George Henty.

A Roving Commission: or, Through the Black Insurrection at Hayti

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Horrible as were the atrocities of which the monsters of the French Revolution were guilty, they paled before the fiendish outrages committed by their black imitators in Hayti. Indeed, for some six years the island presented a saturnalia of massacre, attended with indescribable tortures. It may be admitted that the retaliation inflicted by the maddened whites after the first massacre was as full of horrors as were the outrages perpetrated by the blacks, and both were rivalled by the mulattoes when they joined in the general madness for blood. The result was ruin to all concerned. France lost one of her fairest possessions, and a wealthy race of cultivators, many belonging to the best blood of France, were annihilated or driven into poverty among strangers. The mulattoes, many of whom were also wealthy, soon found that the passions they had done so much to foment were too powerful for them; their position under the blacks was far worse and more precarious, than it had been under the whites. The negroes gained a nominal liberty. Nowhere were the slaves so well treated as by the French colonists, and they soon discovered that, so far from profiting by the massacre of their masters and families, they were infinitely worse off than before. They were still obliged to work to some extent to save themselves from starvation; they had none to look to for aid in the time of sickness and old age; hardships and fevers had swept them away wholesale; the trade of the island dwindled almost to nothing; and at last the condition of the negroes in Hayti has fallen to the level of that of the savage African tribes. Unless some strong white power should occupy the island and enforce law and order, sternly repress crime, and demand a certain amount of labour from all able-bodied men, there seems no hope that any amelioration can take place in the present situation.



Now, look here, Nathaniel – "

"Drop that, Curtis, you know very well that I won't have it. I can't help having such a beast of a name, and why it was given me I have never been able to make out, and if I had been consulted in the matter all the godfathers and godmothers in the world wouldn't have persuaded me to take such a name. Nat I don't mind. I don't say that it is a name that I should choose; still, I can put up with that, but the other I won't have. You have only just joined the ship, but if you ask the others they will tell you that I have had at least half a dozen fights over the name, and it is an understood thing here that if anyone wants a row with me he has only got to call me Nathaniel, and there is no occasion for any more words after that."

The speaker was a pleasant-faced lad, between fifteen and sixteen, and his words were half in jest half in earnest.

He was a general favourite among his mess-mates on board H. M. frigate Orpheus. He was full of life and fun, exceptionally good-tempered, and able to stand any amount of chaff and joking, and it was understood by his comrades that there was but one point that it was unsafe to touch on, and that sore point was his name. It had been the choice of his godmother, a maiden aunt, who had in her earlier days had a disappointment. Nat had once closely questioned his father as to how he came by his name, and the latter had replied testily:

"Well, my boy, your Aunt Eliza, who is, you know, a very good woman – no one can doubt that – had a weakness. I never myself got at the rights of the matter. Anyhow, his name was Nathaniel. I don't think there was ever any formal engagement between them. Her own idea is that he loved her, but that his parents forbade him to think of her; for that was at a time before her Aunt Lydia left all her money to her. Anyhow, he went abroad, and I don't think she ever heard of him again. I am inclined to think it was an entire mistake on her part, and that the young fellow had never had the slightest fancy for her. However, that was the one romance of her life, and she has clung to it like a limpet to a rock. At any rate when we asked her to be your godmother she said she would be so if we would give you the name of Nathaniel. I own it is not a name that I like myself; but when we raised an objection, she said that the name was very dear to her, and that if you took it she would certainly make you her heir, and more than hinted that if you had any other name she would leave her money to charitable purposes. Well, you see, as she is worth thirty thousand pounds if she is worth a penny, your mother and I both thought it would be folly to allow the money to go out of the family for the sake of a name, which after all is not such a bad name."

"I think it beastly, father, in the first place because it is long."

"Well, my boy, if you like we can shorten it to Nathan."

"Oh, that would be a hundred times worse! Nathan indeed! Nat is not so bad. If I had been christened Nat I should not have particularly minded it. Why did you not propose that to aunt?"

His father shook his head. "That would never have done. To her he was always Nathaniel. Possibly if they had been married it might some day have become Nat, but, you see, it never got to that."

