put the name down opposite the register of the birth. Now, Mattee, all's right, good-bye," said the planter, leaving the room and followed by the others.
"Do you really intend to call the child by that name?" inquired Mr Berecroft.
"Why not? it pleases the woman, and is as good as any other; it is of no consequence. They almost all have names, certainly not quite so long as the present; but as they grow longer, their names grow shorter. This name will first be abbreviated to Chrony; if we find that too long, it will be reduced again to Crow; which, by-the-bye, is not a bad name for a negro," said the planter, laughing at the coincidence.
Reader, did you ever, perchance, when in a farmyard, observe a hen or other domestic fowl, who having pounced upon half a potato, or something of the same description, too large to be bolted down at once, tries to escape with her prize, followed by all the rest, until she either drops it or eludes their vigilance? If so, you form some idea of a negro woman with a hard word in her mouth; which, although she does not know the meaning of, she considers as an equal treasure.
Newton had turned round to the courtyard, in the centre of which several women were sitting down at various employments; when one who had been busied in some little offices for the woman whom they had just visited, and had in consequence been present at the choice of the name, took her seat with the party in question. To several queries put to her she replied with extreme hauteur, as if she considered them as impertinent, and frowned upon her companions most majestically.
After a short time she rose, and turning round, with the look of an empress, said, "Now, I shall go look after my Hoton-poton-pollybass."
"Eh?" cried one, opening her eyes with wonder.
"What dat?" screamed another.
"How you call dat long ting?" demanded a third.
"Eh! you tupid black tings," replied the proud possessor of the new word, with a look of ineffable scorn, "you no know what um call Poton-hoton-poll-fass. Me no tell you," continued she, as she walked away, leaving the others almost white with envy and astonishment.
Shortly after this Mr Kingston with his party took their leave of the hospitable old planter, and commenced their return to Bridgetown. They had not proceeded further than a quarter of a mile, when, ascending a little hill, Newton discovered that a negro was assisting his own ascent by hanging on to the tail of his mule.
"How do you do this morning, sar?" said the man, grinning, as Newton looked round.
"I'm very well, sir, I thank you; but I'm afraid I shall not be able to keep up with the rest, if my mule has to pull you up hill, as well as carry me."
"Es, sar, mule go faster. Massa not understand; mule very obstinate, sar. Suppose you want go one way, he go anoder—suppose you pull him back by tail, he go on more."
"Well, if that's the case, you may hold on. Do you belong to the plantation?"
"No, sar, me free man. Me work there; carpenter, sar."
"A carpenter! How did you learn your trade, and obtain your freedom?"
"Larn trade board man-of-war, sar—man-of-war make me free."
Mr Berecroft, who had been listening to the colloquy, took up the discourse.
"Were you born in this country?"
"No, sar! me Ashantee man."
"Then how did you come here?"
"Why, sar, ab very fine battle in Ashantee country. Take me and send me down to coast; sell me for slave. Go on board French schooner—English frigate take schooner, send me to Sarra Leon."
"Well, what did you do there?"
"Bind 'prentice, sar, to Massa Cawly, for farteen years—all de same as slave; work very hard; yam bad; plenty fever in dat country—much better here."
"Then how did you get away from Sierra Leone?"
"Go to sleep one day in de bush—tieves come steal me, take me down to coast, sell me again."
"Well, where did you go then?"
"Bard schooner again, sar. Another man-of-war take schooner in West Indies: send her in prize. Keep me and some on board becase want hands; keep me, becase speak little English."
"How did you like a man-of-war?" inquired Newton.
"Man-of-war very fine place; but all slaves there—captain steal men every ship he come to. But sailor no tink so; ebery night we all sing, Britong nebber, nebber, nebber, will be slave. Make me laugh, sar," continued the man, showing his teeth with a broad grin.
"What was the frigate's name?"
"Very fine name, sar, call her Daddy Wise."
[Footnote 1: Dedaigneuse, we suppose.]
"How long were you on board of her?"
"Far year, sar; larn carpenter trade—go to England—pay off—get plenty money—come out here in marchant vessel; England very fine place, but too much cold," said the negro, shuddering at the bare recollection.
