Lagos Bar: Part I
THEY say, sir, it’s a bad place where a sailor won’t go to, and there’s many a sailor won’t go to the West Coast of Africa; yet somehow, when he does take to it, he can’t fancy no other line ; it’s like the moth and the candle: many a time I ’ve been singed for one, but back I used to go, and I dare say I should have been burnt up at last if it had n’t been for something as made me swear as I’d never go to the Coast but only once again.
Yes, sir, I’ve made voyages for everything almost. I ’ve been to Gambia for ground-nuts and hides, and to Calabar, Brass, and Bonny for palmoil, and to Gaborn for red-wood and teeth, and to the Gold Coast for dust. There ’s only one trade as I never went into, — black ivory, I mean. I can remember the day when there was no danger about it, and pretty well no shame ; but I once saw a barracoon, and that seemed to turn me like against it; I was only a lad at the time, but it was long afore I got over that dreadful sight.
I ’ve had some queer days on the Coast, and no mistake. More than once I’ve had my hair off and blisters on my feet; and when Yellow Jack broke out in Bonny, I was pretty well the only white man left. Once I got wrecked in the Congo, and was kept prisoner by the blacks till the agent paid my ransom. They used to make me sit over a fire of damp leaves and red-peppers, and prod me with a spear to make me talk ; and as soon as I opened my mouth, the thick biting smoke would pour down my throat fit to smother me outright. Then they’d all burst out laughing, and dance like mad. It made me think of the chafers I used to spin at school; only I did n’t like being the chafer.
It’s a bad place, the Coast, especially for them as trades. In the oil rivers you have to go on trust. The Coast natives don’t let the country natives come down to sell their oil themselves. So the captain gives his powder and tobacco and cotton goods to the blacks on the seaboard, and they take them up into the interior where the oil is, and buy it there. Sometimes these middlemen cheat him outright, spending his goods and bringing nothing back. But that don’t often happen, otherwise trade would end. What they chiefly do is to dawdle and dawdle, for they hold no ’count o’ time, till the captain staying there with his cargo on his mind is drove pretty well crazy with delay. Well, perhaps he takes to drink to fill up his time, and what with that and worry of mind the fever makes but easy work of him. Many and many’s the shipmate as I’ve had die in these arms. And if e’er a one came out fond of reading, and thinking a bit superior to us unedicated men, he was sure to go, just as the best-bred dogs are always took off first by the distemper. Ah, sir, I often thinks of them times now that I am old. Often as I lays in my cot on a hot summer’s night onable to sleep, I thinks and I thinks till I does n’t know where I am ; I hears the mosquitoes a humming round me, and the splashing of the water agen the sides of the room, and the cries of the wild beasts, what are only the people in the street. Then I begins to doze a bit; my head swims , dark things come round me ; I see the stars shining above me, and the high black trees upon the shore ; I smell the mud and the nasty river fog ; and then I see Lagos Bar ! and at that I wake up with a scream, and find myself in my little room at home, with my old missus a bending over me, a-wiping the sweat from my forehead and the tears from my eyes; and then we lay and talk of the times gone by, — the times gone by, and mostly of Lagos Bar. I suppose that I ’ve told that tale to my wife a thousand times ; for often and often its memory comes back to me and leaves me no rest till I ’ve put it into words. It does n’t come always like a horrid dream, but more like a spirit; and sometimes, sir, I think it may be Mary herself. See how the sky shines over there, and the waters seem to dance in gold ! At a time like this, when all is calm and still, and shadows are moving in the air, it never fails to come. I feel it now, —and then something swells within me, and big thoughts which frighten me lift up my brain; I don’t understand these thoughts. I can't bring them out in speech. I can't raise them when I wish. No, sir, they are not my thoughts at all, they are too beautiful for a rude man like me ; they come from her ; it is Mary, dear Mary, sitting by my poor old worn-out heart, and whispering to me of the happy world to come.
