A Roving Commission: or, Through the Black Insurrection at Hayti
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On returning to the cave he found that Madame Duchesne had wakened from her long sleep. She was, however, quite unconscious; her eyes were opened, and she was muttering rapidly to herself. Myra was sitting beside her with the tears streaming down her cheeks.
"You must not be alarmed," he said. "Dinah told me she would be so when she woke up, but she thinks that though the attack of fever will be a sharp one, it will not last very long. It is not, as is the case with new-comers on the island, the result of malaria, or anything of that sort, but of agitation and fatigue."
"Hab you been down de stream, Marse Glober?" Dinah asked.
"Yes, and you were quite right. There is no fear whatever of any one coming to look for us from that direction. Are there many negroes who know the secret of this place?"
"Bery few," she said. "It am tole only to men who are going to take to de hills, and who can't go farder, 'cause perhaps dey been flogged till dey too weak to travel many miles. Each man who is tole has to take a great oath dat he suah tell no one except anober slabe running away, or someone who hab to go to take food to him; dat is how I came to know. Jake had been tole when dey knew he going to run away. He tole his broder, my husband, cause he had been flogged so bad he could not go to de mountains. Den my husband tole me, 'cause he could not get away wid de food. I neber tell anyone till now, cause dere no occasion for it; slabes treated too well at our plantation to want to run away. But dere am no doubt dat dere am slabes in oder plantations dat know of him, but me no tink dey tell. In de first place dey take big oath, and dey suah to die ef dey break dat; in de next place, because dey no tell dem mulattoes, because some day perhaps dese will be oberseers again, and den de secret of de cave be no longer ob use."
"That is good, Dinah; those scoundrels I overheard talking the other night will no doubt ask if any of the negroes know of any place where we should be likely to hide, and if no one knows it but yourself they would be able to get no information, and it is hardly likely that they would ask the negroes of another plantation. Now, what is the first thing to be done, Dinah?"
"De first ting, sah, is to gader sticks to make fire."
"All right. I will go up the ravine and bring down a bundle of dry sticks from the forest. I will get them as dry as possible, so as not to make a smoke."
"No fear of anyone see smoke, massa. We no want great fire, and smoke all scatter before it get to top of de trees up above."
"Well, I will get them at once," he said.
"I will pluck two of the fowls while you are away," Myra said. "I want to be doing something."
"When you come back, sah, I will go out and gader berries to make colour for your face. When you hab got dat done, not much fear of your being known."
"You will have to get something to colour my hair, too," Nat said. "I never could pass as a mulatto with this yellowish-brown hair."
"Dat for true," Dinah assented."I'se brought 'tuff to make dat, but had no time to look for berries for skin. When you come back we make fire first; me want boiling water for de med'cine me make for madame."
"Yes, of course, that is the first thing," Nat said. "And when you go anywhere to get provisions, Dinah, it would be a good thing if you could get us a few yards of cord; it would be very handy for tying up faggots, and would be useful in all sorts of ways."
"Me will see about dat, sah. Me forgot 'im altogeder when me came away, else would have brought a length; but you will find plenty ob creepers dat will do bery well to tie up faggots."
"So I shall, Dinah; I forgot that," and Nat started at once.
In an hour he was back again with a huge bundle of dry wood.
"Where would you light it?" he asked.
"Jest inside entrance, sah. Dis good wood dat you hab brought, make bery lillie smoke."
After a little water had been boiled and Dinah had stewed some herbs and chips of wood she had brought up with her, the two fowls were cut up and the joints spitted on the ramrod of a pistol and grilled over the fire, as in this way they would cook much more rapidly than if whole. As soon as they were ready the party made a hearty meal. The medicine was by this time cool, and Madame Duchesne was lifted up and the cup held to her lips. She drank the draught without difficulty. Her face was now flushed, and her hands burning hot.
"What will that do, Dinah?"
"Dat most de bark of a tree dat will get de feber down, sah. I'se going to gib her dat ebery two hours; den when we see dat de feber abate, we give her oder stuff to trow her into great sweat; abter dat she get better. Now, while I am away, mam'selle, you boil water, cut up half ob one of dem pine-apples, and when de water boil take 'im off de fire and put de pine-apple in; and let 'im cool, dat make bery nice drink for her. Now me go and find dem berries."
Dinah was away two hours, and returned with an apronful of brown berries; and with these, after Nat had washed all the black from his face and hands, he was again stained, as was Myra also. She had rather a darker tinge given to her than that which was considered sufficient for Nat.
"It make you too dark, sah; yo' light eyes show too much. Mam'selle hab brown eyes and dark hair, and me make her regular little mulatto girl. When get handkerchief round her head, and wid dat spot gown on, no one 'spect her ob being white."
"You have brought in a great supply of berries, Dinah?"
"Yes, sah; put on stain fresh ebery two or tree days."