"Now, tell me," said Kingston, "of course you recollect being in your own country? Which do you like best—that or this?"
"Ashantee very good country—Barbadoes very good country. Ashantee nebber work, hab no money—here plenty work, plenty money."
"Well, but where would you rather be—here or there?"
"Don't know, sar. Like to find country where no work, plenty money."
"Not singular in his opinion," observed Newton.
"Men do all work here, sar: women only talk," continued the negro. "My country, men nebber work at all—women do all work, and feed men."
"Then what does the man do?" inquired Berecroft.
"Man, sar," replied the negro, proudly, "man go fight—go kill."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, sar, that all."
"So, you then mean to say, that if you could go back to Ashantee now you would remain there?"
"Yes, sar, stay there—do no work—sleep all day—make women feed me."
"How inveterate is early habit!" observed Mr Berecroft. "This man, although free in a civilised country, would return to his idleness, and resume his former ignorance."
"And so would every slave not born in the country. It requires one or two generations to destroy this savage nature," replied Kingston. "I believe, idleness, like gout, to be a hereditary disease, either in black or white; I have often observed it in the latter. Now, until man labours there is no chance of civilisation: and, improved as the race of Africa have been in these islands, I still think that if manumitted, they would all starve. In their own country nature is so bountiful that little or no labour is required for the support of life; but in these islands the soil, although luxuriant, must be nurtured."
"You do then look forward to their ultimate freedom?" inquired Newton.
"Most assuredly. Already much has been done, and if not persecuted, we should be able and willing to do much more."
"The public mind in England is certainly much inflamed against you," said Berecroft.
"It is; or rather, I should say, the more numerous public composed of those persons unable to think for themselves, and in consequence, led by others styling themselves philanthropists, but appearing to have very jesuitical ideas with regard to truth. This I have no hesitation in asserting, that if philanthropy had not been found to have been so very profitable, it never would have had so many votaries: true philanthropy, like charity, begins at home. Observe how the papers teem with the misery of the lower classes in England, yet this affects not the West India philanthropist. You perceive not their voices raised in behalf of their suffering countrymen. They pass the beggar in the street; they heed not the cry of starvation at home; but everywhere raise petitions for emancipation; or, in fact, for the destruction of the property of others. That it is an invidious property, I grant, and I wish I could dispose of mine; but that is not so easy. My ancestors embarked their capital in these islands upon the faith and promises of the country, when opinions were very different from what they are now, and I cannot help myself. However, the time will come when England will bitterly rue the having listened to the suggestions and outcries of these interested people."
"I do not understand you. How do you mean?"
"I said before, that it was on the faith of the country that we embarked our property in these islands. You are not perhaps aware, that when, in the reign of Queen Anne, the Assiento treaty was made, by which we obtained the privilege of supplying all the islands with slaves, it was considered as one of the most important acquisitions that could be obtained. Public opinion has now changed; but if a nation changes her opinion, she must at the same time be just. Let the country take our estates and negroes at a fair valuation, and we shall be most happy to surrender them. If she frees the slaves without so doing, she is guilty of robbery and injustice, and infringes on the constitution of the country, which protects all property, and will of course allow us to decide upon our own measures."
"May I inquire what those would be?"
"Throwing off the yoke, declaring ourselves independent, and putting ourselves under the protection of America, who will gladly receive us, aware that we shall be a source not only of wealth but of security."
"Would America risk a war to obtain these islands?"
"She would be foolish not to do so; and England would be more than foolish to engage in one. It is true, that if not immediately supported by America, England might create a scene of confusion and bloodshed in the colonies; but the world has too often had the severe lesson, that colonies once detaching themselves are never to be regained. England would therefore be only entailing a useless expense, however gratifying it might be to her feelings of revenge."
"But do you think that this is likely to occur?"
"I do, most certainly, if those who govern continue to listen to the insidious advice of the party denominated 'Saints'; and I am afraid that it will not be until these islands are separated from the mother-country, that she will appreciate their value. Our resolution once formed, we white slaves (for slaves we are) will not flinch; and the islands of the Caribbean Sea will be enrolled as another star, and add another stripe to the independent flag, which is their natural protector."
