George Henty.

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



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"Of course, marse, lamp no good widout; and I hab got sulphur matches, no fear me forget them."

"Give them to me, Dinah, I will strike a light while you attend to your mistress."

Dinah poured some water into a cup and then knelt down by Madame Duchesne.

"Here, dearie," she said, "Dinah brought you water and wine and tings to eat. Here is a cup of water, I am sure you want it. Let me lift you up to drink it."

She lifted her and placed the cup in her hands, and she drank it off eagerly.

"Is that your voice, Dinah?" she said after a pause.

"Yes, madame; I'se come up to help to take care ob you. Marse Glober come and tell me whar you were, so you may be suah that me lose no time, just wait to get a few tings dat you might want and den start up."

"I think I am not very well, Dinah."

"Jess a little poorly you be. Bery funny if you not poorly abter sich wicked doings. Now de best ting dat you can do is to go to sleep and not worry."

"Give me another drink, Dinah."

"Here it is, dis time a little wine wid de water and a little 'tuff to make you sleep quiet. Den me double up a blanket for you to lie on and put anober over you, and a bundle under your head, and den you go to sleep firm. No trouble to-night; to-morrow morning we go on."

Madame Duchesne drank off the contents of the cup. She was made as comfortable as circumstances would permit, and it was not long before her regular breathing showed that the medicine that Dinah had administered had had the desired effect.

"Now, Myra," Nat said, "we will investigate the contents of the basket. I am beginning to get as hungry as a hunter, and I am sure that you must be so too."

"I am thirsty," the girl said, "but I do not feel hungry."

"You will, directly you begin. Now, Dinah, what have you brought us?"

"Dere am one roast chicken dar, Marse Glober. Dat was all I could get cooked. Dere are six dead ones. I caught dem and wrung their necks jest before I started. Dey no good now. Dere is bread baked fresh dis morning before de troubles began, and dere is two pine-apples and a big melon."

"Bravo, Dinah! You have got knives?"

"Yes, sah, four knibes and forks."

"We could manage without the forks, Dinah, but it is more comfortable having them. Now we will cut the chicken up into three. It looks a fine bird."

"I'se had my dinner, sah; no want more."

"That is all nonsense, Dinah," he said. "I am quite sure that you did not eat much dinner to-day, and you will want your strength to-morrow."

Dinah could not affirm that she had eaten much, and indeed she had scarcely been able to swallow a mouthful in the middle of the day. The meal was heartily enjoyed, and they made up with bread and fruit for the shortness of the meat ration.

"Now you two lie down," Nat said after they had chatted for an hour. "I am accustomed to night watches and can sleep with one ear open, but I am convinced that there is not the slightest need for any of us keeping awake.

When the lantern is out, which it will be as soon as you lie down, if all the negroes came up into the woods to search for us I should have no fear of their finding us."

Dinah, however, insisted upon taking a share in watching, saying that she was constantly sitting up at night with sick people.

Finding that she was quite determined, Nat said: "Very well, Dinah. It is ten o'clock now. I will watch till one o'clock, and then you can watch till four. We shall be able to start then."

"It won't be like light till five. No good start troo wood before that. I'se sure to wake at one o'clock. I'se accustomed to wake any hour so as to give medicines."

"Very well, Dinah; I suppose you must have your way."

Myra and the nurse therefore lay down, while Nat sat thinking over the events of the day and the prospects of the future. He had said nothing to the negress of the conversation that he had overheard, as on the way from the house they had walked one behind the other and there had been no opportunity for conversation, and he would not on any account have Myra or her mother know the fate that these villains had proposed for them. He wondered now whether he had done rightly in abstaining from shooting one of them, but after thinking it over in every way he came to the conclusion that it was best to have acted as he did, for they clearly intended to do all in their power to save mother and daughter from being massacred at once by the negroes.

"Even if the worst comes to the worst," he said to himself, "they have pistols, and I know will, as a last resource, use them against themselves."

CHAPTER VIII
A TIME OF WAITING

Dinah woke two minutes before one o'clock, and Nat at once lay down and, resolutely refusing to allow himself to think any more of the situation, was soon fast asleep.

"It am jess beginning to get light, Marse Glober," the negress said when, as it seemed to him, he had not been five minutes asleep. However, he jumped up at once.

"It is very dark, still, Dinah."

"It am dark, sah, but not so dark as it was. Bes' be off at once. Must get well away before dem black fellows wake up."

"How is Madame Duchesne?"

