George Henty.

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



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"There is nothing that you could do, thank you," Nat said cheerfully. "Myra is getting on capitally. I shall soon be all right again."

When everything was done, he said, "You are a trump, Myra, you have done it first-rate." Then the girl, who had gone on as quietly as if she had been accustomed to such work all her life, broke down, and, bursting into a fit of crying, threw herself down by the side of her mother. Nat would have attempted to soothe her, but her mother said, "Leave her to me, she will be all the better for a good cry." Nat went down again to the stream, picked up the four pistols the Creoles had carried and unwound their sashes, thinking that these would be better than the make-shift that he wore. As he did so two small bags dropped out. He opened them; both contained jewels, some of which he had seen Madame Duchesne wearing.

"That is a bit of luck," he said to himself. "No doubt directly they entered the house these scoundrels made one of the women show them where madame's jewel-case was, and divided the contents between them. When Dinah comes we must get these bodies down the stream. I could do it myself were it not for this rib, but it would not be safe to try experiments. What a plucky girl Myra is! Most girls would have been ready to faint at the sight of blood. I will wait a few minutes before I go up so as to give her time to pull herself together."

In ten minutes he went up again. "Madame," he said, "I have something that I am sure you will be very glad to get back again. I took off the sashes of those rascally mulattoes, and these two bags fell out of them. What do you think they contain? Some of your jewels."

Madame Duchesne and Myra both uttered exclamations of pleasure. "They are family jewels," Myra said, "and my father and mother both prize them very much. How strange they should have been on these men!"

"The two mulattoes were two of your overseers, and no doubt ran straight up and seized them directly they entered the house."

She saw that her mother wished to speak, and leaned down over her, for Madame Duchesne could not as yet raise her voice above a whisper.

"Turn them out," she said, "and see how many are missing."

Although Nat had seen Madame Duchesne in full evening dress two or three times when parties of friends had assembled at the house, and had noticed the beauty of her jewels, he was surprised at the number of bracelets, necklaces, brooches, and rings that poured out from the bags. Some of the larger articles, which he supposed were ornaments for the hair, were bent and crumpled up so as to take up as little space as possible. Myra held them up one by one before her mother's eyes.

"They are all there, every one of them," the latter whispered. "Your father will be pleased."

"The greater part of these," Myra said to Nat, "were brought over when the Baron Duchesne, our ancestor, came over here first, but a great many have been bought since.

I have heard mamma say that each successor of the name and estate has made it a point of honour to add to the collection, of which they were very proud, as it was certainly the finest in the island; and besides, it was thought that if at any time Hayti should be captured, either by the Spanish or your people, or if there should be trouble with the blacks, it would be a great thing to have valuables that could be so easily hidden or carried away."

"Then they have thought all along that there might be a rising here some day?"

"Yes. I have heard my father say that when he was a boy he has heard his grandfather talk the matter over with others, and they thought that the number of slaves in the island was so great that possibly there might some day be a revolt. They all agreed that it would be put down, but they believed that the negroes might do terrible damage before enough troops could be brought from France to suppress it."

"They thought rightly," Nat said, "though it has been a long time coming; and the worst of it is that even if it is put down it may break out again at any time. It is hardly reasonable that, when they are at least ten to one against the whites and mulattoes together, men should submit to be kept in slavery."

"But they were very well off," Myra said. "I am sure they were much better off than the poorer whites."

"From what I have seen of them I think they were," Nat replied, "but you see people do not know when they are well off. I have no doubt that if the last white man left the island, and slavery were abolished for ever, the negroes would be very much worse off than they were before, and I should think they would most likely go back to the same idle, savage sort of life that they live in Africa. Still, of course, at present they have no idea of that. They think they will be no longer obliged to work, and suppose that somehow they will be fed and clothed and have everything they want without any trouble to themselves. You see it is just the same thing that is going on in France."

"Well, now, what are you going to do next, Nat?"

"I shall load the pistols. I have got four more now. Then I shall take my place at the mouth of the cave again. I hope that when Dinah comes she will bring us news that will enable us to move away. The fact that this party was coming here for refuge shows that the blacks are growing alarmed, and perhaps have already suffered a defeat, in which case the way will be clear for us. If not, I must get her to help me clear the place down below, it will not be difficult. What have you got on the fire?"

"There is a fowl that I have been stewing down to make the broth for mother. I have another cut up ready for grilling."

