The Annotated "Privateersman"/Chapter VII
I had been about three months in captivity, when the old king, with his four wives and a large party of Negroes, left the town, and went into the woods to hunt. My companions were left in the town, but I was ordered to attend my mistress, and I went with the hopes of being able by some means to make my escape, for my fear of the old monarch was much greater than my regard for my mistress. As I had not become a proficient with the bows and arrows, or in hurling the javelin, I was equipped with a strong spear. My mistress was skilful to admiration with the arrow and javelin; she never missed her aim that I knew, and she certainly never appeared to such advantage as she did at this hunting-party. Her activity, her symmetry of limb, and her courage, her skill with her weapons, all won the heart of the old king; and I believe that his strong attachment to her arose more from her possession of the above qualities than from any dotage as he welcomed her return.. Certain it is, that the old savage doted on her—she was the only being who could bend his stubborn will. As his age prevented him from joining in the chase, he always appeared to part with her with regret, and to caution her not to run into useless danger; and when we returned at night, the old man’s eyes sparkled with the rapture of
The method of our chase was to beat the country, with a number of men, in a vast circle, until we had gathered all the game into one thicket; then the strongest warriors with their large spears went in and drove out the game, which was killed by the hunters who hovered about within the circle.
The animals which we had to encounter were large fierce black pigs, leopards, jackals, tigers, mountain cats, and others which I have no name for;—and in spite of the ferocity of many of these animals when they bounded out, they were met with such a shower of javelins, or transfixed by the strong stabbing-spears of the warriors, that few escaped, and they rarely did any mischief. One day, however, the beaters having just entered a thicket, Whyna, who was eager for the sport, and plied within the circle with the other hunters, hearing a rustling in the jungle, went to the verge of it, to be the first to strike the animal which came out. As usual, I was close to her, when a large tiger burst out, and she pierced him with her javelin, but not sufficient to wound the animal so severely as to disable him. The tiger turned, and I drove my spear into his throat. This checked him, as it remained in, but in a spring which he gave the handle broke short off, and although the iron went further in, our danger was imminent. Whyna ran, and so did I, to escape from the beast’s fury; for although, after I had wounded it with my spear, we had both retreated, we were not so far, but that in two or three bounds he would have been upon us. My mistress was as fleet as the wind, and soon passed me, but as she passed me she caught me by the hand, and dragged me along at a pace that with difficulty I could keep my legs. The surrounding hunters, alarmed at her danger, and knowing what they had to expect from the mercy of the old king if she was destroyed by the animal, closed in between us and the tiger, and after a fierce combat, in which some were killed and many wounded, they despatched him with their spears. The head of the animal, which was of unusual size, was cut off and carried home to the old king in triumph; and when he heard of the danger that Whyna had been in, he caressed her with tears, and I could not help saying that the old wretch had some heart after all. Whyna told the king that if I had not pierced the animal with my spear, and prevented his taking his first spring, she should have lost her life, and the monster grinned a ghastly smile at me, which I presume he meant for either approbation or gratitude.
At other times the chase would be that of the multitude of birds which were to be found in the woods. The bow and arrow only were used, and all I had to do now was to pick up all my mistress had killed, and return her arrows—she would constantly kill on the wing with her arrow, which not many could do besides her. By degrees I imbibed a strong passion for the sport, attended as it was with considerable danger, and was never so happy as when engaged in it. We remained about two months in the woods, when the king was tired, and we returned to the town, where I continued for some time to pass the same kind of life as I had done before.
I should have been quite happy in my slavery, from my affection to my mistress, had not a fresh instance of the unbounded cruelty of the old monarch occurred a few days after our return from the chase, which filled us all with consternation and horror, for we discovered that not even my mistress, Whyna, could always prevail with the savage monster.
One morning I perceived that one of the king’s guards, who had always treated me with great kindness, and with whom I was very intimate, was tied up to the executioner’s post before the hut. Aware of the fate which awaited him, I ran to the hut of Whyna, and so great was my distress that I could not speak; all I could do was to clasp her knees and repeat the man’s name, pointing to the post to which he was tied. She understood me, and eager to save the man, or to oblige me, she ran to the large hut, and attempted to intercede with the old barbarian for the man’s life but he was in an agony of rage and passion; he refused her, lifting up his sabre to despatch the man; Whyna was rash enough to seize the king’s arm, and prevent the blow; at this his rage redoubled,—his eyes glowed like live coals, and turning to her with the look of a demon, he caught her by the hair, and dragging her across his feet, lifted up his scimitar in the act to strike off her head. I sickened with horror at the danger she was in, but I thought he would not strike. I had no weapon, but if he had done so, I would have revenged her death, even if I had lost my life. At last the old monster let go her hair, spurning her away with his foot, so that she rolled over on the sand, and then turning to the unhappy man, with an upward slanting blow of his sabre, he ripped him up from the flank to the chest, so that his bowels fell down at his feet; he then looked round at us all with an aspect which froze our blood, and turned away sulkily to his hut, leaving us to recover our spirits how we might.
Poor Whyna, terrified and enraged at the same time, as soon as I had led her to her hut, and we were by ourselves, gave way to the storm of passion which swelled her bosom, execrating her husband with the utmost loathing and abhorrence, and lamenting in the most passionate manner her having ever been connected with him. Trembling alike at the danger to which I had exposed her, and moved by her condition, I could not help mingling my tears with hers, and endeavoured by caresses and condoling with her to reduce her excitement. Had the old king seen me, I know what both our fates would have been, but at that time I cared not. I was very young, very impetuous, and I was resolved that I would not permit either her or myself to die unavenged. At last she sobbed herself to sleep, and I took my usual station outside of the hut. It was well that I did so, for not five minutes afterwards the old wretch, having got over his temper, came out of his tent and bent his steps towards the hut, that he might make friends with her, for she was too necessary to his happiness, he soon treated her with his accustomed kindness, but I perceived that after the scene I have described her aversion for him was doubled.