When it became dusk the candle was taken out of the lantern, lighted, and stuck against the side of the cave. Dinah opened a bag and took out a handful of coffee berries, which she roasted over the fire in a small frying-pan which she had brought in addition to the pot. When they were pounded up between two stones, some sugar was produced, and had it not been for Madame Duchesne's state Myra and Nat would have really enjoyed their meal. Then Dinah took from the basket a bundle of dried tobacco leaves, rolled a cigar for Nat and one for herself.
"Dat is what me call comfort," she said, as she puffed the weed with intense enjoyment. "Bacca am de greatest pleasure dat de slabes hab after their work be done."
"It is a nasty habit, Dinah. I have told you so a great many times."
"Yes, mam'selle, you tink so. You got a great many oder nice tings a slabe not got, many nice tings; but when dey got bacca dey got eberyting dey want. You no call it nasty, Marse Glober?"
"No; I like it. I never smoked till after I got that hurt from the dog, but not being able to do things like other fellows, I took to smoking. I like it, and the doctor told me that it was a capital preventive against fever."
"Do they allow smoking on board ship, Nat?"
"Well, of course it is not allowed on duty, and it is not allowed for midshipmen at all; but of an evening, if we go forward, the officers on watch never take any notice. And now about to-morrow, Dinah. Of course I am most anxious to know what the news is, and whether this rising has extended over the whole of the island, and if it is true that everywhere they have murdered the whites."
"Yes, sah, me understand dat."
"Then I want, if it is possible, to send a line down to Monsieur Duchesne to let him know that his wife and daughter have escaped and are in a place of safety. He must be in a terrible state. The question is, how would it be possible to send such a note?"
"Me tink dat me could manage it, sah. My grandson Pete bery sharp boy. Me tink he might manage to get down to de town, but de letter must be a bery lillie one, so dat he can hide it in him woolly head. He might be searched, and dey kill 'im for suah if dey find he take letter to white man. He sharp as a needle, and often take messages from one of our slabes to anoder on plantation eber so far away. Me quite suah dat he bery glad to carry letter for mam'selle – make him as proud as peacock. When dey in der senses all de slabes lobe her because she allus speaks kindly to dem. He go suah enough, and bring message back."
"It is lucky that I have a pencil with me," Nat said, and drawing out a pocket-book he tore out a leaf. "Now, if you will tell me what to say, Myra, I will write in your name." He went over to the candle. "You must cut it very short, you know. I will write it as small as I can, but you must not send more than one leaf."
Dearest Papa, Myra dictated, we have got away. Dinah warned us in time, and mamma, Nat, and I ran up through the shrubbery and the cane-fields to the forest. When it got dark – "After dark" Nat put in, "you must not use more words than is necessary " —Nat went down, found Dinah, and brought her up, and they brought lots of things for us, and next morning carried mamma to this place, which is in the mountains and very safe. Mamma has got fever from the fright we had, but Dinah says she will not be ill long. We are both dressed up in Dinah's clothes, and Nat and I have been stained brown, and we look like mulattoes. Do not be anxious about us; the negroes may search everywhere without finding us. Nat has a brace of pistols, and mamma and I have one each, and he will take care of us and bring us down safe as soon as Dinah thinks it can be done. I hope to see you again soon.
Your most loving
"That just fills it," Nat said as he rolled it up into a little ball.
Dinah looked at it doubtfully.
"I'se feared dat too big to hide in him wool," she said; "it bery kinky."
"Never mind that. He must manage to straighten it out and sew it somewhere in his clothes. What time will you start, Dinah?"
"Me start so as to get down to de plantation before it get light. Me can find de way troo de wood easy 'nuff. It bery different ting to walk by oneself, instead ob having to carry madame and to take 'tickler care dat she goes along smoove and dat de barrow doesn't knock against anyting. Best for me to be back before anyone wake up. Me don't suppose anyone tink of me yesterday. Me told my darter Chloe dat she say noting about me. If anyone ask her, den she say: 'Mover bery sad at house being burnt down and madame and mam'selle run away. I tink she hab gone away to be alone and hab a cry to herself, cause as she nurse both ob dem she bery fond of dem, and no like to tink dat perhaps dey be caught and killed.' But me no 'spect dat anyone tink about me; dey hab oder tings to tink of. If I had run into wood when you run dere, dey know dat I give you warning and perhaps show you some place to hide, but abter you had gone I ran in again and met dem outside wid de oder house servants. I top dere and see dem burn de house, and den walk down to Chloe's house and talk to oder women; so no one tink dat I know more 'bout you dan anyone else."
"That was very wise, Dinah. Now mind, what we particularly want to know is not only what the negroes have done, but what they are going to do. Are they going to march away to the hills, or are they going to attack the town?"
"Me see all about dat, sah. Now, mam'selle, don't you forget to gib your mamma de medicine ebery two hours!"
"I sha'n't forget, Dinah."
Dinah took up the basket.