"I trust that will never come to pass."
"And so do I, Mr Berecroft; for I am an Englishman, and love my country, and the loss of these colonies would be a blow from which England would never recover."
"You forget her extensive colonies in the East."
"I do not; but the West Indies add to her wealth and her commercial prosperity, to her nursery of seamen and her exhausted revenue. They, on the contrary, add only to her grandeur, for they cost the country three millions a year; and I doubt whether at that expense it is worth while to retain any colony, however vast and extensive it may be. I consider, that if the East India ports were open to all the world, and the territory governed by its former princes, England, with all the competition which would take place, would yet be a gainer; and, on the other hand, I know that by the loss of these islands, she would find a decrease of millions in her revenue."
"Then the philanthropists must pay the national debt?" observed Newton, laughing.
"They be d——d!" replied Kingston, who was warm with his argument; "they would not pay a farthing."
"The sea-breach'd vessel can no longer bear The floods that o'er her burst in dread career. The labouring hull already seems half fill'd With water, through an hundred leaks distill'd: Thus drench'd by every wave, her riven deck, Stript and defenceless, floats a naked wreck." FALCONER.
Newton remained at Bridgetown, under the roof of Mr Kingston, for more than three weeks, by which time the brig was laden, and waiting for convoy to proceed to England.
Mr Berecroft had made every preparation for his voyage, when an unexpected circumstance occurred, which eventually proved the occasion of great hardship and danger to Newton. This was, the master of a large ship belonging to the same owners, and then lying in Carlisle Bay, to proceed homeward by the same convoy, had so ingratiated himself with a wealthy widow residing upon the island, that rather than he should again trust himself to the fickle element, she had been induced to surrender up to him her plantation, her negroes, and her fair self,—all equally bound to honour and obey through their future lives.
Mr Berecroft, in consequence of this resignation of his brother captain, was appointed to the command of the larger vessel; and Jackson, the first mate, ordered to take the command of the Eliza and Jane. This was a sad blow to Newton, and one which he could not avoid, as Mr Berecroft could not take him in his new ship,—all the subordinate situations being already filled up.
At first, he was inclined to quit the brig; but by the advice of Mr Berecroft and Kingston, he was persuaded to go the passage home, as he was now first mate of the vessel, and would incur forfeiture of all wages if he broke the articles which he had signed at Liverpool. Unpleasant as the prospect was, he was further induced by Berecroft's assurance, that now Jackson was provided for, he would arrange with the owners that Newton should be appointed the first mate of his own ship, as soon as they arrived in England.
In a few days the men-of-war made their appearance. Newton, who had remained on shore until the last moment, shook hands with his friendly patron, and thanking Mr Kingston for his kindness, went on board of the vessel with a sorrowful and foreboding heart.
Nor was he at all inclined to cheer up as he stepped on the deck of the brig, and beheld Jackson with a handspike, still brandishing over his head, standing across the body of one of the seamen, whom he had just dashed to the deck with the implement in his hand. At the sight of Newton, the wrath of the new captain appeared to be increased. He eyed him malevolently, and then observed, with a sneer, "That's what all skulkers may expect on board of my vessel."
Newton made no answer, and Jackson went forward, where the remainder of the crew were heaving up the anchor with the windlass. Newton walked up to the seaman, who appeared still insensible, and examined him. The iron plate at the end of the handspike had cut deep into the skull, and there was every appearance of a contusion of the brain.
Calling the boy who attended the cabin, Newton, with his assistance, carried the man below, and laid him in his berth. He then repaired on deck, and took the helm, the anchor of the brig being atrip. In a quarter of an hour the sail was on her, and she followed the course steered by the men-of-war, who were about to run through the other islands, and pick up several vessels, who were waiting for their protection.
"If you expect an easy berth as first mate, you are mistaken, my joker," said Jackson to Newton, as he steered the vessel; "you've skulked long enough, and shall now work double tides, or take the consequence. If you don't, I'll be d——d!"
"I shall do my duty, Mr Jackson," replied Newton, "and fear no consequences."
"Indeed! You saw how I settled a skulk just now;—beware of his fate!"