[The old sailor remained silent for several minutes, his eyes fixed upon the setting sun; there was a kind of light upon his face somewhat resembling that of the improvvisatore, but steadier and deeper. It gradually died away as the sun dipped below the sea ; he glanced at me, looked a little confused, and asked me for a light. As soon as he had lighted his pipe, he began of his own accord to tell me his story thus : —]
It was in the year '48 I shipped as mate aboard the Saucy Sal o’ Liverpool. She was a fore-and-aft schooner, clipper rigged, and as neat a little craft as one would wish to see. As we dropped down the Mersey, with a sou’westerly breeze, I felt quite proud of being in her. But I thought it a pity she should sail for the Coast, where, what with sun and sea-worms, a vessel soon loses all her good looks, and her seaworthiness, too, sometimes.
When we got near the mouth of the river, the skipper went below, and brought up two ladies. If Queen Victoria had turned out to be aboard, I could n't have been more surprised. Here we were with the land dim in the distance, and only a red buoy tossing about to show that we were n’t at sea. They would have to go back in the pilot-boat, with the wind and tide contrairy, and the night fast coming on.
It was plain to see that they were mother and daughter, and that they’d been crying together down below. Their eyes showed red when they lifted up the drooping lids, and their pale cheeks were all seamed with where the tears had run. Neither of them looked at our skipper after he had brought ’em up, and it was this that puzzled me. There he stood, a little ways off them, leaning agen the vessel’s side ; sometimes a-looking at them out of the corner of his eye, sometimes at the pilot, who was putting on his pea-coat. Presently he caught my eye, and I went up to him. “ Let me know when the pilot-boat comes up alongside, Mr. Andrews,— quietly, you know.” “ It’s plain enough,” thinks I. “that they’re going back; I suppose they’re his mother and sister, and that’s why they ’ve been crying. But how is it that they never give him a word, or so much as a look, and seem altogether so much wrapped up in themselves ? ”
In a few minutes I looked at the captain, and touched my cap. The pilot went up to him and shook hands. The two ladies were sitting whispering to each other, and did not notice it. Captain Langlands, he looked about him in an awkward kind of way, walked a bit towards ’em, and then stopped short like a man who has something to do which he does n’t like to begin. Just then they looked up. The pilot in his pea-coat, the sailors idling about, looking aft, and, more than all, our captain’s face, showed ’em as the time was come. They got up without a word, and walked to the waist of the vessel, and then I began to understand. The old lady turned round and took her daughter in her arms, and squeezed her, oh, so hard ! and when Langlands took hold of her to help her down, she looked at him full in the eyes, and said gently, “ May God forgive you, James ! ” At this his face turned, and he trembled like a hare.
Now she was in the boat, which slipped quickly astarn. “Haul aft the main sheets!” shouted the skipper in a hoarse voice. The girl ran aft and hung over the taffrail ; she was within a foot of me then, for I was standing by the wheel. In a moment the boat came in sight ; her mother was standing up, her bonnet had been blown off, and her gray hairs were flying in the wind ; she stretched her withered hands towards us, and she never said a word ; but her hands, her quivering, clutching, speaking hands ! it seemed as if her whole blood and life had streamed into the limbs as was nearest to her child.
She reeled and I catched her in my arms, and there she lay for a minute with her head upon my breast. Her face was like marble stone, her eyes were shut, and her lips glued together fast. I had never seen such a delicate thing afore. It seemed like nothing to hold her; and her face — Ah ! what a beautiful face that was ! I seemed lost-like a-looking at her, and never moved, and never turned my eyes away, but stood there all helpless, and her in a deathly swound. “ Let me take her, Mr. Andrews,” said the captain from behind, and he took her up in his strong arms and carried her below. Then I heard him call out for the key of the medicine - chest, and afterwards he ran up just to “ take his departure,” that is to note down where we lost sight of the furthest point of land.