"She sleep, sah; she no wake for another tree or four hours. Dinah give pretty strong dose. Bes' dat she should know noting about it till we get to a safe place."

"But is there any safe place, Dinah?"

"Yes, massa; me take you where dey neber tink of searching, but good way off in hills."

Myra by this time was on her feet also.

"Have you slept well, Myra?"

"Yes, I have slept pretty well, but in spite of the two blankets under us it was awfully hard, and I feel stiff all over now."

"How shall we divide the things, Dinah?"

"Well, sah, do you tink you can take de head of de barrow? Dat pretty heaby weight."

"Oh, nonsense!" Nat said. "Madame Duchesne is a light weight, and if I could get her comfortably on my back I could carry her any distance."

"Dat bery well before starting, Marse Glober, you tell anoder story before we gone very far."

"Well, at any rate, I can carry a good deal more than one end of the barrow."

"Well, sah, we put all de blankets on de barrow before we put madame on it, and put de bundle of clothes under her head. Den by her feet we put de basket and oder tings. Dat divide de weight pretty fair."

"But what am I to carry, nurse, may I ask?"

"You just carry yourself, dearie; dat quite enough for you. It am a good long way we hab to go, and some part of it am bery rough. You do bery well if you walk dat distance."

"That is right, Myra," Nat agreed. "We don't want to have to carry both you and your mother, and though you have walked a good deal more than most of the girls of your own class you have never done anything like this."

In a few minutes the preparations were completed. Madame Duchesne was laid on the barrow, and the basket and other things packed near her feet. Dinah took up the two front handles, Nat those behind, and, with Myra walking by the side, they started.

"Which way are we going, Dinah?"

"Me show you, sah. We go up for some way, den we come on path; two miles farder we cross a road, and den strike into forest again by a little valley wiv a tiny stream running down him. After walk for an hour we cross ober anoder hill all cohered wiv trees and find soon anoder stream, quite little dere; hab a mile we follow him, den we find a place where we 'top. We long way den from any plantation, dat quite wild country."

"Then how do you know the place, Dinah?"

"Me'se not been dere for thirty years, Marse Glober, me active wench den, twenty year old, me jest marry my husband, he dead and gone long ago. He hab a broder on anoder plantation; dere bery bad oberseer, he beat de slabes bery much. Jake he knock him down with hoe, and den take to de hills; my husband know de place where he hide, and took me to it one night, so dat I could find it again and carry food to him, cause he not able to get away, hab to work on plantation. Me had a little pickanniny and could 'teal away widout being noticed, and me went dere seberal times; den oberseer killed by anoder slabe, and de master, who was good man, he come out to enquire about it. When he heard how de slabe had been treated, he bery angry and say it sarbe oberseer right. When I heard dat I spoke to de ole marse, de grandfather ob dis chile you know, he bery good man, like his son, and he went to de plantation and got de marster to promise dat if Jake came back to work again he should not be punished. And he kept his word. Dat is how me came to know ob dis place. Since dat time me know dat many slabes hab hidden dere. Now dat de slabes are masters, for suah dey not want to go near dat place, and neber dream dat Madame and Mam'selle Myra know of dat place and go and hide dere."

By the time that they reached the path daylight had fairly broken.

"We are not likely to meet anyone here, I hope, Dinah?"

"No, sah, de blacks in de plantations dey go down by the road we shall cross – suah to do dat to get quick the news ob what am going on in oder places. If one come along here, dey see you black, and tink you nigger like demselves. Mam'selle must slip into de bush, now she got dat gown on, no one s'pect her being white a little way off. Den if dere is only one or two, you shoot dem as soon as dey come up, if dar many of them – but dere no chance ob dat – must make up some story."

"I am afraid that no story would be any good, Dinah; if they came close they would see at once that I am not a negro. However, we must hope that we sha'n't meet anyone."

Nat felt his arms ache a good deal before they arrived at the road they had to cross, and he would have proposed a halt, but he was ashamed to do so while Dinah was going on so steadily and uncomplainingly, though he was sure that her share of the weight was at least as much as his. He was pleased when, as the path approached the road, she said:

"Put de barrow down now, Marse Glober. You go down on de road and see dat no one is in sight, but me not tink dere am any danger. I know dat dey rose at all dese little plantations up here yesterday; dere is suah to be rum at some ob dem, and dey will all drink like hogs, just as dey did at our place, and won't be stirring till de sun a long way up."

In a minute he returned.

"There is no one in sight, Dinah."

"Dat is all right, sah, now we hurry across; once into de wood on de ober side we safe, den we can sit down and rest for a bit."

