Saturday, February 11, 2012

Flash for Freedom - Chapter 9

Flashman and George Randolph are loaded onto a riverboat for their journey to Ohio and freedom for George. In order to carry off their deception George has been shackled with 5 other negroes. The other 5 are free employees of Crixus and as committed to the abolitionist cause and the underground railroad as their employer is. One gets the impression by the way that they act like slaves being transported that they're relatively experienced in exercises like this and they are certainly less likely to be discovered in their deception than George, who doesn't seem to realise that his cooperation will be required to get him away.

A lot of the chapter talks about riverboat travel back in the golden ages of the form of transport. It's something that I think George Maconald Fraser would have liked to experience properly. Flashman certainly seems to enjoy it. He's less complimentary about the Mississippi itself. There is at least one tantalising mention of his Civil War experiences, this time on the side of the Union, as he quotes Ulysses S. Grant about the Mississippi: 'Too thick to drink, and too thin to plough. It stinks.'

The only real problem Flashman has is from Randolph. He simply refuses to behave like an owned man, demanding things of the overseer and speaking back to the man. It's obvious he's a good deal more edcuated than the overseer, and that seems to anger the man more, although he can't administer any punishment without Flashman's say so. The fact that Flashman in his guise as wealthy Englishman Prescott, wont actually do so, casts suspicion not just on George, but Flashman himself. Harry tries to reason with George, but he pigheadedly refuses to accept that his actions could unmask them all and never get him to freedom.

Despite George's behaviour things seem to be going along well until in a panic George tells Flashman that a man by the name of Peter Omohundro has boarded the boat. Omohundro is a slave trader, and he once sold George to a former master. If he recognises George then the game will be well and truly up. Flashman tells George to keep out of sight if he can and he will try and keep an eye on Omohundro. It does at least have the effect of ensuring that Randolph will pull his head in.

Fate conspires against them. Omohundro isn't on a buying trip, so doesn't have any real reason to visit the slave decks, but tells another traveller that he never misses an opportunity to see the type of slave the other man has. It's rather unsettling to read these men talking about people like they're cattle, and in fact I think Omohundro even refers to them as cattle at one point. It's rather stomach turning to think of really.

Unfortunately the impression George has made on the overseer leads the man to urge Omohundro to look at Flashman's coffle. He recognises George and the game is well and truly on. A panicked and desperate George tackles Omohundro and goes over the side. Flashman's last view of the man is him being hit by the paddle steamer's wheel, it's possible he was also shot. Flashy goes for the other side of the boat and dives into the Mississippi.

One cautionary note about this chapter, the 'n' word was thrown about very regularly during it. It's always used in context, but it seemed rather excessive to me.

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