I was sore puzzled at this, for I’d seen her ring, and I knew it was dead agen reg'ler reg’lations for skippers to take their wives with them to sea. But the second mate soon came up to me and told me all about it. The captain had been engaged to her, it seems, a goodish while, but her mother had all along been dead agen the match : first, because Langlands had the character for being wild, and then he was a sailor, and she had been a sailor’s wife herself. However, it happened that he had a stroke of luck : a good bit of money was left him, and the old lady, thinking that now he ’d be sure to give up the sea (which likewise he promised to do), gev him the girl. But before three months were gone, Langlands was taken with that feeling which all sailors know. It ain’t often a man can shake off the sea while he’s young. She’s a hard missus ; but, even when we do get a chance to get away from her, we ’re bound to go back to her agen. We say the sailor’s life is the roughest there is, and yet we wonder how people can live ashore ; though it’s lucky as some do, else how would vessels be built, and goods stored ?
Well, to make it short, Langlands felt sea-wards; and one fine morning his mother-in-law found out that he’d invested a good part of his money in the Saucy Sal, with the agreement with his partners that he was to sail her and have captain’s wages for the same. To make matters worse, she found he was bound for the West Coast of Africa, and that her daughter was bent on going with him.
All that she could say or do did n’t shake ’em. Langlands was determined that he would go: his wife was determined that she would n’t be left behind. People think the Coast is worse than it really is, and the old lady took on badly. Langlands assured her that his vessel should never lay inside a river bar, and that his wife should never go ashore. But no : she had made up her mind that she was not to see her girl agen. That was why she ’d come all the way to the mouth of the river, though she knew it meant passing the night in rough waters in an open boat.
Well, I felt in bad spirits over this. I was sorry for the girl; her face had wrought on me somehow, and I knew that the Coast was no place for a woman, let alone a weakly thing like her. Her husband would have to go ashore if she didn’t, and if we were going to lay outside Lagos Bar, why he’d have to cross it pretty often, which is a thing few men like to do. There are plenty of bad bars along that Coast, and I suppose Lagos is the worst. It’s so dangerous that companies won’t insure goods across it, — or wouldn’t then ; now I believe they have a steamer there. Sometimes it can't be passed for days and days. I've heard of the packet being obliged to sail off without the mails. Hundreds of canoes have been capsized there, and it’s seldom anybody ’s saved. That’s owing to the sharks. They crowd round the bar ; some people say it’s because the river brings down so many bodies from Dahomey, where they’re killed for their big fetish, thousands at a time. Others say it’s because they are on the lookout for a capsize, and that when the bar’s high there’s double as many there. I don’t know which is right; but sartinly there’s no place for sharks like it anywhere along the coast; and you may try ’em with fat pork, or anything else in the way of bait, but they only smell at it, and go off with a lazy swing of their long tails.
No, Lagos was not the place for a white woman, I thought; and, besides, it worn’t ship-shape anyhow, take it as you will. Sailors would as soon have a black cat or a parson on board as a woman, I do believe. “ I s’pose the skipper’s going to make a yachting party of this here v’yage,” says the second mate to me. “ It’s begun nicely, ain’t it ? Here we are in this blessed channel, with a brown fog coming on, and the skipper below a doctoring his wife’s hysterics.”
But the words were not out of his mouth when up came Langlands in peacoat and nor’wester, ran his eye over everything at once, gave a little nod with his head, as much as to say, “ That will do,” and took a few turns as jaunty as a bran-new post-captain on his quarter-deck. I had n’t seen him till the day before we sailed, when, his first mate falling ill, one of his partners offered me the berth. But it did n’t take long to find out that he was a good sailor and loved the sea; he seemed reg'lar to snuff it up as a young girl would a nosegay, and his eye glittered like a hawk’s. He bent over the vessel’s side, then turned round to me with a bit of a smile. “ She steps along nicely, — don’t she, Mr. Andrews?” said he. “ What should you say it was, — six and a half? ” “ About that, sir,” said I, looking at the bubbles floating by,—“ about that, sir, as near as can be,” said I. “Well,” said he, “ that’s very good indeed with a light breeze. I wish it would freshen and blow away the fog.” He took another turn or two, and said: “ Mr. Andrews, I shall stay here now, and if the weather thickens, I shall be up all night. Would you mind saying a cheerful word to my wife before you turn in ?” “ I sha’n’t turn in to-night, sir, afore my watch,” said I. “Well,” said he, “if it’s not troubling you too much, do put her in better spirits about the Coast. Show her the bright side of it.” “ Ay, ay, sir,” said I. He squeezed my hand, and gave a smile and said, “ You ’re doing me a great favor, Mr. Andrews.”
