Read SAIB, THE BLACK BOY of The Book of One Syllable , free online book, by Esther Bakewell, on

In a far-off part of the world there is a place where the boys and girls have not the white fair skins that boys and girls have here, but whose skins are quite black, and whose hair is short and thick, like black wool. Some of these poor things know not what it is to have a home, they know not what it is to have kind friends, they know not what it is to do as they would like to do: they must do all that he who has bought them bids them do.

Yes, he who has bought them! for these poor boys and girls can be bought and sold. They are put on board ships that sail far from the homes of their hearts; they are torn from all they like best in the world, from all they have had to love. Far, far off from these scenes do they sail, and with swoln hearts, and tears too big to fall, they feel that they must work or die. Some would think it a joy to die, for death would put an end to what they feel. They think, too, that when they die they will go back to the home round which their thoughts cling.

Saib was one of these poor boys he was born in that far-off place. As long as he was there, each day was to him a day of joy. Saib had a dear friend, who was near him at all times, and who took part in all his sports, and had a tear for all his pains.

Boa was the name of this friend, and she would sit in the same deep shade with him, and they would climb the same tall tree, and eat the same fruits. They would row in the same boat, and go fast down the dark deep stream. There were, too, those who were glad to see their joy, and who would watch them as they went on and on, till they were far out of sight. They knew no fear they had no cause for fear, but in the shape of a white man.

It was in one of these sails down the stream that they drew their boat to the shore at a place that was quite strange to them. They got out of it, and went on till they had gone far in a strange wild spot. On and on they went, till the step of Boa was not so firm as it had been; it was less firm each time she put her foot to the ground.

“I can walk no more,” she said at last; and quite faint and worn out, she lay down on the ground. Poor Saib! he all at once thought of their lorn state, and of how far they were from their home and from help. There was no sound to be heard, and not a breath of air: all was a still dead calm.

The strength of Saib, too, was gone he could hold out no more; and he, too, sank on the ground. There they both lay, quite worn out with so much toil; and they fell to sleep. How long they had lain thus they could not know, for when the next day’s sun was far on his course, where were they then?

All was strange to them like the queer things dreams are made of. So they shut their eyes once more, and thought they dreamt about the white men.

But it was no dream: they did see the white men! Yes, it was the white men who had put those cords round their hands and feet. There they lay, like logs of wood thrown on a plank, a man at each end of the plank, and these men took poor Saib and Boa.

For a long time the minds of poor Saib and Boa were in such a state that they could not think, nor could they call to mind how they came to be where they were. Thus did they go for miles, till at last they came near the sea coast, and Saib saw a ship out at sea, with her sails spread. Close to the shore was a small boat, near which there were two or three black men, who, as Saib and the rest came in sight, rose up in haste, and the sound of a gun was heard. Saib did not know if this sound came from the ship or the boat, but as soon as it was heard there was a great rush of men to the sea shore.

Where these men came from it would have been hard to guess, for they rose up all at once, as if they had sprung out of the earth. Long had they lain in wait to try if they could keep that ship from the shore, for that ship was a slave ship, and the white men meant to take on board all the blacks they could seize. That it was a slave ship had been found out by scouts set to watch this part of the coast.

Great was the joy of Saib when he saw the chance of help when he thought that he should once more be free! The fight was a fight of blood, and some on each side were left dead on the shore.

The ship came near to the shore, and soon a boat was put out in which there were more white men. Few of the poor blacks were left, and those that were took to flight when they saw that all hope was gone.

Saib was one of those who could not take to flight. His cords had been cut off at the first of the fight, but such was his state of mind, so much did he feel from hope and fear, that he could not move, nor make use of his limbs.

And, oh! what a sight for him to see! There was Boa, his friend the poor girl for whom he had more love than he had for all else on the earth there she was on the ground at his feet. She would not look at him more; he would hear her voice no more: Boa lay there, dead!

From this time he had no sense of what was said or done; he had no care, no thought, for what might be done to him. So there he stood mute and still, like a thing cut in stone.

Some time he had stood thus when there was seen far off a dense cloud like dust.

“They come! they come!” said the white men. “More blacks are on us! To the ship! to the ship!”