"Me bring up bread and more chicken, and more wine if dey hab not drunk it all. Now keep up your heart, dearie; eberyting come right in de end," and with a cheerful nod she started on her errand.
"Your nurse is a trump, Myra," Nat said. "We should feel very helpless without her, though of course I should do what I could. When she comes back to-morrow I will go out myself. I hate to sit here doing nothing when all the island is in a blaze."
"I wish I knew what has become of the family of Madame Bayou. Her daughter Julie is my greatest friend. You know them well, Nat, for we drove over there several times when you were with us, and Madame Bayou and Julie often spent the day with us. Of course they were not quite of our class, as Monsieur Bayou is only superintendent to the Count de Noe, who has been in France for some years; but he is a gentleman by birth, and, I believe, a distant relation of the count's, and as they were our nearest neighbours and Julie is just my age we were very intimate."
"Yes, of course I remember them well, and that coachman of theirs. I generally had a talk with him when they were over at your place. He was a wonderfully intelligent fellow for a negro. He told me that he had been taught by another black, who had been educated by some missionaries. He could read and write well, and even knew a little Latin."
"Yes, I have heard papa say that he was the most intelligent negro he had ever met, and that he was very much respected by all the negroes round. I know M. Bayou had the greatest confidence in him, and I can't help thinking that even if all the others broke out he would have saved the lives of the family."
"If you like I will go down and see to-morrow evening. I agree with you that it is likely he would be faithful, but he may not have been able to be so. However much he may be respected by the other blacks, one man can do very little when a crowd of others half mad with excitement are against him; and I suppose after all that it would be only natural that his sympathies should be with men of his own colour, and being so exceptionally well educated and intelligent he would naturally be chosen as one of their leaders. However, he may have warned the family, and possibly they may be hiding somewhere in the woods just as we are. I should hope that a great many families have been saved that way."
"Will it be necessary to keep watch to-night, Nat?"
"No, I do not think there is any risk. Even the negroes who know of this cave will not think of looking for us here, as they would not imagine we could be acquainted with its existence. I think we can safely take a good night's rest, and we shall be all the better for it."
It was not till nearly daylight on the second day after starting that Dinah returned.
"Me not able to get away before," she said. "In de first place me hab to wait till boy come back wid answer. Here 'tis," and she pulled a small pellet of paper from her hair.
Myra seized it and flattened it out.
Thank God for the good news. I have been nearly mad. At present can do nothing. We expect to be attacked every hour. God protect you both.
There was no signature. Monsieur Duchesne was evidently afraid that, were the note to fall into the hands of the revolting leaders, a fresh search would be instituted by them.
"Dat boy bery nearly killed," Dinah said. "He creep and crawl troo de blacks widout being seen, and get close to de white men out guarding de place. Dey seize him and say he spy, and bery near hang him; den he took out de paper just in time, and said it for Massa Duchesne; den dey march him to town, woke up massa, and den, ob course, it was all right. It too late to come back dat night, but he crawl out and lie close to where dose black rascals were watching. Directly it get dark he get up, he crawl troo dem, and run bery hard back, and directly he gib me paper I start back here."
"That was very good of him," Myra said; "when these troubles are over, Dinah, you may be sure that my father will reward him handsomely."
"Me suah of dat, mam'selle. He offer him ten louis, but Jake say no, if he be searched and dat gold found on 'im dey hang 'm up for suah. Marse say bery good, do much more dan dat for him when dese troubles ober. And now, dearie, how is madame going on?" and she went to the side of Madame Duchesne, put her hand on her forehead, and listened to her breathing. She turned round with a satisfied nod. "Feber nearly gone," she said; "two or tree days she open eyes and know us."
"And how did you get on, Dinah?"
"Me hab no trouble, sah; most ob de black fellows drunk all de day long. Nobody noticed dat Dinah was not dere. Some of de women dey say, 'What you do all day yesterday, Dinah?' and me say, 'Me ill, me no like dese doings.' Dey talk and say, 'Grand ting eberyone be free, eberyone hab plenty ob land, no work any more.' I say, 'Dat so, but what de use ob land if no work? where dey get cloth for dress? where dey get meal and rice? Dey tink all dese things grow widout work. What dey do when dey old, or when dey ill? Who look after dem?' Some ob dem want to quarrel; oders say, 'Dinah old woman, she hab plenty sense, what she say she say for true.' Me tell dem dat me no able to 'tand sight ob house burnt, no one at work in fields, madame and darter gone, no one know where – perhaps killed. Dinah go and live by herself in de wood, only come down sometimes when she want food. She say dat to 'splain why she go away and come back sometimes."
"A very good idea, very good," Nat said warmly; "the women were not wrong when they said you had plenty of good sense. And now, Dinah, what is the news from other parts of the island?"
The old nurse was at the moment standing partly behind Myra, and she shook her head over the girl's shoulder to show that she did not wish to say anything before her, then she replied:
"Plenty ob talk, some say one ting some anoder; not worf listen to such foolishness."