Saturday, February 4, 2012

Flash for Freedom - Chapter 3

The action ramps up in the 3rd chapter of Flash for Freedom. John Charity Spring continues his reign of terror aboard the Balliol College (Flashman says he was expelled from Oxford for attacking a professor over some trivial point, I think there's more to it than this). Despite the fact that he's not a big man Charity Spring's psychotic rages lend him immense strength and Flashman witnesses him beat a much larger sailor senseless for talking back to him.

After what was for Flashman a fairly hellish passage they arrive on the coast of West Africa to deal for slaves with the Dahomey chief; King Gezo. Harry makes an observation at this point, quite an accurate one, that slave trading simply would not have been possible without considerable cooperation from the Africans themselves, and King Gezo is one such worthy. This man's entire kingdom and all his wealth were built on trading the members of other tribes to people like John Charity Spring.

Gezo is of particular interest to Spring, not just for the fact that he seems to get some of the best slaves, but more because of his honour guard, large, powerfully built women. The former academic believes that these women are the historical basis for the female warriors of legend; the Amazons. He wants to buy some from Gezo, study them, sell them for immense profit and make his name in academia like some of the age's great explorers such as Banks and Parks.

Gezo actually does sell half a dozen of his prized women to Spring for a case of guns, but it all goes horribly wrong when the rest of the ladies revolt and take a large number of the tribes with them. They leave behind a cabin boy, who was part of the deal, apparently Gezo wanted a white slave, one can only imagine the terrors that await the young man if he even survives this episode. One sailor gets left to the mercies of the women, they lose all of them and Comber is speared, probably fatally. Flashman vainly believes that had his cavalry whiskers not appealed to the female warrior he would have been the one she wounded, not Comber.

One thing that has always astonished me about this chapter is the casual way Spring and one of his sailors, possibly his first mate or bosun speak about how they'll transport the slaves, how much space they'll allow for each person, how stinting on space could mean they'll lose a certain amount of men or women, which will cut into their profit, but conversely allowing to much space means they load less slaves, which will also affect the profit. It's quite bizarre, but I have no doubt that many similar conversations took place in the days of slave trading.

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