Saib knew not what was said or done, and if he had heard, there would have been no help for him. He was thrown in the boat with two or three more blacks, and then from the boat he was flung on board the ship, and the ship set sail.

Fast did she cut through the sea, and soon was far out of sight of land. It was well for Saib that he could not feel. Four or five days ran their course, and still was Saib in this state.

The first words he heard when he came to his senses were “He is not dead, I tell you.”

“I tell you he is,” a voice said: “it is of no use to keep him, so here he goes (Saib felt a hand) and let the sea take the rest of him.”

Poor Saib had but so much strength left that he could just raise his arm.

“There, there!” said the first voice, “I told you he was not dead, and now you see.”

“Well, let him be, then, but he shall pay us well for this; he shall bring us a good price.”

Saib could hear no more; but the first man, who was a kind one, went to get some warm drink to put in Saib’s mouth. He put more and still more, till at length Saib could move and raise his head.

“Boa! Boa!” were the first words he spoke; and he put his hands to his eyes, and did not speak for a long time. He then gave one loud, deep sob, and his tears fell fast.

Those tears took a weight from his mind, a weight he felt he could not have borne long. For some time did these tears fall, and as they fell the view of things that had been was more clear to his mind.

Saib felt that all joy for him in this world was gone: he felt there was no one for him to love now; and great was his grief when he thought of those who would not know what had been the fate of poor Boa and of him. He thought of these things, and his heart was sad. In this state of mind he was for two or three days, and the ship was still on the wide sea.

Saib knew well what would be his fate: he knew that he would be sold for a slave; and he did all he could to try to bear this thought; nay, lorn and sad as he was, he could find a source of thanks in the fact that the pang he would have felt to have seen Boa a slave was not to be his.

Yes, this was a source of deep thanks; and as the ship cut through the blue waves, Saib would sit for hours with his eyes on some far-off star, and that star would shed a ray of light on his soul.

He would think it shone so bright, to tell him that it was Boa’s world now. He felt sure that all things there must be pure and bright, and that Boa might there have more joy than she had had on earth.

“And I shall go there too,” he thought, “and so I will not care much for what I have to bear in this world.” Poor Saib!

The ship had not been long at shore, when Saib, and the rest of the blacks, were all put in a large slave cart that took them to the place where they were to be sold.

There stood Saib, his eyes bent down: now and then he would raise them up as a white man came near; but these did not want to buy him. At last there came one, a man with a hard cross face: he stood close to him, and Saib felt his stern eyes fix on him. This man spoke to the one who had to sell the slaves, and poor Saib was sold! He was soon put on board a ship that was to set sail to that part of the world where white men may keep slaves; here, in our land, such things are not done.

Saib felt it a hard task to do such things as he was told to do, for he had to work all day long, and had no will of his own. If he were not so quick as Mr. Stone thought he ought to be, he would whip him; and so much would he whip him, that Saib, though he did all he could to try to help it, could not help the scream or groan that would break forth.

There were those on board this ship who had kind hearts, and who could not bear to see a boy feel such pain as Saib was made to feel. There was a Mr. and Mrs. Bright who had felt much grief to see how hard was the lot of Saib.

Saib soon found out that they felt for him; and he would look at Mrs. Bright and think how kind she must be; and he would wish Mr. Bright had bought him, for he thought it would not be so hard a thing to be a slave, if he had to serve those who were kind.

Once, when Mrs. Bright was on deck, and Mr. Stone was not there, Saib came near to her; he could not speak such words as Mrs. Bright spoke, but he could make signs, and the signs that he made were such as told her more than words could have told. All she said was, “Poor boy!” but Saib saw a tear in her eye, and that tear shot a gleam of joy on his soul, for he knew it was for him.

One day Saib was no where to be found. In vain did Mr. Stone call to him the name of Saib! Saib! Saib! was heard in all parts of the ship, but no Saib came.

In each place that could be thought of was Saib sought for, but in no place could he be found. At length all thought that he had sought a grave in the deep sea, and that no one would see him more. His fate had been a sad one, and all felt that it had been so.