No wonder his wife had refused to leave him. He was the best-looking man I ever saw. His face was tanned brown, but there was a beautiful red with it, and his eyes were as blue as the deep sea, and he had light curly brown hair, which tossed on his shoulders like a child’s. And then he had such a way with him! When he said them last words, and lighted ’em up with his smile, I felt as if I could have laid my life down for him on the deck. There was something noble about Langlands ; and perhaps there was truth in the story as went about Liverpool, that he was a gentleman’s child, and that the money had been left to him in that way.
When I went below, Mrs. Langlands was lying on the after-lockers. She gave a weak smile when I came in, and raised herself up a bit. “James has told me,” said she, holding out her hand, “ that you saved me from falling just now. Thank you, Mr. Andrews.”
Then she said something more, but what it was I never heard, for all the while that she was talking her little hand was lying in mine, as cold and transparent as a mosel of Wenham ice ; and I kept looking at it, and looking at it, and forgetting myself, all dreamy like, just as I did when she went into the faint, till she drew her hand gently away; and then, I don’t know why, but my face flamed up hot, and I felt awkward and strange, and if she had n’t ha’ spoke, I do believe I should have rushed up on deck.
“ Has my mother reached home yet, should you think ? ” she asked.
Now I knew that her mother could be no more than half-way to Liverpool, wet and cold, and in danger every moment of being run down by a vessel in the fog. But how could 1 tell that to her, with her poor anxious face and big soft eyes ? I said her mother was sartin safe at home, which seemed to make her real happy for a little while. Then she clouded over agen, and began talking about the Coast. “ Is it such a very unhealthy place ? ” said she.
“ Well, ma’am,” says I, bracing myself up for it, “ I’m forty years old, and I’ve been back’ards and for’ards to the Coast ever since I was a little cabinboy, and I don’t look any the worse for it as I knows on.”
“ But how is it that it has such a bad name ? ” said she.
“ Why, you see, ma’am,” says I, “it’s a dull kind o’place, and there ain’t much discipline kept out there, and the sailors gets to drinking Coast o’ Guinea rum what’s made in Liverpool, and palm-wine what has stood out in the snow, and sleeping all night on the ground what is all wet with the dews, and then they wonder they’re taken ill, and put it on to the fault of the climate, when it’s all their own. Let a man keep from drink and night air, eat moderate, always take something in the morning before going ashore, put a plantain-leaf in his cap to ward off the sun, wear flannel next to his skin, and worsted stockings on his feet, and he may come back from the Coast without knowing what fever is. I’ve heerd say the American squadron was out there three years and did n’t lose a man.”
“O yes; I understand now,” said she. “ I know that the sailors are very foolish, poor fellows ! but we will make them take care of themselves,—won’t we, Mr. Andrews ?” Then her eyes seemed to brighten at the thoughts of doing good, and we sat talking ever so long. I told her stories about the niggers of the Coast; the king of Ashantee and his throne of real red gold; and the king of Dahomey, who has an army of women soldiers, which he calls them Amazons ; — picking out the most comical ones I knew, for Coast stories are not always comical, worse luck ! And afore eight bells struck she got that merry that once or twice she burst out laughing, — such a clear, running laugh, it was like a peal of bells ! — and the skipper put his head down the skylight and called out, “ Why, Polly, my girl, Mr, Andrews has bewitched you, I think.”