"I neither anticipate it, nor fear it, Mr Jackson. If it comes to handspikes, two can play at that game. I rather think that before many hours are over you will be sorry for your violence, for I believe that man to be in considerable danger. Even now, I should recommend you to demand surgical assistance from the frigate."
"Demand it, if you dare—I am captain of this ship, sir. The rascal may die—and be d——d!"
To this disgusting speech Newton made no reply. He had made up his mind to put up with everything short of downright aggression, and for three days more he obeyed all orders, however arbitrary and however annoying. During this period the man who had been injured became gradually worse: his illness increased rapidly; and on the fifth day he became delirious, and in a state of high fever, when Newton again pointed out the propriety of asking surgical aid from one of the men-of-war. This suggestion was answered by Jackson, who was now really alarmed, with a volley of oaths and execrations, ending with a flat refusal. The crew of the brig murmured, and collected together forward, looking occasionally at the men-of-war as they spoke in whispers to each other; but they were afraid of Jackson's violence, and none ventured to speak out. Jackson paced the deck in a state of irritation and excitement as he listened to the ravings of his victim, which were loud enough to be heard all over the vessel. As the evening closed, the men, taking the opportunity of Jackson's going below, went up to Newton, who was walking aft, and stated their determination that the next morning, whether the master consented to it or not, they would hail the frigate, and demand surgical assistance for their shipmate. In the midst of the colloquy, Jackson, who hearing the noise of the people overhead coming aft, had a suspicion of the cause, and had been listening at the bottom of the ladder to what was said, came up the hatchway, and accusing Newton of attempting to raise a mutiny, ordered him immediately to his cabin, stating his intention of sending him on board of the frigate the next morning to be placed in confinement.
"I shall obey your order," replied Newton, "as you are in command of this vessel. I only hope that you will adhere to your resolution of communicating with the frigate." So saying, he descended the companion hatch.
But Jackson, who, both from the information of the cabin-boy, and the fact that the incoherent ravings of his victim became hourly more feeble, thought himself in jeopardy, had no such intention. As the night closed in, he remained on deck, gradually taking off first one sail and then another, until the brig was left far astern of the rest of the convoy, and the next morning there was no other vessel in sight; then, on pretence of rejoining them, he made all sail, at the same time changing his course, so as to pass between two of the islands. Newton was the only one on board who understood navigation besides Jackson, and therefore the only one who could prove that he was escaping from the convoy. He was in confinement below; and the men, whatever may have been their suspicions, could not prove that they were not steering as they ought.
About twelve o'clock on that day the poor sailor breathed his last. Jackson, who was prepared for the event, had already made up his mind how to proceed. The men murmured, and proposed securing Jackson as a prisoner, and offering the command to Newton. They went below and made the proposal to him; but he refused, observing, that until it was proved by the laws of the land that Jackson had murdered their shipmate, he was not guilty, and therefore they had no right to dispossess him of his command; and until their evidence could be taken by some of the authorities, he must remain; further pointing out to them, that as he could be seized immediately upon his arrival at an English port, or falling in with a man-of-war during their passage, the ends of justice would be equally answered, as if they committed themselves by taking the law into their own hands.
The men, although not satisfied, acquiesced, and returned to their duty on deck. Jackson's conduct towards them was now quite altered; he not only treated them with lenity, but supplied them with extra liquor and other indulgences, which, as captain, he could command. Newton, however, he still detained under an arrest, watching him most carefully each time that he was necessitated to come on deck. The fact was, Jackson, aware that his life would be forfeited to the laws of his country, had resolved to wreck the brig upon one of the reefs to the northward, then take to his boats, and escape to one of the French islands. At his instigation, the body of the man had been thrown overboard by some of the crew, when they were in a state of half intoxication.
