It was not uncommon, in the time of the African Trade, “The Triangle”, for the men and officers of the crew to hide “Contraband Negroes” aboard the ship. What was uncommon and very dangerous, was for anyone to confront that illegal practice. As it is today, in the case of evil, compromise is the path of least resistance, but to compromise with evil is to nourish its growth.
An excerpt: “Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar”
“It was a pleasant evening out on deck. The sky was clear and filled to overflowing with a blanket of bright, twinkling stars. A balmy breeze pushed the Arthur ever westward through mild seas and the air was warm and fresh, but Collin stood at the ship’s rail and shivered as if he were cold. A battle was raging within him. A battle between his outrage, his fear, and his instinctive desire to compromise. He was determined to do what he knew was right, but he was deathly afraid to do it alone.
“A pleasant evening.”
Mr. Bolling’s voice came from behind him quite unexpectedly. Startled by the sound, Collin flinched.
“Oh. Ah, a pleasant evening to you, Mr. Bolling,” Collin answered politely.
He turned quickly and looked around to see if they were alone. He tensed when he saw that they were, unsure if he could trust Mr. Bolling, unsure if he could trust anyone other than Richardson, or the boy, Nwoye.
“Are you ill, Aldworth? You’re shaking.”
“Oh no, sir.” Collin answered defensively, “You just startled me, I.. I didn’t know anyone was there.”
“You’ll have to do better, Aldworth. You’re quite a brave lad, but from now on you had better know who’s at your back at all times.”
Collin was fully aware of Bolling’s meaning, but not prepared to be so easily fooled as to believe that Mr. Bolling had the least concern for his safety. The man had hardly spoken two words to him since the voyage began. Collin’s hand inched slowly toward his pistol.
Bolling studied him closely for a long moment. “Was there anything to it?” He asked, leaning his back against the rail next to Collin.
Collin feigned ignorance. “Anything to what, sir?”
Bolling cut to the point. “All the talk of contraband, of course.”
Collin, hadn’t expected to be sought out and questioned so directly. It threw him off balance. He felt trapped and exposed, his mouth went dry and he faltered, but Bolling pressed for an answer, his voice threatening. “Well, Aldworth, is there?”
“Do you think he would?” Collin blurted.
Bolling was confused. “Do I think who would whot?”
Collin swallowed hard before answering, “Do you think the captain would punish anyone who might be caught?”
Mr. Bolling pushed off the rail and rested his hand on the hilt of his cutlass. He was not tall in the way of Mr. Heath, but he was solidly built, thick at the shoulders, like a bull. If he chose to, he could lift Collin off his feet and toss him into the sea with one arm. At the thought, Collin’s hand found the butt of his pistol. Bolling checked in either direction before speaking, “If solid evidence were presented to him and entered into the ship’s log, I should think he would have little choice, don’t you?”
“I suppose so,” Collin whispered, breathless with fright.
They stood facing one another for a time without speaking, then Bolling broke the silence.
“Look, Aldworth, let me tell you something that may help you. By now, anyone who has contraband aboard this ship knows of the conversation in the mess tonight. It no longer matters that you may, or may not have evidence. Your life is in danger. You needn’t worry any longer about a choice, you have none. You must move quickly to gain the upper hand. If you have evidence you must present it right away. You must waste no time in giving them more to fear than just you.”
Bolling paused and leaned in closer to Collin. He spoke in a hushed tone, saying, “There is very little risk in killing one man aboard a ship, Aldworth. Most of these men would kill you even doubting that you know something. You would be just another seaman who disappeared during the night watch. But if you report them, without hesitation, then everyone will know whot you know, and the risk of killing you will become too great. They will retreat from you and pray that you don’t find them out. If you take action right away, there will be no other choice for them, nor for the captain.”
Collin remained silent, assimilating Bolling’s advice. It seemed sound enough, but there was no way to be sure that Bolling himself was not also involved, or that he could be trusted.
“You have no choice, Aldworth.” Bolling repeated.
As he pulled away from the rail he added, “Watch your back, boy.””