Two hours later Nat, to his surprise, saw Dinah hurrying down the ravine, for he had not expected her until evening. He stood up at once. She paused when she caught sight of the bodies lying below the cave.

"It is all right, Dinah," he shouted. "We have had a bit of a fight, but it only lasted for a minute or two, and except that I got a graze from a pistol-ball, we are unhurt."

"De Lord be blest, sah!" she said as she came up. "Eight ob dem, and you kill dem all, sah?"

"Yes; one could hardly miss them at that distance. I am glad to say that none of them got away. You are back earlier than I expected."

"Yes, sah; me found out all de news in good time, and den, as eberyone say hurricane come on, I hurry all de way to get here before he come."

"Well, come up, Dinah. Madame is going on very well. You know those two mulattoes?"

"Me know dem, sah; dey bery bad men, dey lead de black fellows to de attack."

"Well, it is well that they came up here, for they had, hidden in their sashes, all madame's jewels."

"Dat am good news, sah," the old woman said as she joined him, "dat powerful good news. Madame didn't say anyting about jewels, but Dinah tought of dem, and what a terrible ting it would be if she had lost dem! Dat good affair."

"So you think that we are going to have a storm, Dinah?"

"Sartin suah, sah; bery hot las' night, bery hot dis morning, and jest as me got to top of hill me saw de clouds coming up bery fast."

"I didn't notice the heat particularly. Of course it is very shady in this deep gorge, and one does not see much of the sky."

"Dis bery good place, sah – better dan house, much better dan forest. Me was despate frighted dat storm would come before me got here."

"I was wanting you to help me put the bodies into the stream, Dinah."

"No need for dat, sah; when storm come wash dem all down – no fear ob dat."

She went into the cave, and Nat followed her.

"Me hab good news for you, ma'am. De whites come out strong from de town wid regiment of troops and de sailors from English ship; de blacks hab a fight down in de plain, but dey beat dem easy. Den yesterday de bands of Fran?ois come down from de mountains, get to our plantation in de evening; dey bery strong, dey say dar am ten thousand ob dem. Dey s'pect de whites to come and attack to-morrow. To-day dey clearing out all de plantations on de plain. De black fellows say dey cut dem all to pieces."

"There is no fear of that," Nat broke in. "So you think that they will fight in the morning?"

"No, sah, me no tink dat; me suah dat as soon as de whites see de hurricane coming dey march back fast to de town; no can stand hurricane widout shelter. You had better light de lantern, it am getting as dark as night."

Nat went to the entrance. Looking up, he saw a canopy of black cloud passing overhead with extraordinary rapidity. Almost instantaneously there came a flash of lightning, nearly blinding him, accompanied by a tremendous clap of thunder. He turned hastily back into the cave.

"It is lucky that you arrived in time, Dinah; if you had been ten minutes longer you would have been caught."

He stopped speaking, for his voice was drowned in a tremendous roar. He was about to go to the mouth of the cave again, but Dinah caught hold of his jacket.

"No, sah, you mustn't go; if you show your head out beyond de cabe, de wind catch you and whirl you away like leaf, nobody neber see you no more. We safe and comfor'ble in here. We just got to wait till it all over. Dat wind strong enough to trow down de strongest trees, blow down all de huts, take de roof off de strongest house. We not often hab hurricanes in dis island, but when dey come, dey come bery bad. Dose ten tousand black fellows down at de plantation dey hab a bery bad time ob it to-night, dey wish demselves dead afore morning."

"It is very bad for the women and children too, Dinah."

"Yes, sah, me hab not forgotten dat; but most ob dem will hab gone, dey run away when dey hear dat de whites coming out of town. Dey know bery well dat de whites hab good cause to be bery angry, and dat dey shoot eberyone dey catch."

"But they will be just as badly off in the woods as they would be in their huts, Dinah. Have your daughter and her children got away?"

"No, sah, dey wur going jest as I started, but I told dem dat hurricane coming, and dat dey better stay in de clearing; and dey agreed to hide up in de little stone hut at end of garden where dey keep de tools and oder tings. De roof blow off, no doubt, but de walls am low and strong. Dey hab bad time dere, but dey safe."

With Dinah's assistance, Nat fixed a blanket at the point where the narrow entrance widened out, to keep out the swirls of wind which from time to time rushed in, propping it in its place by the hand-barrow on which Madame Duchesne had been brought up. Myra had finished cooking the fowls just as her nurse arrived, and they sat down to their meal heedless of the terrific tempest that was raging outside.