All on board thought a great deal of Saib. All that day did they think of him, and the next day, and the next, and the next. But there was no one who thought of poor Saib so much as Mrs. Bright did; she thought of him so much that she saw him in her dreams, and she would start up in her bed and call Saib! Saib! and this would seem so real that she could not think it had been a dream.

One night when she had had this same dream, and had seen Saib, as she thought, at the foot of her bed, she rose up with a start, but still he was there! This was most strange. “Saib! Saib!” she said, “you are there, and it is no dream.”

But Saib was gone! and there was no trace of him to be seen. Yet so sure did Mrs. Bright feel that she had seen him, and that he was not dead, that she could have no peace of mind. She thought of him the whole of that day, and at night she made up her mind that she would not go to sleep, but would lie quite still, as though she were gone to sleep.

When she had been in bed two or three hours, she heard a slight noise in her room, yet she did not move. All was soon still, and then once more she heard a noise. The sound was like that of a piece of wood on the slide, but so soft it was that it could not have been heard by ears less quick than the ears of Mrs. Bright were just at that time. Once more she was still, and then she heard the soft step of a foot. The watch-light was dim, and yet such ray as there was, fell on the form of Saib! Yes! it was he, there he stood; Mrs. Bright saw, and she could not doubt that it was he!

She lay quite still, nor could she have made the least sign of life had she had the wish to do so. Her eyes were not shut, so she could see all that was done. Saib at first stood quite still, as if to be sure that he was safe; and then he went with step soft and slow to a tub of dry ship cakes, that Mrs. Bright kept in her room. She saw him take four or five of these in his hand, and then he stole back to the place from whence he had come.

All this she saw, but she could not have made known to Saib that she saw it. Yet when he was gone out of her sight she gave one loud scream. Mr. Bright, who slept in the berth next to hers, was up and on the floor just in time to see Saib.

When Saib saw that he was seen, and that he was known, he fell on his knees, and, oh, how much was told in that one look of his!

“My poor boy!” said Mr. Bright, “what you must have gone through, to have made you make choice of such a life as this.” As he spoke he saw the hole in the side of the room through which Saib had come.

He found that it was a place made to keep things in that were out of use, and it was so small that there was not room for Saib to lie down in. Mrs. Bright did not know that there was such a place, and when it was shut, the door was so like the rest of the side of the room, that no one could have told there was a door there.

Saib had known of it, for he had seen a man put cords and ropes there, at a time when the berths in that room were not in use. The place was not quite dark there were small holes on the deck of that part of the ship, which let in light and air.

When Saib found that the looks of Mr. and Mrs. Bright were kind, hope took the place of fear, and, by signs and such words as he could speak, he made known his wish that they would let him stay where he had been, till the ship came to shore.

Mr. and Mrs. Bright felt so much grief for the state the poor boy was in, that they each had a strong wish to save him from all chance of more pain, and they knew that the best way to do this would be to buy him from Mr. Stone.

They made this wish known to Saib, and who could have seen the gleam of joy shed on the face of Saib, when he knew what Mr. and Mrs. Bright meant to do who could have seen it, and not have felt joy too?

Mr. Stone, as has been said, was a hard man, and Mr. Bright had to fear that he might be in such a rage at what Saib had done, that he would not sell him.

Yet, though Mr. Stone was a hard man, he was a man who had so great a wish to be a rich man, that he could not say no, when there was gain in his way; and though he was at first in a great rage, the sum Mr. Bright said he would give for Saib was so large a one, that Mr. Stone did not say no.

What was the joy of poor Saib when told he should be free! what was the joy of poor Saib when he found how much thought and care Mr. and Mrs. Bright had for him!

They took Saib with them to their own home, and had him taught all things that could be of use to him in the new state in which he now was.

Saib is now more than twelve years old; he has learnt to read, to write, to speak the truth, to try to be calm when rude boys tease him, and to feel grief when he has done wrong. To love his kind friends he has not to learn his heart bids him do that.

He feels all that Mrs. Bright has done for him he hopes he may not grieve her or Mr. Bright, but that he may be to them as a good son. Then they will not part with him; then they will be paid back for all that they have done.

The thought of such a great and good deed must make them glad in this world, and bring them joy in the next.