There were some scores of women in the various huts within the palisade, all of whom I understood were wives to the old monarch, but none but the four we found with him when we were first brought into his presence were ever to be seen in his company. I had, by means of my kind mistress, the opportunity of constantly supplying my companions with fowls and venison, which was left from the king’s table, and through her care, they always met with kind and gentle usage.
For another two months did I thus remain happy in the company of Whyna, and miserable when in the presence of the king, whose eye it was impossible to meet without quailing; when one morning we were all ordered out, and were surrounded by a large party armed with spears, javelins, and bird-arrows—I say bird-arrows, as those that they use in war are much larger. We soon discovered that we were to be sent to some other place, but where or why, we could not find out. Shortly afterwards the crowd opened, and Whyna made her appearance. She took the feather circle off my head, and the manacles off my wrist and leg, and went and laid them at the king’s feet. She then returned, and told me that I was free as well as my companions, but that I only, if I chose, had permission to remain with her.
I did not at first reply. She then, in the most earnest manner, begged me to remain with her as her slave; and as she did not dare to say what she felt, or use caresses to prevail upon me, she stamped her little feet with eagerness and impatience. The struggle in my own heart was excessive. I presumed that we were about to be made a present to some other king, and I felt that I never could expect so easy and so pleasant a servitude as I then enjoyed. I was sincerely attached, and indeed latterly I was more than attached, to Whyna; I felt that it was dangerous. Had the old king been dead, I would have been content to pass my life with her; and I was still hesitating, notwithstanding the remonstrances of my companions, when the crowd opened a little, and I beheld the old king looking at me, and I felt convinced that his jealousy was at last aroused, and that if I consented to remain, my life would not be worth a day’s purchase.
Whyna also turned, and met the look of the old king. Whether she read in his countenance what I did, I know not; but this is certain, she made no more attempts to persuade me, but waving her hand for us to set off on our journey, she slowly retired, and when arrived at the hut turned round towards us. We all prostrated ourselves before her, and then set off on our journey. She retired to the door of her own hut, and two or three times waved her hand to us, at which our guards made us every time again prostrate ourselves. She then walked out to the little hill where she always went up to pray, and for the last time waved her hand, and then I perceived her sink down on the ground, and turn her head in the direction which she always did when she prayed.
We now proceeded on our journey in a north-west direction, our guards treating us with the greatest kindness. We rested every day from ten till four o’clock in the afternoon, and then walked till late at night. Corn was supplied us from the scattered hamlets as we passed along, and our escort procured us flesh and fowl with their bows and arrows; but we were in a state of great anxiety to know where we were going, and nobody appeared able or willing to tell us. I often thought of Whyna, and at times repented that I had not remained with her, as I feared falling into a worse slavery, but the recollection of the old king’s diabolical parting look was sufficient to make me think that it was best as it was. Now that I had left my mistress, I thought of her kindness and amiable qualities and her affection for me; and although it in love with a black woman, I will not deny but that I was so. I could not help being so, and .that I should feel myself
Our guards now informed us that we were about to pass for a few miles through the territory of another king, and that they were not sure what our reception might be; but this was soon made evident, for we observed a party behind us, which moved as we moved, although they did not attack us; and soon afterwards a larger body in front were blocking up our passage, and we found that we were beset. The commander of our party, therefore, gave orders for battle, and he put into our hands strong spears, they being the only weapons we could use, and entreated us to fight. Our party was greatly out-numbered by the enemy, but ours were chosen warriors. As for us white men, we kept together, agreeing among ourselves, that we would defend ourselves if attacked, but would not offend either party by taking an unnecessary part in the fray, as it was immaterial to us to whom we belonged.
The battle, or rather skirmish, soon began. They dispersed, and shot their arrows from behind the trees, and this warfare continued some time without damage to either party, till at last they attacked us closely; then, our commander killing that of the enemy, they gave way, just as another party was coming forward to attack us white men; but finding us resolute in our defence, and our own warriors coming to our assistance, the rout was general. They could not, however, prevent some prisoners from being taken; most of them wounded with the bird-arrows, which, having their barbs twisted in the form of an S, gave great pain in their extraction. I observed that a particular herb chewed, and bound up with the bleeding wound, was their only remedy, and that when the bone was injured, they considered the wound mortal.
We now turned to the eastward to get back into our own territory; we left the prisoners and wounded at a village, and receiving a reinforcement, we took a circuit to avoid this hostile people, and continued our route. On the eighth morning, just as we were stopping to repose, one of the warriors, who had mounted a hill before us, shouted and waved his hand. We ran up to him, and as soon as we gained the summit, were transported with the sight of the British flag flying on Senegal fort, on the other side of the river. We now understood that by some means or another we had been ransomed, and so it proved to be; for the governor hearing that we were prisoners up the country, had sent messengers offering the old king a handsome present for our liberation. I afterwards found out that the price paid in goods amounted to about a head. The governor received us kindly, clothed us, and sent us down to the ship, which was with a full cargo in the road, and intending to sail the next day, and we were received and welcomed by our messmates as men risen from the dead.
We sailed, and had a fortunate voyage home to Liverpool.