A Falcon Flies

A Falcon Flies by Wilbur Smith Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: A Falcon Flies by Wilbur Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Wilbur Smith
    â€˜Nathaniel,’ she asked urgently, but in a low voice, ‘is there a way of entering the ship’s hold without lifting the maindeck hatches?’
    The man looked startled, and she shook his shoulder roughly. ‘Is there?’ she demanded.
    â€˜Aye, ma’am, there is.’
    â€˜Where? How?’
    â€˜Through the lazaretto, below the officers’ saloon – there is a hatchway through the forward bulkhead.’
    â€˜Is it locked?’
    â€˜Aye, ma’am, it is – and Captain St John keeps the keys on his belt.’
    â€˜Tell nobody that I asked,’ she ordered him, and hastened up on the maindeck.
    At the foot of the mainmast, Tippoo was washing down the lash in a bucket of seawater that was already tinged pale pink; he looked up at her, still stripping the water off the leather between thick hairless fingers – and he grinned at Robyn as she passed, squatting down on thick, brown haunches with his loin cloth drawn up into his crotch, swinging his round bald head on its bull neck to follow her.
    She found herself panting a little with fear and revulsion, and she swept her skirts aside as she passed him. At the door of her cabin she took the valise from Nathaniel with a word of thanks, and then slumped down upon her bunk.
    Her thoughts and her emotions were in uproar, for she had still not recovered from the sudden avalanche of events that had interrupted the leisurely pattern of the voyage.
    The boarding by Captain Codrington of the Royal Navy overshadowed even her anger at the flogging or her joy at her first view of Africa in nearly two decades – and now his accusations rankled and disturbed her.
    After a few minutes’ rest she lifted the lid of her travelling-chest that filled most of the clear space in the tiny cabin, and had to unpack much of it before she found the pamphlets from the anti-slavery society with which she had been armed in London before departure.
    She sat down to study them once again, a history of the struggle against the trade up to the present time. As she read, her anger and frustration reawakened at the tale of unenforceable international agreements, all with built-in escape clauses: laws that made it an act of piracy to indulge in the trade north of the equator, but allowed it to flourish unchecked in the southern hemisphere; treaties and agreements signed by all nations, except those most actively engaged in the trade, Portugal, Brazil, Spain. Other great nations – France – using the trade to goad their traditional enemy, Great Britain, shamelessly exploiting Britain’s commitment to its extinction, trading political advantage for vague promises of support.
    Then there was America, a signatory to the Treaty of Brussels which Britain had engineered, agreeing to the abolition of the trade, but not to the abolition of the institution of slavery itself. America agreed that the transport of human souls into captivity was tantamount to active piracy, and that vessels so engaged were liable to seizure under prize and condemnation by courts of Admiralty or Mixed Commission, agreed also to the equipment clause, that ships equipped for transport of slaves, although not actually with a cargo of slaves on board at the time of seizure, could be taken as prize.
    There was America agreeing to all of this – and then denying to the warships of the Royal Navy the right of search. The most America would allow was that British officers could assure themselves of the legality of the claim to American ownership, and if that was proven, they could not search, not even though the stink of slaves rose from her holds to offend the very heavens, or the clank of chains and the half-human cries from her ’tween decks came near to deafening them – still they could not search.
    Robyn dropped one pamphlet back into her chest, and selected another publication from the society.
    ITEM, in the previous year, 1859, estimated 169,000

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