CHAPTER X
AFLOAT AGAIN

"There will be no occasion to keep watch to-night, Dinah."

"Not in de least, sah; de water six feet deep, no one could get in."

As talking was out of the question, the party lay down to sleep soon after they had finished their meal. It was some time, however, before Nat closed his eyes. It seemed to him that as soon as the storm was over, and the water low enough for them to pass up the ravine, no time should be lost in attempting to make their way down into the town. The troops would no doubt set out again as soon as possible, and a battle might be fought before nightfall. That the negroes would be beaten he had no doubt, and in that case other parties of fugitives might make for the cave. It was likely that, until the battle was fought, there would be but few negroes in the forest; those who had remained there during the storm would go down into the full glare of the sun to dry and warm themselves.

Doubtless, too, Fran?ois, the negro leader, would have sent messengers off as soon as he arrived, ordering all able-bodied men in the plantations for miles round to come in to take part in the battle, and their chances of meeting with any foes as they descended to the plain would be slight. It would undoubtedly be a serious matter to carry Madame Duchesne for so long a distance; for they had ever since leaving the plantation been going farther away from the town, and he calculated that it must be at least twenty-five miles distant. He did not think that it would be possible to do the journey in a day; but once down on the plains they might find some building intact, in which they could obtain shelter for the night. At last he fell off to sleep.

When he awoke the din outside had ceased, and the silence seemed almost oppressive. He got up, pushed aside the blanket, and looked out. The stars were shining, and the wind had entirely lulled. The bottom of the ravine was still full of water, but he felt sure that this would speedily drop; for the depression above the gorge was not an extensive one, and the water that fell there would speedily find its way down. He lit a fresh candle and placed it in the lantern, as the last, which had been renewed by Dinah early in the night, was burning low. He pulled down the blanket, for although the air was fresh and cool at the entrance, the cave was oppressively warm. It was two hours before day began to break; by this time the torrent had subsided and the stream ran in its former course, and it was clear that in another hour it would be possible to make their way along by the side. As he was turning to go in, Dinah joined him.

"I tink, Marse Glober, de sooner we go de better."

"That is just what I have been thinking. There are not likely to be many of the slaves about in the wood to-day; you see a number of trees have blown down from above, and just below, the ravine is almost choked with them."

"No, sah, many will be killed in the forest, and de rest frighted 'most out of der lives. If de whites come out and fight to-day, and de black fellows are beaten, all dose who know of dis place suah to come to hide here."

"That was just my idea."

"How your side, sah?"

"It seems rather stiff and sore, Dinah. However, that can't be helped. That sash you made me will come in very handy for carrying madame, and we sha'n't have the weight of the other things we brought up. I am afraid it will be impossible to do the journey in one day, but I dare say we shall light upon a shelter down on the plains."

"Yes, sah. Me put de pot on de fire at once, and as soon as we hab breakfast we make a start; but before we go me must stain you all again – got glenty ob berries left."

Madame Duchesne had already been consulted. She would much rather have remained until strong enough to walk, but on her old nurse's showing her that it would be at least a fortnight before she could walk even a mile, and pointing out the danger there was in delay, she agreed to start whenever they thought fit. The jewels were placed in Dinah's capacious pocket, as, if they fell in with any strong party of negroes, she would be less likely to be searched than the others. In an hour all the preparations were completed; one pistol was given to Madame Duchesne and another to her daughter. Dinah took charge of a brace, and Nat wore the other two brace in his sash. He still wore his uniform under his nankeen suit, and his naval cap was in the bundle that formed Madame Duchesne's pillow. She lay down on the hand-barrow, all the blankets being placed under her, with the exception of one which was thrown over her, and she was let down the precipice in the same way as she had been brought up.

Dinah this time followed Nat's example, and used one of the mulattoes' sashes as a yoke to take the weight off her arms. Madame Duchesne was placed as far forward on the barrow as possible, so as to divide the weight more equally between her bearers. On raising her, Nat found to his satisfaction that it hurt him but little. In the week that had elapsed since she was seized with the fever, Madame Duchesne had lost a good deal of weight, the store of provisions had, too, greatly diminished, and the sash took so much of the weight off his arms, that as he walked in a perfectly erect position there was little strain thrown upon the broken bone. It was only when he came to a rough place and had to step very carefully that he really felt his wounds. Myra looked anxiously at him from time to time.

