Sunday, February 5, 2012

Flash for Freedom - Chapter 4

After ALL of the action in Chapter 3, Chapter 4 is a bit of a come down. A lot of it concerns itself with the business of preparing, loading and then transporting the cargo of the Balliol College. I guess at the time Flash for Freedom came out, the finer details of slave trading didn’t exist outside of non fiction. By the time I read it, I’d seen TV programs featuring it and read a number of books, including an excellent children’s book the name of which escapes me (it may have been Slave Dancer) that dealt with the same subject, so it was a bit old hat for me and not of much interest. I was struck this time by how Flashman describes these situations, but does so in a totally self centred way. It’s never about the ordeal others are going through, more about how it affects him personally.

Once underway there’s a rather half hearted chase by an American ship, they also tally up the ‘butchers bill’ and it’s worked out that, not including the cabin boy, they lost 5 men in the engagement on the beach. No one believes Comber will survive either, if for no other reason than Mrs Spring has volunteered to nurse him.

The men are encouraged to avail themselves of the female slaves, apparently if it can be proved that they’re ‘breeders’ it increases their value on the block. Flashman adopts one young lady, and unable to learn her language, teaches her both an English phrase and a Latin one, he does the latin to annoy John Charity Spring, he also christens her Lady Caroline Lamb, because it amuses him. The real Caroline Lamb was an aristocrat and novelist who had an affair with Byron, she died in 1828, so I’m not really sure why Flashman gave the girl that name unless his family was somehow connected to the woman. Maybe Buck had an affair with her, as well.

There is an incident involving Charity Spring that is going to have ramifications for the story later on. The ship has a mentally disabled cabin boy and general dogsbody they name Looney. The rest of the crew generally make fun of him or use him as a punching bag. Charity Spring as he tends to do takes it too far, and it alters the boy’s personality.

Comber dies of his wounds, but before doing so asks to see Flashman and makes a deathbed confession. He’s not a sailor who signed on with a slaver because of some scandal. He’s actually a British naval lieutenant collecting information with the intention of prosecuting all involved. When he realises he’s going to die he pegs Flashman as the person who can continue his work. Flashman comes into possession of the documents that not only can sink John Charity Spring, but also point to John Morrison as profiting from slavery. Flashman hides the paperwork by sewing it into his belt, but determines that it will make for an excellent way of squeezing his father-in-law when he gets back to England.

The Balliol College arrives to a chaotic scene in a Cuban port, because gold has just been discovered in California and everyone and their dog is off to stake a claim.

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