At eight bells it was my watch ; so I told her I must go, and she thanked me kindly for keeping her company so long. When I got on deck I found that the full moon had cut the fog, and that we were scudding gayly along over a bright sea. “ I will leave her in your hands now, Mr. Andrews,” said the skipper. “ If there’s any change, let me know ; indeed, do so always when you have this watch.” “Ay, ay, sir,” said I, touching my cap ; and having wished me good night, he went below.
I walked up and down the deck, sometimes casting an eye into the binnacle, watching the vessel’s course, or aloft to notice the trim of the sails, or wind’ard for clouds, or for’ard for lights ; and when I saw that all was quiet above and below, and that the man on the lookout was wide awake, I braced myself agen the bulwarks with my hand on the main-swifter, and took a quid o’ ’bacca, which always helps me when I want to think, and looked out afore me into the wide and peaceful night.
We’ve got a beautiful little craft, thinks I, that’ll walk along well with a light breeze; and that’s just what we want where winds are light and little of them. We’ve got a skipper who’s a sailor every inch of him, and a gentleman, that’s more. And then I begun to think about his wife. Somehow it did n’t seem to be altogether such a bad thing for her now; there’s times when we can only see the dark side of things, and there ’s times when we can only see the bright side of things. After all, thinks I, we shall lay outside the Bar ; there won’t be no danger for her ; she may find it a bit dull; but, after all, ain’t she better off than other sailors’ wives as sit crying in their cold, lone homes, and listen sadly to the blowing of the winds ? And then I remembered how often and often when I’d been down with the fever I had thirsted for a woman’s care. I wonder if she’d nurse me, thought I ; but I didn’t think long over that. Where is the woman that would let a man lie sick and helpless within reach of her, whoever he might be, and she not nurse him ? I never met her yet.
As soon as we had cleared the Chops of the Channel, the captain’s lady became regular one of us, as you may say. She took the foot of the table at meals, and spent ’most the whole day on deck. It was n’t long afore she’d quite transmogrified the Saucy Sal. She got hold the sailors off duty, one by one, and talked to ’em so that she soon, won all their hearts. Sometimes she’d go for’ard, and help ’em mend their clothes ; and she’d go into the caboose, and larn black Sambo no end of cunning things, till he’d come up to us, and show his white grinders, and say, “ Ya ! ya ! me French cook now, massa! ”
She had n’t been aboard very long before the skipper had larnt her the name of every sheet and sail from stem to stern, and she soon knew whether work was done clean or not, too. She soon began to understand the working of the vessel; and when the captain saw what a pet she was with the men, he’d let her give an order now and then. O Lord ! how she used to ring it out! Supposing we was going to tack ; well, she’d stand agen the wheel, and cry, in her clear voice, “ Stand by for stays! Hard down your helm ! Ease up the jib-sheet! ” [Here the old sailor jumped to his feet, intensely excited.] “ Bear a hand there, boys ! Trim down your jib-sheet! Haul aft the mainsail! Trim the foresail! Bouse up the peak! Lay aft now, and sway up the mainsail, boys ! ” And they did go at it with a will! You’d have thought you was on board a man-of-war. Langlands declared he never knew what men could do till then.
When he saw that she was taking kindly to the sea, he began to larn her navigation, and settled it that she should have two lessons a day, and that we was each to give her one. Ah, they were happy hours ! and what a quick scholar she was to be sure ! though for that matter she picked up twice as much when her husband was larning her to what she did with me. She never lost a word he said to her; but sometimes, when I was laying down the law, I could see her eyes wandering to get a glance at him as he passed the skylight, or listening more to his footsteps than she did to me. Once, I recollect, when he came down tor something in the cabin, in the middle of his watch, which was when I used to give her the lesson, she jumped up to run to him and give him a kiss, leaving me in the middle of a problem, with my tongue clapping away at nothing at all. Then he scolded her, and told her she was very rude to me ; and she hung her pretty head, and begged my pardon ; and be said to me, “You ’ll forgive her, Mr. Andrews,—won’t you ? ” “ God bless you both ! ” said I ; “it makes my heart warm to see you love each other so.” And so it did, so it did. There never was such a pretty sight as to see them two together then,— to see him coming down below, after his watch, on a breezy day, the picture of health and strength, with his ruddy brown cheeks and sparkling eyes, and broad, laughing mouth ; and she with her tiny white hands pulling off his tarpaulins, and rubbing his hands, if they were cold, or combing out his long, wet hair. And sometimes, when they sat together, she on his lap, maybe, with her arms round his neck, and her head cuddled on his broad breast, whispering in his ear, — sometimes a little of their love would fall on me in a kind look or word. It was n’t mine, I knew; it wasn’t only reflected like; but it used to make me happy all the same.