"Well, of course, father," the boy said with a sigh, "as the thing is done it cannot be helped. And I don't say that aunt isn't a good sort – first-rate in some things, for she has always tipped me well whenever she came here, and she says she is going to allow me fifty pounds a year directly I get my appointment as midshipman; but it is certainly hard on me that she could not have fallen in love with some man with a decent name. Nathaniel is always getting me into rows. Why, the first two or three years I went to school I should say that I had a fight over it once a month. Of course I have not had one lately, for since I licked Smith major fellows are more careful. I expect it will be just as bad in the navy."

So when he first joined Nat had found it, but now that he was nearly sixteen, and very strong and active, and with the experience of many past combats, the name Nathaniel had been dropped. It was six months since the obnoxious Christian name had been used, as it was now by a young fellow of seventeen who had been transferred to the Orpheus when the frigate to which he belonged was ordered home. He was tall and lanky, very particular about his dress, spoke in a drawling supercilious way, and had the knack of saying unpleasant things with an air of innocence. Supposing that Glover's name must be Nathaniel, he had thought it smart so to address him, but although he guessed that it might irritate him, he was unprepared for an explosion on the part of a lad who was proverbially good-tempered.

"Dear me," he said, in assumed surprise, "I had no idea that you objected so much to be called by your proper name! However, I will, of course, in future use the abbreviation."

"You had better call me Glover," Nat replied sharply. "My friends can call me Nat, but to other people I am Glover, and if you call me out of that name there will be squalls; so I warn you."

Curtis thought it was well not to pursue the subject further. He was no coward, but he had the sense to see that as Nat was a favourite with the others, while he was a new-comer, a fight, even if he were the victor, would not conduce to his popularity among his mess-mates. The president of the mess, a master's mate, a good-tempered fellow, who hated quarrels, broke what would have been an awkward silence by saying:

"We seem to be out of luck altogether this trip; we have been out three weeks and not fired a shot. It is especially hard, for we caught sight of that brigantine we have been in search of, and should have had her if she hadn't run into that channel where there was not water enough for us to follow her."

"Yes, that was rough upon us, and one hates to go back to Port Royal without a prize, after having taken so many that we have come to be considered the luckiest ship on the station," another said. "Still, the cruise is not over yet. I suppose by the way we are laying our course, Marston, we are going into Cape Fran?ois?"

The mate nodded. "Yes; we want fresh meat, fruit, and water, and it is about the pleasantest place among these islands. I have no doubt, too, that the captain hopes to get some news that may help him to find out where those piratical craft that are doing so much mischief have their rendezvous. They are all so fast that unless in a strong breeze a frigate has no chance whatever of overhauling them; there is no doubt that they are all of Spanish build, and in a light breeze they sail like witches. I believe our only chance of catching them is in finding them at their head-quarters, wherever that may be, or by coming upon them in a calm in a bay. In that case it would be a boat affair; and a pretty sharp one I should think, for they all carry very strong crews and are heavily armed, and as the scoundrels know that they fight with ropes round their necks they would be awkward customers to tackle."

"Yes, if we happened to find them all together, I don't think the captain would risk sending in the boats. One at a time we could manage, but with three of them mounting about fifty guns between them, and carrying, I should say, from two hundred to two hundred and fifty men, the odds would be very great, and the loss, even if we captured them, so heavy that I hardly think the captain would be justified in attempting it. I should say that he would be more likely to get out all the boats and tow the frigate into easy range. She would give a good account of the whole of them."

"Yes, there is no doubt about that; but even then we should only succeed if the bay was a very narrow one, for otherwise their boats would certainly tow them faster than we could take the frigate along."

It was Glover who spoke last.

"I don't think myself that we shall ever catch them in the frigate. It seems to me that the only chance will be to get hold of an old merchantman, put a strong crew on board and a dozen of our guns, and cruise about until one of them gets a sight of us and comes skimming along to capture us."

"Yes, that would be a good plan; but it has been tried several times with success, and I fancy the pirates would not fall into the trap. Besides, there is very little doubt that they have friends at all these ports, and get early information of any movements of our ships, and would hear of what we were doing long before the disguised ship came near them. It can hardly be chance, that it matters not which way we cruise these fellows begin their work in another direction altogether. Now that we are here in this great bay, they are probably cruising off the west of Cuba or down by Porto Rico or the Windward Islands. That is the advantage that three or four craft working together have: they are able to keep spies in every port that our ships of war are likely to go into, while a single vessel cannot afford such expenses."