Newton, who had been below four days, had retired as usual to his hammock, when a sudden shock, accompanied by the fall of the masts by the board, woke him from a sound sleep to all the horrors of shipwreck. The water pouring rapidly through the sides of the vessel, proved to him that there was no chance of escape except by the boats. The shriek, so awful when raised in the gloom of night by seamen anticipating immediate death, the hurried footsteps above him, the confusion of many voices, with the heavy blows from the waves against the side of the vessel, told him that the danger was imminent, even if escape were possible. He drew on his trousers, and rushed to the door of his cabin. Merciful Heaven! what was his surprise, his horror, to find that it was fastened outside. A moment's thought at the malignity of the wretch (for it was indeed Jackson, who, during the night, had taken such steps for his destruction) was followed by exertions to escape. Placing his shoulders against his sea-chest, and his feet against the door, his body in nearly a horizontal position, he made a violent effort to break open the door. The lock gave way, but the door did not open more than one or two inches; for Jackson, to make sure, had coiled down against it a hawser which lay a few yards further forward in the steerage, the weight of which the strength of no five men could remove. Maddened with the idea of perishing by such treachery, Newton again exerted his frantic efforts—again and again, without success. Between each pause, the voices of the seamen asking for the oars and other articles belonging to the long-boat, proved to him that every moment of delay was a nail in his coffin. Again and again were his efforts repeated with almost superhuman strength; but the door remained fixed as ever. At last, it occurred to him that the hawser, which he had previously ascertained by passing his hand through the small aperture which he had made, might only lay against the lower part of the door, and that the upper part might be free. He applied his strength above, and found the door to yield: by repeated attempts he at last succeeded in kicking the upper panels to pieces, and having forced his body through the aperture, Newton rushed on deck with the little strength he had remaining.
The men—the boat—were not there: he hailed, but they heard him not; he strained his eyes—but they had disappeared in the gloom of the night; and Newton, overcome with exhaustion and disappointment, fell down senseless on the deck.
"Paladore—I have heard, Have read bold fables of enormity, Devised to make men wonder, and confirm The abhorrence of our nature; but this hardness Transcends all fiction." "Law of Lombardy."
We must now relate what had occurred on deck during the struggle of Newton to escape from his prison. At one o'clock Jackson had calculated that in an hour, or less, the brig would strike on the reef. He took the helm from the man who was steering, and told him that he might go below. Previous to this, he had been silently occupied in coiling the hawser before the door of Newton's cabin, it being his intention to desert the brig, with the seamen, in the long-boat, and leave Newton to perish. When the brig dashed upon the reef, which she did with great violence, and the crew hurried upon deck, Jackson, who was calm, immediately proceeded to give the orders which he had already arranged in his mind; and the coolness with which they were given quieted the alarm of the seamen, and allowed them time to recall their scattered senses. This, however, proved unfortunate for Jackson. Had they all hurried in the boat at once, and shoved off, he would in all probability have been permitted to go with them, and Newton, in the hurry of their self-preservation, would have been forgotten; but his cool behaviour restored their confidence, and, unhappily for him, gave the seamen time to reflect. Everyone was in the boat; for Jackson had quietly prepared and put into her what he considered requisite, when one of the men called out for Newton.
"D——n Newton now!—save your own lives, my lads. Quick in the boat, all of you."
"Not without Mr Newton!" cried the men, unanimously. "Jump down, Tom Williams, and see where he is; he must sleep devilish sound."
The sailor sprung down the companion-hatch, where he found the hawser coiled against the door, and heard Newton struggling inside. It was enough. He hastened on deck, and told his companions; adding, that "it would take half an hour to get the poor fellow out, and that's longer than we dare stay, for in ten minutes the brig will be to pieces."
"It is you, you murdering rascal, who did it!" cried the man to Jackson. "I tell you what, my lads, if poor Mr Newton is to die, let this scoundrel keep him company."
A general shout proclaimed the acquiescence of the other seamen in this act of retributive justice. Jackson, with a loud oath, attempted to spring into the boat, but was repelled by the seamen; again he made the attempt, with dreadful imprecations. He was on the plane-sheer of the brig, and about to make a spring, when a blow from a handspike (the same handspike with which he had murdered the unfortunate seaman) struck him senseless, and he fell back into the lee-scuppers. The boat then shoved off, and had not gained more than two cables' lengths from the vessel, when Newton effected his escape, and ran on deck, as narrated in our last chapter.