All her fears and forebodings seemed to be past and gone. She said that she should like to live always at sea with him ; and they used to talk of the voyages they 'd make in the Saucy Sal. They 'd trade and travel, too, said the skipper. They ’d sail to Calcutta one time, and Pekin another, and Sidney, and Rio, and New York, til! she’d seen the whole world, — that is, if rough weather did n’t frighten her. “I shall see what you ’re made of, Poll, before we ’re out of the Bay of Biscay,” said the captain. And sure enough we had a gale of wind there; but Mrs. Langlands stood it well. I remember her now as she stood lashed to the halliards, with her face all pale and wonderstricken, but quite calm, looking at the great waves, which looked like moving hills. The skipper was delighted with her ; and as for the sailors, they seemed to talk of nothing else. “ She’s a goodplucked one, the Commodore, — ain’t she, Tom ? ” I heard one of ’em say. It seems that she went among them by the name of the Pretty Commodore. But they always spoke of her with the greatest respect; and if e’er a one let out a bad word, they used to say, “ Hush ! Jack ” (or whoever it might be), or the Commodore will hear you.” So that we went days without hearing an oath, — which is saying a good deal; for swearing seems like second nature to a sailor, somehow.
When we got into the warm latitudes, she used to spend the whole day on deck, looking at the flying-fish, or the white frigate-birds which sailed around, or the beautiful things which sparkled by in the waters underneath. All seemed different to her, she said,— the sky, the sun, the sea; it was like another world. “Ah, Polly,” said Langlands, “wait till you see Africa, which will be to-morrow, I think, and then talk about another world.”
“ To-morrow ! ” said she ; “ I had not expected it so soon ” ; and I fancied her lips turned pale. But he noticed nothing, and the next minute she was laughing and chatting as gayly as before.
Sure enough at daybreak the next morning (it was November the 10th) we caught the loom of the land, and at one P. M. we were anchored off Cape Palmas. We put in there for Kroomen, the black sailors of the Coast, — strong, healthy fellows, who stand the climate very well, though they get sick at times, and who can do any amount of work under a hot sun. Skippers always ship half a dozen or a dozen or so, to lade and unlade, — do boat-work ; and often enough they ’re wanted to work the vessel home, when all the hands are down, or have died off. They let themselves out by the year, or perhaps three years at a time, at so much,— generally five dollars a month, with their clothes, and a pint and a half of rice a day for each man as rations, on the agreement that they shall be landed on their own coast again.
Cape Palmas, next to Sierra Leone, is about the prettiest place along the Coast. Them woody hills that stand back against the sky ; that bold, big headland, with the Yankee missionhouse perched upon it, like a big white bird; that brown clustering heap of huts, and the belt of golden sand upon the shore, — might well make one think that Africa was a paradise instead of — well, instead of what it is,
I can see Mary’s face now as she stood agen the bulwarks, straining her eyes upon the land. “ O James ! is not this charming?” she cried. “And is this really Africa ? Why, I thought that it was all flat and fenny as it is in Cambridgeshire ! Please take me on shore, James ; there must be beautiful flowers there. But oh! oh ! what are those black things coming toward us ? ”
The black things she talked of was the Kroomen in their canoes, and in a quarter of an hour there was fifty of them round us. A rope was chucked over the for’c’stle ; and up they came, one after the other, till the vessel was quite full of them. “ O James ! ” she cried, when she saw these huge naked men swarming aft, and did n't seem to know whether to laugh or cry, when she saw her husband shoving in and out among them, and turning 'em round, and running his eye over 'em, as if they was horses, and every now and then taking some clumsy fellow that didn't get out of his way a smartish cut with a rope’s end. He had a rare eye for muscle, and soon picked out a boat’s crew of as clean-limbed men as you could wish to clap your eyes on, — every one of 'em over six foot high.
