Chapter 98

An exordium - Fine ships - High Barbary captains - Free-born Englishmen - Monstrous figure - Swashbuckler - The grand coaches - The footmen - A travelling expedition - Black Jack - Nelson’s cannon - Pharaoh’s butler - A diligence - Two passengers - Sharking priest - Virgilio - Lessons in Italian - Two opinions - Holy Mary - Priestly confederates - Methodist chapel - Veturini - Some of our party - Like a sepulchre - All for themselves.

‘I AM a poor postilion, as you see; yet, as I have seen a thing or two and heard a thing or two of what is going on in the world, perhaps what I have to tell you connected with myself may not prove altogether uninteresting. Now, my friends, this manner of opening a story is what the man who taught rhetoric would call a hex - hex - ‘

‘Exordium,’ said I.

‘Just so,’ said the postilion; ‘I treated you to a per - per - peroration some time ago, so that I have contrived to put the cart before the horse, as the Irish orators frequently do in the honourable House, in whose speeches, especially those who have taken lessons in rhetoric, the per - per - what’s the word? - frequently goes before the exordium.

‘I was born in the neighbouring county; my father was land-steward to a squire of about a thousand a year. My father had two sons, of whom I am the youngest by some years. My elder brother was of a spirited roving disposition, and for fear that he should turn out what is generally termed ungain, my father determined to send him to sea: so once upon a time, when my brother was about fifteen, he took him to the great seaport of the county, where he apprenticed him to a captain of one of the ships which trade to the high Barbary coast. Fine ships they were, I have heard say, more than thirty in number, and all belonging to a wonderful great gentleman, who had once been a parish boy, but had contrived to make an immense fortune by trading to that coast for gold-dust, ivory, and other strange articles; and for doing so, I mean for making a fortune, had been made a knight baronet. So my brother went to the high Barbary shore, on board the fine vessel, and in about a year returned and came to visit us; he repeated the voyage several times, always coming to see his parents on his return. Strange stories he used to tell us of what he had been witness to on the high Barbary coast, both off shore and on. He said that the fine vessel in which he sailed was nothing better than a painted hell; that the captain was a veritable fiend, whose grand delight was in tormenting his men, especially when they were sick, as they frequently were, there being always fever on the high Barbary coast; and that though the captain was occasionally sick himself, his being so made no difference, or rather it did make a difference, though for the worse, he being when sick always more inveterate and malignant than at other times. He said that once, when he himself was sick, his captain had pitched his face all over, which exploit was much applauded by the other high Barbary captains - all of whom, from what my brother said, appeared to be of much the same disposition as my brother’s captain, taking wonderful delight in tormenting the crews, and doing all manner of terrible things. My brother frequently said that nothing whatever prevented him from running away from his ship, and never returning, but the hope he entertained of one day being captain himself, and able to torment people in his turn, which he solemnly vowed he would do, as a kind of compensation for what he himself had undergone. And if things were going on in a strange way off the high Barbary shore amongst those who came there to trade, they were going on in a way yet stranger with the people who lived upon it.

‘Oh the strange ways of the black men who lived on that shore, of which my brother used to tell us at home - selling their sons, daughters, and servants for slaves, and the prisoners taken in battle, to the Spanish captains, to be carried to Havannah, and when there, sold at a profit, the idea of which, my brother said, went to the hearts of our own captains, who used to say what a hard thing it was that free- born Englishmen could not have a hand in the traffic, seeing that it was forbidden by the laws of their country; talking fondly of the good old times when their forefathers used to carry slaves to Jamaica and Barbadoes, realising immense profit, besides the pleasure of hearing their shrieks on the voyage; and then the superstitions of the blacks, which my brother used to talk of; their sharks’ teeth, their wisps of fowls’ feathers, their half-baked pots full of burnt bones, of which they used to make what they called

  By PanEris using Melati.

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