The brig had now beat up so high on the reef that she remained firmly fixed upon it; and the tide having ebbed considerably, she was less exposed to the beating of the waves. The sun was also about to make his appearance, and it was broad daylight when Jackson first came to his recollection. His brain whirled, his ideas were confused, and he had but a faint reminiscence of what had occurred. He felt that the water washed his feet, and with a sort of instinct he rose, and staggered up to windward. In so doing, without perceiving him, he stumbled over the body of Newton, who also was roused up by the shock. A few moments passed before either could regain his scattered senses; and, at the same time, both sitting up on the deck, at about a yard distant, they discovered and recognised each other.
Newton was the more collected of the two, for Jackson's insensibility had been occasioned by bodily—his, by mental concussion. The effect of the blow was still felt by Jackson; and although recovered from the stupor, a dull, heavy sensation affected his eyesight, and confused his ideas.
The sight of Newton went far to recover Jackson, who started up as if to grapple with the object of his hatred. Newton was on his legs at the same moment, and retreating, seized upon the handspike, which lay on the deck, close to where Jackson had been struck down, and placed himself in an attitude of defence. Not a word was exchanged between them. They remained a few seconds in this position, when Jackson, whose brain was again affected by the violence of his feelings, dropped down upon the deck in a renewed state of insensibility.
Newton had now time to look about him; and the prospect was anything but cheering. It was almost low water; and in every direction he perceived reefs of coral rock, and large banks of sand, with deep channels between them, through which the tide flowed rapidly. The reef upon which the brig had been grounded was of sharp coral; and, in the deeper parts, the trees could be discerned, extending a submarine forest of boughs; but it was evident that the reef upon which the vessel lay was, as well as most of the others, covered at high water. As a means of escape, a small boat was still hanging over the stern, which Newton was able to manage either with her sails or her oars, as might be required.
As there was no time to be lost, and the only chance of escape remained with the boat, Newton commenced his arrangements. The mast and sails were found, and the latter bent;—a keg was filled with water,—a compass taken out of the binnacle,—a few pieces of beef, and some bread, collected in a bag and thrown in. He also procured some bottles of wine and cider from the cabin: these he stowed away carefully in the little locker, which was fitted under the stern-sheets of the boat. In an hour everything was ready; and throwing into her some pieces of spare rope, and a small grapnel to anchor with, there being still sufficient water alongside to float her, Newton gradually lowered one tackle and then another, until the boat was safe in the water. He then hauled her up alongside, made her fast by the painter, and stepped her mast.
All was now ready—but to leave Jackson to be washed away by the returning tide, when the brig would unquestionably go to pieces!—Newton could not do it. True, he had sought his life, and still displayed the most inveterate rancour towards him; and Newton felt convinced that no future opportunity would occur that his enemy would not profit by, to insure his destruction. Yet to leave him—a murderer!—with all his sins upon his soul, to be launched so unprepared into the presence of an offended Creator!—it was impossible—it was contrary to his nature and to the religion which he professed. How could he hope for the Divine assistance in his perilous undertaking, when he embarked on it, regardless of the precept to forgive his enemy?
Newton ascended to that part of the deck where Jackson lay, and roused him. Jackson awoke, as if from a deep sleep, and then stared at Newton, who, as a precaution, held the handspike in his hand.
"Mr Jackson," said Newton, "I have roused you to let you know that the boat is now ready, and that I am going to shove off."
Jackson, who recollected the scene of the previous night, and perceived Newton standing over him with the hand-spike, appeared wholly unnerved. In point of muscular power Newton was his superior, independent of the weapon in his possession.
"Not without me!—not without me!" cried Jackson, raising himself upon his knees. "For mercy's sake, Mr Newton, do not leave me to this horrid death!"
"You would have left me to one even more dreadful," replied Newton.
"I beg your pardon!—Pardon me, Mr Newton, I was drunk at the time—indeed I was. I don't know what I do when I'm in liquor.—Don't leave me!—I'll obey your orders, and do anything you wish!—I'll wait upon you as your servant!—I will, indeed, Mr Newton!"
"I neither ask that you will obey my orders, nor wait upon me," replied Newton. "All I request is, that you will lay aside your wanton animosity, and exert yourself to save your life. For what you have already attempted against me, may God forgive you, as I do! For what you may hereafter attempt, you will find me prepared. Now follow me into the boat."
