[Here is an ambiguous scene. Delano leaves the cuddy thinking through Bentio’s strange behavior. Then Babo appears claiming that Benito cut him with the razor. From Delano’s perspective, the report is obviously true and indicates malice in Benito. But, from the reader’s perspective, we know it would be madness for Benito to attack Babo under the circumstances. Is Benito mad? Is Babo setting him up so Delano won’t trust Benito? Is it something else?]
Walking forward to the main-mast, he stood awhile thinking over the scene, and not without some undefined misgivings, when he heard a noise near the cuddy, and turning, saw the negro, his hand to his cheek. Advancing, Captain Delano perceived that the cheek was bleeding. He was about to ask the cause, when the negro’s wailing soliloquy enlightened him.
“Ah, when will master get better from his sickness; only the sour heart that sour sickness breeds made him serve Babo so; cutting Babo with the razor, because, only by accident, Babo had given master one little scratch; and for the first time in so many a day, too. Ah, ah, ah,”
holding his hand to his face.
Is it possible, thought Captain Delano; was it to wreak in private his Spanish spite against this poor friend of his, that Don Benito, by his sullen manner, impelled me to withdraw? Ah this slavery breeds ugly passions in man.–Poor fellow!
He was about to speak in sympathy to the negro, but with a timid reluctance he now re-entered the cuddy.
[So who is being deceptive at this point?]
Presently master and man came forth; Don Benito leaning on his servant as if nothing had happened.
But a sort of love-quarrel, after all, thought Captain Delano.
[Now Delano’s racial categories are complicated by introduction of a Mulatto man who has better features than the King of England. He wonders if Babo is “jealous” of the Mulatto. He also wonders how subservient the Mulatto man must be. Again this plays into the taken-for-granted racism of Delano]
He accosted Don Benito, and they slowly walked together. They had gone but a few paces, when the steward–a tall, rajah-looking mulatto, orientally set off with a pagoda turban formed by three or four Madras handkerchiefs wound about his head, tier on tier–approaching with a saalam, announced lunch in the cabin.
On their way thither, the two captains were preceded by the mulatto, who, turning round as he advanced, with continual smiles and bows, ushered them on, a display of elegance which quite completed the insignificance of the small bare-headed Babo, who, as if not unconscious of inferiority, eyed askance the graceful steward. But in part, Captain Delano imputed his jealous watchfulness to that peculiar feeling which the full-blooded African entertains for the adulterated one. As for the steward, his manner, if not bespeaking much dignity of self-respect, yet evidenced his extreme desire to please; which is doubly meritorious, as at once Christian and Chesterfieldian.
Captain Delano observed with interest that while the complexion of the mulatto was hybrid, his physiognomy was European–classically so.
“Don Benito,” whispered he, “I am glad to see this usher-of-the-golden-rod of yours; the sight refutes an ugly remark once made to me by a Barbadoes planter; that when a mulatto has a regular European face, look out for him; he is a devil. But see, your steward here has features more regular than King George’s of England; and yet there he nods, and bows, and smiles; a king, indeed–the king of kind hearts and polite fellows. What a pleasant voice he has, too?”
“He has, Senor.”
“But tell me, has he not, so far as you have known him, always proved a good, worthy fellow?” said Captain Delano, pausing, while with a final genuflexion the steward disappeared into the cabin; “come, for the reason just mentioned, I am curious to know.”
“Francesco is a good man,” a sort of sluggishly responded Don Benito, like a phlegmatic appreciator, who would neither find fault nor flatter.
[Notice how Delano assumes without question certain scientific – if you will – details of being white or black. There is no question here of anything other than matter of fact racism. He simply thinks certain moral and intellectual characteristic adhere to skin color. From our perspective this sounds as ridiculous as phrenology. It would be absurd if it had not brought about such horrifying effects upon so many people.]
“Ah, I thought so. For it were strange, indeed, and not very creditable to us white-skins, if a little of our blood mixed with the African’s, should, far from improving the latter’s quality, have the sad effect of pouring vitriolic acid into black broth; improving the hue, perhaps, but not the wholesomeness.”
“Doubtless, doubtless, Senor, but”–glancing at Babo–“not to speak of negroes, your planter’s remark I have heard applied to the Spanish and Indian intermixtures in our provinces. But I know nothing about the matter,” he listlessly added.
And here they entered the cabin.
[Lunch. Notice the word “hovered” to describe the servants waiting. They were not there for the Benito’s ease but to keep watch over Benito]
The lunch was a frugal one. Some of Captain Delano’s fresh fish and pumpkins, biscuit and salt beef, the reserved bottle of cider, and the San Dominick’s last bottle of Canary.
As they entered, Francesco, with two or three colored aids, was hovering over the table giving the last adjustments. Upon perceiving their master they withdrew, Francesco making a smiling cong, and the Spaniard, without condescending to notice it, fastidiously remarking to his
companion that he relished not superfluous attendance.
Without companions, host and guest sat down, like a childless married couple, at opposite ends of the table, Don Benito waving Captain Delano to his place, and, weak as he was, insisting upon that gentleman being seated before himself. [Delano is on the Bachelor’s Delight – he is childless.]
The negro placed a rug under Don Benito’s feet, and a cushion behind his back, and then stood behind, not his master’s chair, but Captain Delano’s. At first, this a little surprised the latter. But it was soon evident that, in taking his position, the black was still true to his master; since by facing him he could the more readily anticipate his slightest want.
“This is an uncommonly intelligent fellow of yours, Don Benito,” whispered Captain Delano across the table.
“You say true, Senor.”