A Roving Commission: or, Through the Black Insurrection at Hayti
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"If de negroes find dis cave, you trust to me," the negress said firmly. "I'se heard dat it bery wicked ting to kill oneself. Bery well, sah, me won't let madame and mam'selle do wicked ting. Dinah got long knife hidden, if dey come Dinah kill bofe ob dem, den dey no do wicked deed. As to Dinah, she poor ole negro woman. Better dat St. Peter say to her, 'You no come in, dere blood on hands,' dan dat he should say dat to de two white ladies she hab nursed."
Nat's eyes were moist, and his voice shook at this proof of the old woman's devotion, and he said unsteadily:
"St. Peter would not blame you, Dinah. He would know why there was blood on your hands, and he would say, 'Come in, you have rendered to your mistresses the last and greatest services possible.'"
After breakfast Dinah washed his shirt, his white nankeen trousers, and jacket, and, as he had not a red sash to wind round his waist, he took the ornaments and slings from his sword-belt and put this on.
"You pass bery well, sah, for mulatto man; de only ting am de hat. Dat red handkerchief bery well when you pretend to be negro, but not suit mulatto, and Dinah will go see what she find at dose plantation on de hills."
"No, Dinah, you must not run risks."
"No risk in dat, sah. Dinah known bery well at most of de plantations round. I'se got a name for hab good medicines for febers, and ointments for sores, and women dat hab childer ill bring dem down to me from all parts. Bery simple for me to go round and say dat now de house gone and de ladies and all, me not like to stay down dere and be trouble to my darters. Plenty for 'em to do to keep demselves and der childer. Me going to trabel round de country and nurse de sick and sell my medicines. Suah to meet some woman whose child me hab cured; ask her if she know anyone who hab got straw-hat – dere suah to be straw-hats in planters' houses – me say dat a mulatto hab lost his, and not able to go down to town to buy one, and told me would gib me dollar if I could get him good one. Me try to get someting for sash too."
"That would be almost as difficult as the hat, Dinah."
Dinah shook her head.
"Plenty ob women got red shawl, sah; most all got red handkerchief. Buy one shawl or six handkerchief, bring dem home, cut dem up, and sew dem together; dat make bery good sash. You no trouble, massa; you keep quiet here all day and look abter madame. I'se sure to be back before it time for you to start."
Dinah indeed returned just as the sun was sinking. She carried a small bundle in one hand, and a broad-brimmed straw-hat in the other.
"Well done, Dinah!" Nat exclaimed as he returned after sitting for a couple of hours on the rocks near the fall, and found her in the cave. "How did you get the hat?"
"Jess as I said, sah; me found one woman who allus bery grateful to me-for sabing her chile. I tell her I want straw-hat. She said she could get me one, two, or tree hats in de house ob mulatto oberseer.She 'teal one for me. Most of de men down in de plain, so she take basket and go up to de house garden – ebery one take what dey want now. She get some green 'tuff, as if for her dinner; den she go round by mulatto man's house, she look in at window and see hats; she take one, put 'im in basket and cober 'im ober, den bring um back to me. She had red shawl; she gib it me, but I make her take dollar for it. Me hide de hat under my dress till me get away into de woods again, den me carry um. Now, sah, put um on. Dat suit you bery well, sah; you pass for young mulatto man when I got dis shawl cut up and sewn togeder. You please to know dat madame open her eyes lillie time ago, and know mam'selle and Dinah. Me gib her drink ob pine-apple juice wid water in which me boil poppy seeds; she drink and go off in quiet sleep; when she wake to-morrow I 'spect she able to talk."
"I don't like your going, Nat," Myra said when, the shawl having been converted into a sash, he put his pistols into it. "We have heard, you see, that the Bayous were not killed in the first attack, and I do not see that you can learn more."
"I should not run the risk, such as it may be, merely to ask that question. But I think that their coachman, Toussaint, must have saved them. I want to see him; possibly he may have made some arrangements for getting them down to the coast, and he might be willing to allow you and your mother to go down with them. Of course she would have to be carried, but that might not add much to the difficulty."
Receiving general instructions from Dinah as to the shortest route, he started, without giving time for Myra to remonstrate further. After two hours' walking he approached the plantation of Count Noe. The house was, of course, gone. Seeing a negro girl, he went up to her.
"Which is the house of Toussaint?" he asked.