Without further exchange of words Newton, followed by Jackson, went into the boat, and shoved off. The weather was moderate and the wind light. There were two islets which Newton had marked, which apparently were not covered at high water, one about ten miles distant in the supposed direction of the land, for Newton had shrewdly guessed the locality of the reef; and the other about two miles from the first, further out, with trees growing to the water's edge. To this latter Newton proposed pulling, and waiting there until the next morning. When they were both in the boat, Newton finding that the wind was contrary, unshipped the mast, and taking the foremost oar, that Jackson might not sit behind him, desired him to take the other. The tide, which was now flood, and swept out to the southward, obliged them to pull at an angle to reach their intended destination. It was not until sunset that, with great exertion, they fetched the island nearest to the land, not the one that was covered with trees, as they had intended. As soon as the boat was secured, exhausted with fatigue, they both threw themselves down on the sand, where they remained for some time. Having recovered a little, Newton procured from the boat some of the supplies which they required, and after satisfying their hunger in silence, they both lay down to repose. Newton, who was still afraid of Jackson's diabolical enmity, which his silence implied to be again at work, closed his eyes, and pretended for some time to be asleep. As soon as it was dark, he rose, and first listening to the breathing of his comrade, who appeared to be in a sound slumber, he walked away from him about one hundred yards, so that it would be difficult to find him; he placed the handspike under his head for a pillow, and worn out with mental and bodily fatigue, was soon in a state of oblivion.
His sleep, although profound for three or four hours, was subsequently restless. The mind, when agitated, watches for the body, and wakes it at the time when it should be on the alert. Newton woke up: it was not yet daylight, and all was hushed. He turned round, intending to get up immediately; yet, yielding to the impulse of wearied nature, he again slumbered. Once he thought that he heard a footstep, roused himself, and listened; but all was quiet and still, except the light wave rippling on the sand. Again he was roused by a sort of grating noise; he listened, and all was quiet. A third time he was roused by a sound like the flapping of a sail: he listened—he was sure of it, and he sprang upon his feet. It was dawn of day, and as he turned his eyes towards the beach, he perceived to his horror that the boat was indeed under sail, Jackson, who was in it, then just hauling aft the main-sheet, and steering away from the island. Newton ran to the beach, plunged into the sea, and attempted to regain the boat; but he was soon out of his depth, and the boat running away fast through the water. He shouted to Jackson as a last attempt. The scoundrel waved his hand in ironical adieu, and continued his course.
"Treacherous villain!" mentally exclaimed Newton, as his eyes followed the boat. "Was it for this that I preserved your life, in return for your attempts on mine? Here, then, must I die of starvation!—God's will be done!" exclaimed he aloud, as he sat down on the beach, and covered his face with his hands.
"For now I stand as one upon a rock, Environed with a wilderness of sea, Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by wave, Expecting ever when some envious surge Will in his brinish bowels swallow him." SHAKESPEARE.
The tide was on the ebb when Newton was left in this desolate situation. After some minutes passed in bitterness of spirit, his natural courage returned; and, although the chance of preservation was next to hopeless, Newton rose up, resolved that he would use his best efforts, and trust to Providence for their success. His first idea was to examine the beach, and see if Jackson had left him any portion of the provisions which he had put into the boat; but there was nothing. He then walked along the beach, following the receding tide, with the hope of collecting any shell-fish which might be left upon the sands; but here again he was disappointed. It was evident, therefore, that to stay on this islet was to starve; his only chance appeared to remain in his capability of reaching the islet next to it, which, as we have before mentioned, was covered with trees. There, at least, he might find some means of sustenance, and be able with the wood to make a raft, if nothing better should turn up in his favour.
The tide swept down towards the islet, but it ran so strong that there was a chance of his being carried past it; he therefore determined to wait for an hour or two, until the strength of the current was diminished, and then make the attempt. This interval was passed in strengthening his mind against the horror of the almost positive death which stared him in the face.