"I am getting on capitally," he said. "Do not worry about me; at present I scarcely feel that unfortunate rib."

"Mind, if you do feel it, Nat, you must give up. Dinah will take your place, and I will take hers. I am sure that I can carry that end very well for a time."

"I will let you know when I want a change," Nat said. "Now, you go on ahead, and as soon as we get out of this hollow use your eyes sharply."

They saw no one going up the valley or crossing the open ground. When, however, they entered the forest on the other slope, they saw for the first time how terrible had been the force of the hurricane. In some places over acres of ground every tree had fallen, in others the taller trees only had been levelled or snapped off, while others again had boughs wrenched off, and the ground was thickly strewn with fallen branches. All this added greatly to the fatigue of travelling. Detours had to be constantly made, and the journey down took them double the time that had been occupied in the ascent. When approaching the road they had to cross, they sat down and rested for half an hour.

"You are looking very white, Nat," Myra said; "I am afraid that your side is hurting you terribly."

"It certainly hurts a bit, Myra, but it is of no consequence. It was going on very well until I stumbled over a fallen branch that gave it rather a twist."

"You let me bandage 'im again, Marse Glober. We will go off and set dis matter right."

When a short distance away Nat stripped to the waist. Myra had done her best, but the old nurse possessed considerable skill in such matters, and strength enough to draw the bandage much tighter than she had done.

"Better make it a bit longer," she said, and taking a pair of scissors from her pocket cut off a strip some fifteen inches wide from her ample petticoat, and wound this tightly round the other bandage. "Dere, sah, dat make you 'tiff and comf'able."

"It does make me stiff," Nat said with a smile; "I almost feel as if I had got a band of iron round me. Thank you; I shall do very well now."

The old nurse dressed him carefully again, and they rejoined the others.

"That is ever so much better," Nat said to Myra; "the bandage had shifted a little, and Dinah has put it on fresh again, and added a strip of her own petticoat."

The journey was then resumed, and, with an occasional halt, continued until late in the afternoon, by which time they were well down on the plain. During the latter part of the day they had heard at first scattered shots and then a roar of musketry about a couple of miles on their right. It continued for half an hour, and then the heavy firing ceased; but musket shots could be heard occasionally, and higher up on the hill than before.

"The negroes have been beaten," Nat said, "and our men are pursuing them. Perhaps they will make another stand at the point where the road runs between two steep banks."

This indeed seemed to be the case, for half an hour later a heavy fire broke out again. It was but for a short time – in ten minutes it died away, and no further sound was heard. Darkness was now falling, and they presently arrived at some buildings that had been left standing. They were storehouses, and had not been fired at the time when the planter's house was burned, but had probably been used by the negroes as a barrack, until the advance of the troops on the previous day had compelled them to take a hasty flight. The litter was now laid on the ground. Madame Duchesne had dozed off many times during the day, and was now wide awake.

"Are you going to light a fire, Dinah?"

"No, madame; Marse Glober and me tink it too dangerous. Not likely any ob dese black fellows 'bout, but dere might be some hiding, best to be careful. We hab a cold chicken to eat, and dere is some chicken jelly in de lillie pot for you, and we hab bread, so no need for fire to cook, and sartin no need for him afterward, we all sleep first-rate. Madame not heaby, but road bery rough, and little weight tell up by end ob de day. Dinah getting ole woman, Marse Glober got rib broken – both bery glad when journey done. Mamzelle she tired too; twelve mile ober rough ground a long journey for her."

"My feet ache a little," Myra said, "but otherwise I do not feel tired. I felt quite ashamed of myself walking along all day carrying nothing, instead of taking turns with you."

There was but little talking as they ate their meal in the darkness. Neither Nat nor the old nurse had said a word as to their feelings as they walked, but both felt completely exhausted, and it was not many minutes after they had finished their supper before they were sound asleep. At daybreak they were on their feet again, feeling better after the long night's rest, and happy at the thought that this day's walk would take them to home and safety. Nat now threw off his disguise, placed his cap upon his head, and appeared as a British officer, though certainly one of considerably darker complexion than was common; but he thought there was less danger now from slaves than from parties of maddened whites, who had been out to their former homes and might shoot any negroes they came upon without waiting to ask questions. Myra also discarded the negro gown.



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