She pointed to a path.
"It am de first house you come to," she said; "he used to live at de stables, but now he hab de house ob one of de oberseers who was killed because he did not join us."
On reaching the house indicated he looked in at the window, and saw the person he was looking for sitting at a table reading. He was now a man of forty-eight years old, tall in stature, with a face unusually intelligent for one of his race. His manners were quiet and simple, and there was a certain dignity in his bearing that bespoke a feeling that he was superior to the race to which he belonged and the position he occupied. Nat went round to the door and knocked. Toussaint opened it.
"Have you a letter for me?" he asked quietly, supposing that his visitor had come with a message to him from one of the leaders of the rebellion.
Nat entered and closed the door behind him.
"Then you do not remember me, Toussaint?"
The negro recognized the voice, and the doubtful accent with which his visitor spoke French.
"You are the young English officer," he exclaimed, "though I should not have known you but for the voice. I heard that you were at Monsieur Duchesne's, and it was believed that you had fled to the woods with his wife and daughter. I am glad that they escaped."
"I have come from them, Toussaint – at least from the daughter, for the mother has had an attack of fever. She heard that the family here had also escaped, and she said at once that she felt sure you had aided them."
"I did so," the negro said quietly; "they were the family I served, and it was my duty to save them; moreover, they had always been kind to me. They are safe – I saw them down to the coast last night. I risked my life, for although the slaves round here respect me and look upon me as their leader, even that would not have saved me had they suspected that I had saved white people from death."
"But you are not with them, Toussaint, surely?"
The negro drew himself up.
"I am with my countrymen," he said; "I have always felt their position greatly. Why should we be treated as cattle because we differ in colour from others? I did my duty to my employers, and now that that is done I am free, and to-morrow I shall join the bands under Fran?ois and Biassou. I regret most deeply that my people should have disgraced their cause by murders. Of the two thousand whites who have fallen fully one half are women and children, therefore there could have been but one thousand men who, if they had been allowed to go free down to the town, could have fought against us; and what are a thousand men, when we are half a million? It has been a mistake that may well ruin our cause; among the whites everywhere it will confirm their opinion of our race that we are but savages, brutal and bloodthirsty, when we have the opportunity. In France it will excite those against us who were before our friends, and French troops will pour into the islands, whereas, had the revolution been a peaceful one, it would have been approved by the friends of liberty there. It is terrible, nevertheless it makes it all the more necessary that those who have some influence should use it for good. Now that the first fury has passed, better thoughts may prevail, and we may conduct the war without such horrors; but even of that I have no great hope. We may be sure that the whites will take a terrible vengeance, the blacks will retaliate; it will be blood for blood on both sides. However, in a case like this the lives of individuals are as nothing, the cause is everything. I have myself no animosity against the whites, but many of my countrymen have just cause for hatred against them, and were any to try to interfere to prevent them from taking the vengeance they consider their right, it would cause dissension and so prejudice our chances of success. You can understand, then, that I shall hold myself aloof altogether from any interference. I am sorry for the ladies, but now that I have done my duty to my late employers, I have a paramount duty to discharge to my countrymen, and decline to interfere in any way."
"Then all I can say is," Nat said sternly, "that I trust that some day, when you are in the power of your enemies, there will be none to give you the aid you now deny to women in distress."
So saying, he turned and went out through the door, and before morning broke arrived again at the cave. Not wishing to disturb the others, he lay down outside until the sun was up, then he went along the stream for some distance and bathed. As he returned, Myra was standing on the ledge outside the entrance.
"Welcome back!" she called out. "What news have you brought?"
"Good news as far as your friends are concerned. Toussaint has got them down to the coast, and sent them to Cape Fran?ois in a boat."
"That is good news indeed," she cried. "Oh, I am glad! Now, what is the bad news?"
"The only bad news is that the negro declined to help you in the same way. He is starting this morning to join some bands of slaves up in the hills."
"That is hardly bad news," she said, "for I never supposed that he would help us. There was no reason why he should run any risks for our sake."
"I hoped that he would have done so, Myra; but at the same time, as he evidently regards the success of the blacks as certain, and expects to become one of their leaders, one can understand that he does not care to run any risk of compromising himself."
"Mamma is better this morning," Myra said; "she has asked after you, and remembers what happened before her fever began."
