Log of The Arthur
January 1, 1701 – The winds are grown fresh, anew. At last we are mayking headway toward our destinaytion, Cape Coast, where we will resupply. Captain Doegood has put the crew on half rations. Some are grumbling and have grown mean-spirited, but the wind and myld seas give them plenty to keep busy. The captain has ordered an account of the ship’s stores and has doubled the ration of grog to mayke up for the lack elsewhere. – C. A.
Log of The Arthur
January 2, 1701 – Captain has ordered the ship hove to for the crew to witness punishment. Cabin boy, Collin Aldworth, is to receive six lashes for striking an officer.
Midshipman Arthur Hill has been demoted as punishment for abusing a member of the crew and showing disrespect to senior officers.
The ship stands two days west from Cape Coast. Stores are dwindling. Our water has soured. – Lt. Heath
What happened between January first and January second of 1701 was a bitter truth that would forever change Collin Aldworth’s life and person. As Midship Arthur Hill put it, “I’m going to give you an opportunity to see first hand what it was like…”
Thus Hill revealed a truth to Collin about the “trade” that Collin never wanted to know. It was like so many chapters of our dark history, filled with vile, cruel things we don’t want to know about, things we would rather ignore, things we pretend aren’t there and hope they will just go away.
New years day brought the long awaited trade winds to the Arthur’s sails. The skies were bright blue with puffy white clouds. The air was fresh, stirred by a fair breeze, a day to enjoy being out on deck. Collin, to his great dismay, found himself in the ship’s hold with Midshipman Hill, once again taking account of the Arthur’s stores. It was Captain Doegood’s intention to put the crew on half rations, until they could replenish the ship at Cape Coast. The two youngest members of the crew toiled in silence among the crates and barrels in the darkened hold of the ship. It was several hours before Hill had the desire, or perhaps the strength, to break their silence.
“Aldworth.” Mr. Hill called to him when they had nearly finished their inventory. “Come over here.”
Collin squeezed between two barrels, into the small niche where Mr. Hill held his lamp up to the bulkhead.
“Sir?” Collin stood directly behind the midshipman.
“Yesterday you were asking about the slave trade,” Hill recalled, turning to face Collin. “I’m going to give you an object lesson.”
He motioned for Collin to come closer and moved to one side so there would be room.
“Can you see these gouges in the bulkhead?” He asked. “Take the lamp and study them. See if you can tell me what sort of thing might have made them.”
Collin lifted the lamp and looked closely at four, long, vertical gouges in the ship’s timbers.
“You see the dark stains in those grooves?” Hill asked, “What do you suppose that is?”
Collin looked closer, confused by this strange guessing game the midshipman wanted to play.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Well, I’ll tell you.” Hill stood up straight and sneered at Collin, “it’s blood.”
Collin held the lamp up and studied the grooves more closely.
“Getting any ideas about how they might have come to be there?” Hill pressed.
Collin didn’t get an opportunity to answer the question before the midshipman filled him in.
“A Negro did that with his bare fingers on our last voyage. It was his feeble, yet heroic effort to escape the stench and death of this good ship’s hold. Pure terror was the incentive that drove him to shred his fingers to the bone on that plank. Fear of being eaten by rats.”
Collin stared in awe at the marks cast in the lamps shifting light. After a moment Hill added, “Not a very Christian thought, is it Aldworth? But, perhaps the good doctor can explain this away also, don’t you think?”
“Your lying!” Collin challenged, his tone defensive of his friend, Dr. Barren.
Hill slapped him hard, across the face, causing his lip to bleed.
“Don’t you ever call me a liar, Aldworth. I’ll have you whipped for it.” The midshipman snatched the lamp from Collin’s hand.
His drawn face twitched with anger. His normally dull eyes flared. “No, Aldworth, I’m not lying,” he said, calm returning to his voice.
“In the end the man succeeded. He freed himself quite simply by dying. We threw his body over the side, food for the sharks.”
In spite of the unthinkable nature of the story, Collin sensed that Hill was telling him the truth and he resented it. He wanted to believe that there must be some other explanation. That Hill was twisting the story to suit his own depraved need for the macabre. He shook with outrage at the thought that Arthur Hill might be forcing some grotesque reality upon him. That his friends, Captain Doegood, Dr. Barren and his own father were involved in something as heinous as what Hill had described. That this despised, sniveling son of a lord might in some way be the better of them. Mostly his anger burned at being slapped in the face and forbidden to retaliate.
“I’m going to make it easier for you than it was for me, Aldworth.” Hill said, subtly maneuvering Collin toward the foot of the fore mast.
He set the lamp down on top of a barrel and, before Collin realized what was happening, Hill had grabbed a length of heavy chain and drawn it across Collin’s chest, yanking it tight and forcing Collin back against the foot of the mast.
“What are you doing?” Collin yelped.
Before he could prevent it, Hill had wrapped several lengths of chain around the mast, binding Collin so that he could not move a single part of his body. He then fastened the chain behind the mast with a length of rope.
“There you are, Master Aldworth.” Hill chided him, dusting his hands and admiring his work.
“I’m going to give you an opportunity to see first hand what it was like for that Negro. You may scream, if you like, he did. No one will hear you.”