"I don't think that the expenses, Low, would be heavy; the negroes would do it for next to nothing, and so would the mulattoes, simply because they hate the whites. I don't mean the best of the mulattoes, because many of them are gentlemen and good fellows; but the lower class are worse than the negroes, they are up to any devilment, and will do anything they can to injure a white man."

"Poor beggars, one can hardly blame them; they are neither one thing nor the other! These old French planters are as aristocratic as their noblesse at home, and indeed many of them belong to noble families. Even the meanest white – and they are pretty mean some of them – looks down upon a mulatto, although the latter may have been educated in France and own great plantations. The negroes don't like them because of their strain of white blood. They are treated as if they were pariahs. Their children may not go to school with the whites, they themselves may not sit down in a theatre or kneel at church next to them, they may not use the same restaurants or hotels. No wonder they are discontented."

"It is hard on them," Glover said, "but one can't be surprised that the whites do fight shy of them. Great numbers of them are brutes and no mistake, ready for any crime and up to any wickedness. There is lots of good in the niggers; they are merry fellows; and I must say for these old French planters they use their slaves a great deal better than they are as a rule treated by our planters in Jamaica. Of course there are bad masters everywhere, but if I were a slave I would certainly rather be under a French master than an English one, or, from what I have heard, than an American."

"Very well, Glover, I will make a note of that, and if you ever misbehave yourself and we have to sell you, I will drop a line to the first luff how your preference lies."

Early the next morning the frigate dropped anchor at Cape Fran?ois, the largest and most important town in the island, with the exception of the capital of the Spanish portion of San Domingo. The Orpheus carried six midshipmen. Four of these had been ashore when on the previous occasion the Orpheus had entered the port. Nat Glover and Curtis were the exceptions, Curtis having at that time belonged to the frigate for but a very few weeks, and Nat having been in the first lieutenant's bad books, owing to a scrape into which he had got at the last port they had touched at. After breakfast they went up together to the first lieutenant, whose name was Hill.

"Please, sir, if we are not wanted, can we have leave for the day?"

The lieutenant hesitated, and then said:

"Yes, I think the other four will be enough for the boats. You did not go ashore last time you were here, I think, Mr. Glover," he added with a slight smile.

"No, sir."

"Very well, then, you can go, but don't get into any scrape."

"I will try not to, sir," Nat said demurely.

"Well, I hope your trial will be successful, Mr. Glover, for if not, I can tell you that it will be a long time before you have leave again. These people don't understand that sort of thing."

"He is a nice lad," Mr. Hill said to the second lieutenant as the two midshipmen walked away, "and when he has worked off those animal spirits of his he will make a capital officer, but at present he is one of the most mischievous young monkeys I ever came across."

"He does not let them interfere with his duty," the other said. "He is the smartest of our mids; he is well up in navigation, and has any amount of pluck. You remember how he jumped overboard in Port Royal when a marine fell into the water, although the harbour was swarming with sharks. It was a near touch. Luckily we threw a bowline to him, and the two were hauled up together. A few seconds more and it would have been too late, for there was a shark within twenty feet of them."

"Yes, there is no doubt about his pluck, Playford, and indeed I partly owe my life to him. When we captured that piratical brigantine near Santa Lucia I boarded by the stern, and she had such a strong crew that we were being beaten back, and things looked very bad until he with the gig's crew swarmed in over the bow. Even then it was a very tough struggle till they cut their way through the pirates and joined us, and we went at them together, and that youngster fought like a young fiend. He was in the thick of it everywhere, and yet he was as cool as a cucumber. Oh yes, he has the making of a very fine officer. Although I am obliged to be sharp with him, there is not a shadow of harm in the lad, but he certainly has a genius for getting into scrapes."

The two midshipmen went ashore together. "I don't know what you are going to do, Curtis, but after I have walked through the place and had a look at it, I shall hire a horse and ride out into the country."

"It is too hot for riding," the other said. "Of course I shall see what there is to be seen, and then I shall look for a seat in some place in the shade and eat fruit."