It was about an hour before low water that Newton walked into the sea, and, commending himself to Providence, struck out for the islet, keeping his course well to windward, to allow for the tide sweeping him down. To use a nautical phrase, he "held his own" extremely well, until he reached the centre of the channel, where the water ran with great velocity, and bore him down rapidly with the stream. Newton struggled hard; for he was aware that the strength of the current once passed, his labour would be comparatively easy; and so it proved: as he neared the shore of the islet, he made good way; but he had been carried down so far when in the centre of the stream that it became a nice point, even to the calculation of hope, whether he would fetch the extreme point of the islet. Newton redoubled his exertions, when, within thirty yards of the shore, an eddy assisted him, and he made sure of success; but when within ten yards, a counter current again caught him, and swept him down. He was now abreast of the very extreme point of the islet; a bush that hung over the water was his only hope; with three or four desperate strokes he exhausted his remaining strength, at the same time that he seized hold of a small bough. It was decayed—snapped asunder, and Newton was whirled away by the current into the broad ocean.
How constantly do we find people running into real danger to avoid imaginary evil! A mother will not permit her child to go to sea, lest it should be drowned, and a few days afterwards it is kicked to death by a horse. Had the child been permitted to go afloat, he might have lived and run through the usual term of existence. Wherever we are, or wherever we may go, there is death awaiting us in some shape or another, sooner or later; and there is as much danger in walking through the streets of London as in ploughing the foaming ocean. Every tile over our heads contains a death within it as certain, if it were to fall upon us, as that occasioned by the angry surge which swallows us up in its wrath. I believe, after all, that as many sailors, in proportion, run out their allotted span as the rest of the world that are engaged in other apparently less dangerous professions; although it must be acknowledged that occasionally we do become food for fishes. "There is a tide in the affairs of men," says Shakespeare; but, certainly, of all the tides that ever interfered in a man's prospects, that which swept away Newton Forster appeared to be the least likely to "lead to fortune." Such, however, was the case. Had Newton gained the islet which he coveted, he would have perished miserably; whereas it will soon appear that, although his sufferings are not yet ended, his being carried away was the most fortunate circumstance which could have occurred, and proved the means of his ultimate preservation.
Newton had resigned himself to his fate. He ceased from further exertion, except such as was necessary to keep him above water a little longer. Throwing himself on his back, he appealed to Heaven for pardon, as he floated away with the stream. That Newton had as few errors and follies to answer for as most people, is most certain; yet even the most perfect soon run up a long account. During our lives our sins are forgotten, as is the time at which they were committed; but when death is certain, or appears to be so, it is then that the memory becomes most horribly perfect, and each item of our monstrous bill requires but a few seconds to be read, and to be acknowledged as too correct. This is the horror of death; this it is which makes the body struggle to retain the soul, already pluming herself and rustling her wings, impatient for her flight. This it is which constitutes the pang of separation, as the enfeebled body gradually relaxes its hold, and—all is over, at least on this side of the grave.
Newton's strength was exhausted; his eyes were fixed on the clear blue sky, as if to bid it farewell; and, resigned to his fate, he was about to give over the last few painful efforts which he was aware could only prolong, not save his life, when he received a blow on his shoulders under the water. Imagining that it proceeded from the tail of a shark, or of some other of the ravenous monsters of the deep, which abound among these islands, and that the next moment his body would be severed in half, he uttered a faint cry at the accumulated horror of his death; but the next moment his legs were swung round by the current, and he perceived, to his astonishment, that he was aground upon one of the sand-banks which abounded on the reef, and over which the tide was running with the velocity of a sluice. He floundered, then rose, and found himself in about one foot of water. The ebb-tide was nearly finished; and this was one of the banks which never showed itself above water, except during the full and change of the moon. It was now about nine o'clock in the morning, and the sun shone with great power. Newton, faint from want of sustenance, hardly knew whether to consider this temporary respite as an advantage. He knew that the tide would soon flow again, and he felt that his strength was too much spent to enable him to swim back to the islet which he had missed when he had attempted to reach it, and which was more than two miles from the bank upon which he then stood. What chance had he, then, but to be swept away by the return of the tide? He almost regretted that it had not been a shark instead of the sand-bank which had struck him; he would then have been spared a few hours of protracted misery.