Text - "O'er Many Lands, on Many Seas" Gordon Stables

close and start typing
How did I
come by it? I will tell you. I was born, as you know, at sea, in the
Indian Ocean, in the Niobe, whilst she was cruising in that region in
the search of slavers-born not long before the appearance of that
terrible gale of wind described in the first chapter of this story, when
the tempest was at its fiercest, and the stormy waves were doing their
worst; born on board a vessel which seemed doomed to certain
destruction. And it is the custom of the service to call a child by the
name of the ship in which he first sees the light of day.

I never knew a father's love or a mother's tender care, for the gentle
lady who gave me birth lived but a little after that event; but she
bequeathed me all she had-her blessing-and died. In a glade in the
gloomy depths of an African forest my mother is sleeping, in the shade
of a banian tree. I stood by that lonely grave one morning not many
years ago. The ground, I remember, was all chequered with sunshine and
with shade from the tree above; little star-like primulas grew here and
there. Among these and the fallen leaves sea-green lizards were
creeping; high overhead bright-winged birds sang soft lullabies, and
every time the wind moved the boughs a whole shower of sparkling drops
fell down, like tears.

And my father? He never seemed to rally after my mother's death until
one hour before his own, just a fortnight and a day from that on which
he had followed her to her grave in the forest like one dazed. He did
not appear in his mess-place after this. He took no food, he spoke to
no one, he spent his time mostly within the screen by the empty cot
where my mother had been-in grief.

About the tenth day he suffered my friend Roberts (the boatswain) to
lead him like a child to the spare cabin where his baby boy was
sleeping; and in a daze he had seen her loved remains laid to rest
beneath the tree. He bent over the grave for a moment, and then for the
first time he burst into tears.

The Niobe remained for ten days where she had cast anchor, in order to
make good repairs.

It was a very quiet spot in which she lay, a kind of bay or bight, as
the sailors called it, with mangrove trees growing all around it close
down to the water's edge, except at the one side where the great river
stole silently away seaward, its current seeming hardly to affect in any
degree the waters in the bay itself.

At last all repairs were finished, and the "clang, clang, clang" of the
carpenters' hammers, that had been till now incessant all day long, and
far into the night, was hushed, sails were shaken half loose, and the
Niobe only waited for a breeze to bear her down the river and across
the great and dreaded bar, where, even in the calmest weather, the
breakers rolled and tumbled mountains high.

But the breeze seemed in no hurry to come. During the day those dull
dreamy woods and forests lay asleep in the sunshine, and stirred not
leaf or twig, and the creatures that dwelt therein were as silent as the
woods around them. Had you landed on that still shore, and wandered
inland through the trees, you would have seen great lizards enjoying
themselves in patches of sunlight, an occasional monkey enjoying a nap
at a tree foot or squatting on a bough blinking at the birds that-
open-beaked as if gasping for more air-sat among the branches too
languid to hop or fly. But except a startled cry at your presence
emitted by some of these, hardly any other sound would have fallen on
your ears.

The only creatures that seemed to be busy were the beetles on the ground
and the bees, the latter long, dark, dangerous-looking hornets that flew
in clouds about the lime and orange-trees, and behaved as if all the
forest belonged to them, the former of all shapes and sizes, and of
colours more brilliant than the rainbow. No doubt they knew exactly
what they were about and had their ideas carefully arranged, but what
their business was in particular would have puzzled any human being to
tell-why they dug pits and rolled little pieces of stones down them, or
why they pulled pieces of sticks along bigger than themselves, dropped
them, apparently without reason, and went in search of others. There
was, one would have thought, no method in the madness of these strange
but lovely creatures: it looked as though they were doomed to keep
moving, doomed to keep on working, and doing something, no matter what.

In the great river itself sometimes small herds of hippopotami would
appear, especially in parts where the water was shallow. They came but
to enjoy a sunshine bath and siesta.

But at night both forest and river seemed to awaken from their slumbers.

The river cows now came on shore to feed, and their grunting and
bellowing, that often ended in a kind of shriek, mingled.

"Well, my friend, how much for your bananas, and that bottle of honey,
and those eggs, and fowls? Come, I'll buy the lot," said the boatswain.

"De Arab chief come in big ship, two three week ago. De ship he hide in
de bush. He come to-night when de moon am shine. He come on board you
big ship, plenty knife, plenty spear, plenty gun, killee you all for
true. Den he take all de money and all de chow-chow. Plenty much
bobbery he makee, plenty much blood he spillee, plenty much murder.
Sweeba tell you for true."

While this conversation was going on the fruit, eggs, and fowls were
being handed on board and money thrown into the boat, which was quickly
concealed by the natives in their cummerbunds.

They found themselves richer than they had ever been before in their

"But why do you come and tell us?" then inquired Roberts. Roberts, by
the way, was the only one the native would converse with. He had
eagerly requested the captain and officers to keep away, for fear of
exciting the suspicion of those who he averred were lurking in the

"What for I come and tellee you?" he replied. "English have been good
to me many time 'fore now. Arab chief he bad man. He come to my house,
he tie me to a tree by de neck. He think I dead. Den he takee my poor
wife away, and all de poor piccaninnies. My poor ole mudder she berry
bad. She not fit to trabbel away to de bush, so he cut her head off,
and trow her in de blaze. He burn all my hut, all my house. I not lub
dat Arab chief berry berry much."

"I shouldn't think you did," was the reply; "but now, my friend, if all
goes well come back to-morrow, and we will reward you."

About eight o'clock that same night, the full moon rose slowly up over
the woods, bathing the trees in a soft blue haze, but changing the
river, 'twixt the ship and the distant shore, into a broad pathway of
light that shimmered and shone like molten gold. There was hardly a
cloud in the heaven's dark blue, and the stars shone with unusual

No one was visible on the Niobe's decks, and never a light burned
aloft, but, nevertheless, sentinels were watching the water on all
sides, and down below the crew, fully armed, were waiting. The guns
were all ready to run out, and there was no talking save in whispers,
and when any one had occasion to cross the deck he did it so lightly
that you could scarcely have heard his footfall.

Except the officers of the watch, all others were in the saloon or
ward-room. They too were armed, but passing the time in quietly playing
draughts and other games. Instead of being in his cabin, the captain
was there along with his officers.

Presently the boatswain, whose duty it was to keep one of the
night-watches, came quietly in to make a report.

"There are no signs yet, sir. The forest is quiet enough, except for
the birds and beasts. It is very bright now. If they do come, we will
have light enough to give 'em fits."

"I hope they will, then," replied the captain; "I sincerely trust that
tall native wasn't a-gammoning us."

"I feel sure enough he wasn't, sir."

"Hark!" cried the captain.