"That is good indeed. As soon as she gets strong enough to travel we will begin to think how we can best make our way down to the town."
Four days later, Dinah, on her return from a visit to the plantations, said that there had just been some fighting between the whites coming out from Cape Fran?ois and the slaves. They said that a ship had arrived with some French troops, and that all the white men in the town were coming out, and that they were killing every negro they found. The women and children from the plantations in the plains were all flying into the woods.
"Then it strikes me, Dinah, that our position here is a very dangerous one. You may be sure that the slaves will not be able to stand against the whites and the soldiers, and that numbers of them will go into hiding, and it is very likely that some who know the secret of this place will come here."
"Yes, sah, I'se not thought ob dat; but, sure enough, it am bery likely dat some ob dem may do so. What you tink had best be done? If de slabes all running into de wood de danger of passing troo would be much greater dan it hab been. And eben if madame could walk, it would be bery great risk to go down – great risk to 'top here too. What you tink?"
"I don't know what to think, Dinah; there is one thing, it is not likely that many of them would come here."
"No, sah; dose who know about de cave would know dat not more dan eight or ten could hide here – no use to bring a lot ob people wid dem."
"That is what I think, Dinah; they will keep the secret to themselves. Now against eight or ten of them, I am sure that I could hold this place, but some of them, when they found they could not get in, would go back again and might lead a strong party here, or might keep watch higher up, and starve us out. And even if the whites beat them out of all the plantations, they would not know where to look for us, and would have too much on their hands to scatter all over the hills. If we are to join them it must be by going down."
"Dinah might go and tell dem, sah."
Nat shook his head.
"I am afraid, Dinah, that their passions will be so much aroused at the wholesale murder of the whites that they will shoot every black they come across, man or woman, and you would be shot long before you could get close enough to explain why you had come. No, I think the only thing to be done, as far as I can see, is that you should go down from time to time to let us know how things are going. I do not think that the whites are likely to get very far along the road. You may be sure that when the troops started from the town news was sent at once to the leaders, and it is likely that they will move a great number of men down to oppose them, and will likely enough drive them back. However, the great thing for us is to know where they are and what they are doing. It is likely that now the whites have advanced there will no longer be any watch kept to prevent people, in hiding like ourselves, from going down to the town; if you find out that that is so, we will put madame on her barrow again, and carry her down. Of course we should have to chance being met when going through the forest, but we must risk that."
"Yes, I tink dat de only plan, sah."
Accordingly, Dinah started again the next morning. Nat felt very anxious, and took up his place near the entrance to the cave. Myra was busy seeing to the cooking and in attending upon her mother. About four o'clock he thought he heard voices, and, crawling cautiously to the mouth of the cave, he looked out through the bushes. Eight men were coming along; six of them were negroes, and the other two were the mulatto overseers whose conversation he had overheard. He called softly to Myra:
"Don't be alarmed, Myra, we are going to have a fight, but I have no fear whatever of their taking us. Only one can attack at once, and he can only come slowly. There are eight of them; you may as well bring me the two other pistols. I would not take them if I thought there was the smallest chance of these fellows getting up here. Go and tell your mother not to be frightened, and then do you come and sit down behind me. I will hand the pistols to you to load. There are only eight of these fellows, and if there were eighty, we could hold the cave; even if they got up to the platform they could only enter, stooping, one at a time. Go at once to your mother, they will be here directly."
"How much farther is this place?" the mulatto Christophe asked.
"Right dar behind dat bush," the negro said; "you go up by dem steps."
"It is a splendid hiding-place, Paul."
"Yes. No one who did not know of it would have a chance of finding it. There is someone there now; don't you see a light smoke rising behind the bush?"
"So there is! I should not be surprised if the woman Duchesne and her daughter are there. It is certain that someone must have helped them off, or we should have found them long ago."
"Well, it will be a rare piece of luck if they are there."
The negroes had already noticed the smoke, and were talking excitedly together. It had not occurred to them that any fugitives could have discovered the place, and they were only concerned at the thought that the cave might be already fully occupied.
"Hullo, dar!" one of them shouted. "How many ob you up dar?"
No answer was returned. He shouted again, but there was still silence.
"I s'pect dar only one man," he said to his comrades. "Most likely him gone out to look for food. Bery foolish leab fire burning;" and he at once proceeded to climb the steps, followed by two others.