“ What is James doing, Mr. Andrews ? ” said she. “ O tell me what those men are for ! ”
“ They ’re only the Krooboys, ma’am,” said I. “ They hire themselves aboard vessels, you know ; so that in case our hands ” — get the fever, I was going to say ; but I stopped short.
“ When our hands what ? ” she asked.
“ Why, you see, ma’am,” said I, “ sailors in a hot country can’t work like they do at home ; so we get these Kroos, who ’re the only hard-working niggers on the Coast, to do some of their work for them.”
“ But India, and China, and Australia are hot countries,” said she, “and they do without Kroomen there.” And with that she looked at me right in the face, and I felt it a-twitching awful. And never a word more said she, but turned her back, and walked away towards the wheel.
Just then a big canoe came alongside, and in the starn sat old King George. He was a character on the Coast then. He used to lend the Krooboys gunpowder and cotton cloth, for which they pawned themselves to him. Then, when a vessel came in, he used to hire ’em out, and take the first month’s wages (which, I forgot to say, is always paid in advance), and a good slice more after they came home.
“ Hollo, King George ! ” shouted the skipper, “ how are you ? ”
“ Hallo, Cap’n ! how you lib, eh ? lib well ? ”
“ All right, George. Got any nice boys ? I think I ’ll take one more for a head-man. Got an old hand, have you ? ”
“ Yes, sar ; yes, sar; all my boys very good,— too much. Whar you go this time, — eh ?”
“Going to Lagos, King.”
“ Ah ! why for you go Lagos ? Go inside bar ? ”
“ No, outside.”
“ Denn my boy no go Lagos.”
“ Why not ? ”
“ Too much bar lib Lagos. Water no good.”
“ O, that ’s all right. Don’t be so foolish.”
“ Too much shark lib.”
“ Come on board, King, and bring your boy, and don't talk nonsense.”
“ I tell you Lagos bad place, massa Cap’n. Too much sick lib there too. What good for me, my boy die Lagos ? I get no dash. Heigh I heigh ! me no fit.”
Well, they talked it over ; and the more the captain tried to persuade him the more obstinate he was, and the more he talked about Lagos, and its bar, and its sickness, and so on. Then came the long job of measuring out fathoms of cloth, and bringing up guns and powder and tobacco from the hold ; and as soon as all was done, we set sail. That same night when we were sitting together in the cabin, a-reading Blunt’s Navigation by the light of the swinging lamp, Mrs. Langlands shut up the book, and said, “ That is enough.”
“ Tired of it, ma’am ? ” said I.
“ I am not tired of it, Mr. Andrews ; but it is of no use my studying it any more.”
I did n’t well know what she meant by this ; so I never said a word. Then she laid her hand softly on to mine, just like my poor mother used to do. “ Mr. Andrews,” said she, “ why did you deceive me ? ”
“ Me, ma’am ?” said I.
“ Yes, you,” she said, smiling, but in a strange, sad way. “ You have treated me like a coward ; instead of telling me the truth about this country, you have wished to make me believe that it is better than it really is. O, why did you do that ? You must have known that, sooner or later, I should have found it out.”
“ I thought, ma’am,” said I, “ that yon wanted a little cheering up at the first start of it.”
“ O, indeed ! ” she said, her face flushing up. And then she said quickly, " Did James tell you to do so ? ”
“ No, ma’am,” said I, as bold as brass.
“ No,” she said, curling her lip, "I am sure that he would not tell an untruth.” Here she got up and made me a low bow. “ I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Andrews, for your kind consideration on my behalf.”
With that she walked out of the cabin, and stayed in her berth the whole of the next day.