"I sha'n't be sorry, Dinah. You were quite right, my arms have begun to ache pretty badly."

The negress laughed.

"Me begin to feel him too; dese arms not so young as dey were. De time was I could hab carried de weight twice as far widout feeling it."

When a few hundred yards in the wood they stopped for a quarter of an hour, had a drink of wine and water, and ate a slice of melon and a piece of bread.

"Now we manage better," Dinah said as they stood up to continue the journey. "We hab plenty of blankets," and taking one she tore off a strip some six inches wide and gave it to Nat, and then a similar strip for herself. "Now, sah, you lay dat flat across your shoulders, den take de ends and twist dem tree or four times round de handle, just de right length, so dat you can hold dem comfor'ble. I'se going to do de same. Den you not feel de weight on your arm, it all on your shoulders; you find it quite easy den."

Nat found, indeed, that the weight so disposed was as nothing to what it had been when it came entirely upon his arms. They soon descended into the little valley Dinah had spoken of, and she at once emptied the rest of the water out of the jug.

"No use carry dat," she said, "can get plenty now wheneber we want it."

"How are you feeling, Myra?" Nat asked presently.

"I am beginning to feel tired, but I can hold on for a bit. Don't mind about me, please, I shall do very well."

She was, however, limping badly. After going to the end of the little dip they crossed the dividing spur, and presently struck the other depression of which Dinah had spoken.

"There is no water here, Dinah; I hope it has not dried up."

"No fear ob dat, sah. In de wet season water run here, but not now; we find him farder down."

The little valley deepened rapidly, the sides became rocky and broken, and to Nat's satisfaction they presently came to a spot where a little rill of water flowed out from a fissure in the rock.

"How much farther, Dinah?"

"A lillie quarter ob a mile."

The sides of the valley closed in rapidly, and in a few minutes they entered a ravine where the rocks rose perpendicularly on each side, the passage between being but seven or eight feet wide.

"We jest dere now, dearie," Dinah said to Myra, who was now so exhausted that she could scarce drag her feet along. Another three or four minutes and she stopped.

"Here we are," she said. Nat looked round in surprise; there was no sign of any opening in the rock. "It up dere," Dinah went on, pointing to a clump of bushes growing on a ledge.

"Up there, Dinah?"

"Yes, sah; easy for us to climb up. You see where dere are little steps made?"

A casual observer would not have noticed them. They were not cut but hammered out of the rock, and appeared like accidental indentations.

"I see that we can climb up," he said, "but how we are to get the litter up I have no idea."

"No, sah, dat difficult. I'se been tinking it ober. Only possible way is to take madame off de barrow and carry her up. You go up once or twice, and you see dat it am not so hard as it seems. Dese lower holes not deep, but dose higher up much deeper, can get foot well into dem."

"I had better go up and have a look, Dinah," and Nat started to ascend. He found that, as she had said, it was much easier than it looked. The first four or five steps, indeed, were so shallow that he could not get much foothold, but above there were holes for the feet some six or eight inches deep, and three or four feet apart, these being hidden from the sight of anyone passing below by a projecting ledge beneath. The holes were much wider than necessary, the corners had been filled with earth and tufts of coarse grass planted there, and these completely hid the openings from sight. He soon reached the clump of bushes. Behind them was a fissure some three feet wide and four feet high. He crawled into this, and found that it widened into a cave. He was here able to stand up, remaining motionless for a minute or two until his eyes became accustomed to the dim light. Then he saw that it was of considerable height, some twelve feet wide and about twenty feet deep. This was indeed an admirable place of refuge, and he felt sure that no one, unless previously acquainted with its existence, would be likely to discover it. He went to the entrance and looked out. Myra was sitting down by the side of a little pool. She had taken her shoes and stockings off, and was bathing her blistered feet.

"This is a splendid place, Myra," he said; "certainly nobody is ever likely to find us here. The only difficulty is to get your mother up." He at once rejoined them below. "The difficulty, Dinah, is that the face of the rock is so steep that one cannot stoop forward enough to keep one's balance with the weight on one's back. The only possible way that I can conceive is to fasten Madame Duchesne firmly to the barrow by these strips of blanket that we have been using. We can tear several more from the same blanket. It will want at least half a dozen lashings to keep her firmly down, then we must knot the other blankets to make a strong rope. I will go up with the end and pull when I get to the top. You can take the lower handles, and by holding them on a level with your shoulders you can steady the thing as it comes up. You won't want to lift, I can pull her weight up easily enough, all that you have to do is to steady it."