"Well, we may as well walk through the town together," Nat said cheerfully. "From the look of the place I should fancy there was not much in it, and I know the fellows who went on shore before said that the town contained nothing but native huts, a few churches, and two or three dozen old French houses."

Half an hour indeed sufficed to explore the place. When they separated Nat had no difficulty in hiring a horse. He had been accustomed, when in England, to ride a pony, and was therefore at home in the saddle; he proceeded at a leisurely pace along the road across the flat plain that surrounded Cape Fran?ois. On either side were plantations, – sugar-cane and tobacco, – and he occasionally passed the abode of some wealthy planter, surrounded by shady trees and gardens gorgeous with tropical plants and flowers. He was going by one of these, half a mile from the town, when he heard a loud scream, raised evidently by a woman in extreme pain or terror. He was just opposite the entrance, and, springing from his horse, he ran in.

On the ground, twenty yards from the gate, lay a girl. A huge hound had hold of her shoulder, and was shaking her violently. Nat drew his dirk and gave a loud shout as he rushed forward. The hound loosed his hold of the girl and turned to meet him, and, springing upon him with a savage growl, threw him to the ground. Nat drove his dirk into the animal as he fell, and threw his left arm across his throat to prevent the dog seizing him there. A moment later the hound had seized it with a grip that extracted a shout of pain from the midshipman. As he again buried his dirk in the hound's side, the dog shifted his hold from Nat's forearm to his shoulder and shook him as if he had been a child.

Nat made no effort to free himself, for he knew that were he to uncover his throat for a moment the dog would seize him there. Though the pain was terrible he continued to deal stroke after stroke to the dog. One of these blows must have reached the heart, for suddenly its hold relaxed and it rolled over, just as half a dozen negroes armed with sticks came rushing out of the house. Nat tried to raise himself on his right arm, but the pain of the left was so great that he leant back again half-fainting. Presently he felt himself being lifted up and carried along; he heard a lady's voice giving directions, and then for a time he knew no more. When he came to himself he saw the ship's doctor leaning over him.

"What is the matter, doctor?" he asked.

"You are badly hurt, lad, and must lie perfectly quiet. Luckily the messenger who was sent to fetch a doctor, seeing Mr. Curtis and me walking up the street, ran up to us and said that a young officer of our ship was hurt, and that he was sent in to fetch a doctor. He had, in fact, already seen one, and was in the act of returning with him when he met us. Of course I introduced myself to the French doctor as we came along together, for we fortunately got hold of a trap directly, so that no time was lost. The black boy who brought the message told me that you and a young lady had been bitten by a great hound belonging to his master, and that you had killed it. Now, my lad, I am going to cut off your coat and look at your wounds. The Frenchman is attending to the young lady."

"Mind how you touch my arm, doctor! it is broken somewhere between the elbow and the wrist; I heard it snap when the brute seized me. It threw me down, and I put my arm across over my throat, so as to prevent it from getting at that. It would have been all up with me if it had gripped me there."

"That it would, Glover. I saw the dog lying on the grass as I came in. It is a big bloodhound; and your presence of mind undoubtedly saved your life."

By this time he had cut the jacket and shirt up to the neck. Nat saw his lips tighten as he caught sight of the wound on the shoulder.

"It is a bad bite, eh, doctor?"

"Yes, it has mangled the flesh badly. The dog seems to have shifted his hold several times."

"Yes, doctor, each time I stabbed him he gave a sort of start, and then caught hold again and shook me furiously. After the first bite I did not seem to feel any pain. I suppose the limb was numbed."

"Very likely, lad. Now I must first of all see what damage was done to the forearm. I am afraid I shall hurt you, but I will be as gentle as I can."

Nat clenched his teeth and pressed his lips tightly together. Not a sound was heard as the examination was being made, although the sweat that started out on his forehead showed how intense was the pain.

"Both bones are broken," the surgeon said to his French colleague, who had just entered the room and came up to the bedside. "The first thing to do is to extemporize some splints, and of course we shall want some stuff for bandages."

"I will get them made at once," the doctor replied. "Madame Demaine said that she put the whole house at my disposal."

He went out, and in a few minutes returned with some thin slips of wood eighteen inches long and a number of strips of sheeting sewn together.

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