Nat grasped the handle of his pistol. He determined that in the first place he would make sure of the two mulattoes. They were by far the most dangerous of his foes, and if they escaped they would, he had no doubt, keep watch higher up, capture Dinah on her return, and cut off all retreat from the cave. It was time to act at once, and, taking a steady aim at Paul, he fired.
With a shriek the mulatto fell backwards. Before the others could recover from their surprise Nat fired again, and Christophe fell forward on his face in the water. He passed the pistol back to Myra, and grasped another. He had expected that the negroes would at once fly, and two of them had turned to do so, when the highest climber shouted down:
"Come on, all ob you! what you want run away for? Perhaps only one man here, he want to keep de cabe all to himself; we soon settle with him. Dis cabe de only safe place."
Nat could easily have shot the man, but he determined to direct his fire against those below. If he shot those climbing the others would escape, and it was of the greatest importance that no one should do so. The negroes had snatched the pistols from the belts of the fallen mulattoes, and several shots were fired at the bush. Nat drew back for a moment as the negroes raised their arms, and then discharged the two barrels of his pistol with as deadly an effect as before, and seized the third weapon. The remaining negro below dropped behind a fallen rock. At the same moment the man who was evidently the leader of them sprang on to the ledge. Nat's pistol was ready, and as the negro bounded forward he fired. The ball struck him in the chest, and he fell like a log over the precipice.
In his fall he struck one of his comrades, and carried him down on to the rocks below. The other seemed paralysed with fear, and uttered a shriek for mercy as Nat, who from his position could not see him, sprang to his feet; but the tales that he had heard from Dinah of the atrocities perpetrated had steeled his heart to all thoughts of mercy, and taking a deliberate aim Nat shot him through the head. He had still a pistol left charged. Myra had not yet loaded the first he had handed to her, for it was but some twenty seconds from the time that the first shot had been fired. Nat caught up the sword, and at once made his way down the steps. He ran towards the rock behind which the last of the negroes had thrown himself. As he did so the man leapt to his feet, and the two pistols cracked at the same moment. Nat felt a sharp pain in his side. His own shot had missed, and a moment later the negro was rushing at him with uplifted knife.
For the moment Nat forgot that he had another shot left, and, dropping the pistol, shifted his sword to the right hand, and before the negro's knife could fall he ran him through the body. There was now but one foe left. He lay stunned below his fallen comrade, and Nat saw from the manner in which one of his legs was doubled under him that it was broken. He could do no harm, but he would assuredly die if left there alone. Nat pressed his lips together, and having picked up his pistol, he put it close to the man's head and fired. Looking up, he saw Myra run out with a pistol in her hand.
"It is all right, Myra. Thank God none of them have got away."
"Are you hurt?" she asked, breathlessly.
"I will come up," he said; "I am hit in the side, but I don't think that it is at all serious."
He found, however, as he ascended the steps, that it gave him acute pain every time he moved. The girl was white and trembling when he joined her.
"Don't be frightened, Myra," he said, "I am sure that it is nothing serious. It struck a rib and glanced off, I think, and at the worst it has only broken the bone. You go in and attend to your mother."
"I shall not do anything of the sort," she said. "You come in, and I will look at it; it must want bandaging, anyhow."
Nat felt that this was true, and, following her into the cave, he let her take off his jacket. The wound was a few inches below the arm.
"It is lucky that it was not a little more to the right," he said; "it would have done for me. Don't look so white, Myra, a miss is as good as a mile. It is as I thought, is it not? – just a glancing wound."
"Yes," the girl said.
He felt along the rib.
"Yes," he said, "there is no doubt that it is broken; I can feel the ends grate, and it hurts me every time I breathe. This is where it is, just where the cut begins; the wound itself is nothing."
"What shall I do?" she asked quietly.
"Tear a strip or two off the bottom of your petticoat, then sew the ends together to make a long bandage, and roll a little piece, so as to make a wad about an inch wide. Is the wound bleeding?"
"Yes, very much."
"Fold a piece four or five thick, and lay over that the other wad so as to go up and down across the rib. Now, if you will give me a little warm water and a piece of rag, I will bathe the wound while you are making the bandage."
"I will bathe it," the girl said. "I am sure it would hurt you to get your hand round."
In ten minutes the operation was completed.
"I am so sorry that I cannot help," Madame Duchesne murmured, as Myra sat down to sew the strips together.
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