"Dat will do bery well, sah."

Six strips of blanket were wound round Madame Duchesne as she lay on the hand-barrow; one was across her forehead so as to prevent her head from dropping forward, one was under the arms, and two more round the body, the other two were over her legs. The baskets and other things had been taken from the barrow. It was now lifted on to one end to see if there was any sign of the body slipping. However, it remained firm in its upright position. The blankets had already been knotted by Nat, whose training enabled him to fasten them so securely that there was no risk of their slipping. Then he ascended to the top of the steps and took his place on the little platform on which the bushes were growing.

"Now," he said, "I will raise it a few inches to see that it is properly balanced." He had already seen that the proposal that Dinah should steady it from below was not feasible. Although the first step was immediately below the bushes, the others varied considerably, some being almost in the same line as those next to them, so that two-thirds of the way up the holes were six feet to the right of the spot from which they had started, having evidently been so constructed that from below, had anyone noticed them, they appeared to go away from the bushes, to which, from the last hole that could be seen from below, there was no communication whatever. The ledge, however, although scarce noticeable from the bottom of the ravine, was really some eight inches wide, and from this but one step was necessary to gain a footing on the platform. Dinah, standing below, steadied the barrow as high as she could reach the ends of the handles, and Nat then, leaning over, managed to raise it to his level without doing more than scraping the face of the rock as it rose. Dinah was on the ledge to receive it and pass it up to him, and Nat had soon the satisfaction of seeing it laid safely down in the cave. Myra was then got up without any difficulty. She clapped her hands as she entered the cave.

"This is splendid, Nat! I never dreamt that there could be such a safe hiding-place."

"It had to be, mam'selle," Dinah said, "for dey hunt runaway slabes with blood-hounds. Slabes dat escape here keep all de way in de water. De bit between de pools is all bare rock, not nice to walk on, but bery good for scent, dat pass off in very short time, den walk down here in dis water dat you see below us. Eben blood-hounds cannot smell track in water. If dey came down here might smell de steps, but neber come here."

"Could they come up the other way, Dinah?"

"You go and look for yourself, sah, but mind you be careful."

The wrappings had now been taken off Madame Duchesne, and the blankets replaced beneath her. She was still apparently sound asleep. Dinah took up the jug and went to the entrance, Nat followed her.

"You have not given her too strong a dose I hope, Dinah?"

"No, sah, no fear ob dat, she soon wake now. I shall sprinkle water in her face, and pour a lillie wine down her troat, you see she wake den."

"Will she be sensible, Dinah?"

"Not at first, sah. She 'tupid for a bit, abter dat it depend on feber. If feber strong, she no sensible, talk to herself just as if dreaming; if feber not very strong she know us, but more likely not know us for some time. Me got feber medicine, neber fear. Feber come on too quick to be bery strong. When feber come on slow, den it seem to poison all ober, take long time to get well; when it come on sudden like this, not like to be bery bad."

"Well, we must have patience, Dinah, and hope for the best. Now I will go down with you and fetch all the things up."

As soon as these were all housed in the cave, Nat said to Myra, "I will explore down the stream and see what chance there is of anyone coming up that way. Dinah evidently thinks that there is no fear of it, but I should like to see for myself."

Fifty yards farther on there was a sharp widening of the ravine, and here some trees and thick undergrowth had taken root, and so overhung the little stream that Nat had difficulty in making his way through them. He remembered Dinah's warning, and advanced cautiously. Suddenly he stopped. The stream fell away abruptly in front of him, and, advancing cautiously to that point, he stood at the edge of an abrupt fall. A wall of almost perpendicular rock rose on each side, and the streamlet leaped sheer down fifty feet into a pool; as far as he could see the chasm remained unbroken.

"Splendid," he said to himself; "no one coming up here would be likely to try farther. The bushes regularly interlace over the water, and there seems no possible way of climbing up, at any rate, within a quarter of a mile of this place, and for aught I know this ravine may go on for another mile. Any party coming up would certainly conclude that no slave could approach this way, and they would have to make a tremendous detour over the hills and get to the point where the valley comes down to the cave. It is certainly a grand hiding-place. I suppose when it was first discovered those bushes did not grow in front of it; likely enough they were planted on purpose to hide the entrance, and the place may have been used by escaped slaves ever since the Spaniards first landed on the island and began to persecute the unfortunate natives. Unless some of the negroes who know of it put the mulattoes up to the secret, they may search as much as they like but will never find us. I must ask Dinah whether there are many who know of it."



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