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قراءة كتاب The Mission; or Scenes in Africa

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‏اللغة: English
The Mission; or Scenes in Africa

The Mission; or Scenes in Africa

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

voyage, I presume?” continued the stranger.

“Indeed, it is,” said Alexander; “I never was out of England, or on board of a vessel, before yesterday.”

“I should have imagined otherwise,” remarked his companion: “the other passengers are all suffering from sea-sickness, while you and I only are on the deck. I presumed, therefore, that you had been afloat before.”

“I did feel very giddy yesterday evening,” observed Alexander, “but this morning I have no unpleasant sensation whatever. I believe that some people do not suffer at sea.”

“A very few; but it appears that you are one of those most fortunate, for by experience I know how painful and distressing the sickness is for some time. Breakfast will soon be ready; do you think that you can eat any?”

“Yes, a little—not much; a cup of tea or coffee,” replied Alexander; “but I cannot say that I have my usual appetite. What bird is that which skims along the water?”

“It is the procellarius, as we naturalists call it, but in English, the stormy petrel; its presence denotes rough weather coming.”

“Then I wish it had not made its appearance,” said Alexander, laughing; “for with rough weather, there will of course be more motion in the vessel, and I feel the motion too much already.”

“I think if you eat your breakfast (although without appetite), and keep on deck, you may get over any further indisposition,” replied the stranger.

“Have we many passengers on board?”

“No; nine or ten, which is considered a small number, at least by the captain, who was complaining of his ill-luck. They are mostly females and children. There is a Cape gentleman who has long resided in the colony, and is now returning there. I have had some conversation with him, and he appears a very intelligent person. But here is the steward coming aft, to let us know that breakfast is ready.”

The person who had thus conversed with Alexander Wilmot was a Mr Swinton, who, as he had accidentally observed, was a naturalist; he was a person of some independent property, whose ardour for science had induced him to engage in no profession, being perfectly satisfied with his income, which was sufficient for his wants and to enable him to follow up his favourite study. He was now on his passage to the Cape of Good Hope, with no other object than to examine the natural productions of that country, and to prosecute his researches in science there, to a greater extent than had hitherto been practicable.

Before they had arrived at Madeira, at which island the ship remained three days to take in wine and fresh provisions, a great intimacy had been established between Alexander and Mr Swinton, although as yet neither knew the cause of the other’s voyage to the Cape; they were both too delicate to make the inquiry, and waited till the other should of his own accord impart his reasons.

We have mentioned that there were other passengers, one of whom was a gentleman who resided in Cape Town, and who held a lucrative situation under the government. He was an elderly gentleman, of about sixty years of age, of a very benign and prepossessing appearance; and it so happened that Alexander found out, on looking over his letters of introduction when at anchor at Madeira, that he possessed one to this gentleman. This of course he presented at once, although they were already on intimate terms; and this introduction made Mr Fairburn (for such was his name) take an immediate interest in his welfare, and also warranted his putting the question, as to what were Alexander’s views and intentions in visiting the Cape: for Mr Fairburn knew from the letter that he was heir to Sir Charles Wilmot, and therefore that he was not likely to be going out as a speculator or emigrant.

It hardly need be said that Alexander made no hesitation in confiding to one who could so materially assist him in the object of his voyage.

The other passengers were three young ladies bound to their friends in India, and a lady returning with her two marriageable daughters to rejoin her husband, who was a colonel in the Bengal army. They were all pleasant people, the young ladies very lively, and on the whole the cabin of the Surprise contained a very agreeable party; and soon after they left Madeira, they had fine weather, smooth water, and everything that could make a voyage endurable.

The awnings were spread, chairs brought up, and the major portion of the day was spent upon the quarter-deck and poop of the vessel, which for many days had been running down before the trade-winds, intending to make Rio, and there lay in a supply of fresh provisions for the remainder of her voyage.

One morning, as Alexander and Mr Fairburn were sitting together, Alexander observed—“You have passed many years at the Cape, Mr Fairburn, have you not?”

“Yes; I was taken prisoner when returning from India, and remained a year in Cape Town during the time that it was in the hands of the Dutch; I was about to be sent home as a prisoner to Holland, and was embarked on board of one of the vessels in Saldanha Bay, when they were attacked by the English. Afterwards, when the English captured the Cape, from my long residence in, and knowledge of, the country, I was offered a situation, which I accepted: the colony was restored to the Dutch, and I came home. On its second capture I was again appointed, and have been there almost ever since.”

“Then you are well acquainted with the history of the colony?”

“I am, certainly, and if you wish it, shall be happy to give you a short account of it.”

“It will give me the greatest pleasure, for I must acknowledge that I know but little, and that I have gleaned from the travels which I have run through very hastily.”

“I think it was in the year 1652 that the Dutch decided upon making a settlement at the Cape. The aborigines, or natives, who inhabited that part of the country about Cape Town, were the Hottentots, a mild, inoffensive people, living wholly upon the produce of their cattle; they were not agriculturists, but possessed large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats, which ranged the extensive pastures of the country. The history of the founding of one colony is, I fear, the history of most, if not all—commencing in doing all that is possible to obtain the good-will of the people until a firm footing has been obtained in the land, and then treating them with barbarity and injustice.

“The Hottentots, won over by kindness and presents, thought it of little consequence that strangers should possess a small portion of their extensive territory, and willingly consented that the settlement should be made. They, for the first time in their lives, tasted what proved the cause of their ruin and subsequent slavery—tobacco and strong liquors. These two poisons, offered gratuitously, till the poor Hottentots had acquired a passion for them, then became an object of barter—a pipe of tobacco or a glass of brandy was the price of an ox; and thus daily were the colonists becoming enriched, and the Hottentots poor.

“The colony rapidly increased, until it was so strong, that the governor made no ceremony of seizing upon such land as the government wished to retain or to give away; and the Hottentots soon discovered that not only their cattle, but the means of feeding them, were taken from them. Eventually, they were stripped of everything except their passion for tobacco and spirits, which they could not get rid of. Unwilling to leave the land of their fore-fathers, and seeing no other way of procuring the means of intoxication which they coveted, they sold themselves and their services to the white colonists, content to take care of those herds which had once been their own, and to lead them out to pasture on the very lands which had once been their birthright.”

“Did they then become slaves?” inquired Alexander.

“No; although much worse treated, they never were slaves, and I wish to point