A Roving Commission: or, Through the Black Insurrection at Hayti
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"I think that I looked more respectable in that," she said with a laugh, "than in this draggled white frock."
"It has not been improved, certainly, by its week's wear, Myra; but just at the present moment no one will be thinking of dresses. Now let us be off. We shall be on the road soon, and in an hour or two will be in the town."
It seemed easy work after the toil of the previous day. They bore to the right until they fell into the main road, both because it would be safer, and because Nat hoped that he might meet someone who could inform Monsieur Duchesne – who he had no doubt would have gone out with the column – that his wife and daughter were in safety, and that he would find them at his house in the town. They had, indeed, gone but a short distance along the road when four men on horseback galloped up. They drew rein suddenly as they met the little party, astonished to see, as they thought, a mulatto girl in front, a negro woman carrying a litter on which was another mulatto woman, and which was carried behind by a young mulatto in the uniform of a British naval officer. Had they met them out in the country they would probably not have troubled to ask questions, but, travelling as they were along the road towards the town, and from the direction where the column had been fighting, it was evident that there must be some mystery about it.
"Who are you?" one of them asked Nat in a rough tone.
"I am an officer of his Britannic Majesty's frigate Orpheus, at present, I believe, in the port; this lady on the stretcher is Madame Duchesne; this young lady is her daughter, Mademoiselle Myra Duchesne; this negress, the faithful nurse of the two ladies, has saved their lives at the risk of her own."
One of the horsemen leapt from his saddle.
"Pardon me for not recognizing you, mademoiselle," he said to Myra, lifting his straw-hat; "but the change that you have made in your complexion must be my excuse for my not having done so. I trust that madame, your mother, is not seriously ill."
"She has been very ill, Monsieur Ponson," she replied. "She has just recovered from an attack of fever, but is very weak indeed."
"I saw your father three days ago. He had then just received your message saying that you were in safe hiding. He was, of course, in a state of the greatest delight. He went out with the troops yesterday."
"If you see him, sir, will you be kind enough to tell him that you have met us, and that he will find us at his house in town?"
"I will certainly find him out as soon as I reach the troops. Is there anything else that I can do?"
"Nothing, thank you, sir. Is there, Nat?"
"No, unless one of the gentlemen would ride back with us, so as to prevent us from being stopped by every party we meet and having to explain who we are."
"I will do so, sir," the youngest of the horsemen said. "I dare say I shall be able to join our friends at the front before there is any more fighting, for the messenger who came in yesterday evening brought the news that the blacks had been so completely defeated, that it was thought likely they would make straight off into the mountains in the interior."
"Thank you very much, sir; it will be a great comfort to us to go straight on.We are anxious to get Madame Duchesne into shelter before the sun gets to its full power. My name is Glover. May I ask yours?"
"It is Laurent."
The other three horsemen, after raising their hats in salute, had now ridden on.
"How did you get on through the hurricane, Monsieur Glover?"
"We scarce felt it. We were in a cave with a very small entrance, and after the first outburst slept through it in comfort."
"It is more than any of us did in the town," the other said with a laugh. "It was tremendous. I should say that half the houses were unroofed, and in the poor quarters many of the huts were blown down, and upwards of twenty negroes were killed."
"Do you think, Monsieur Laurent," Myra said, moving across to him, "that we are likely to meet any people on foot whom we could hire?"
"No, I hardly think so, mademoiselle. All the gentlemen in the town who could get away rode out with the troops, and the rest of the whites are patrolling the streets armed, lest the negroes employed in the work of the port should rise during the absence of the troops. Why do you ask, mademoiselle?"
"Because Monsieur Glover had a rib broken by a pistol-ball the day before yesterday, and I am sure it hurts him very much to carry my mother."
The young man leapt from his horse.
"Monsieur," he exclaimed, "pray take my horse. I will assist in carrying Madame Duchesne."
"I do not like" – Nat began, but his remonstrance was unheeded.
"But I insist, monsieur. Please take the reins. You can walk by the side of the horse or mount him, whichever you think will be the more easy for you."
So saying, he gently possessed himself of the handles of the litter, placed the sash over his shoulders, and started. It was indeed an immense relief to Nat. The rough work of the preceding day had caused the ends of the bone to grate, and had set up a great deal of inflammation. He had been suffering acutely since he started, in spite of the support of the bandage, and he had more than once thought that he would be obliged to ask Myra to take his place. He did not attempt to mount in the young Frenchman's saddle, for he thought that the motion of the horse would be worse for him than walking; he therefore took the reins in his hand, and walked at the horse's head behind the litter. The pain was less now that he was relieved of the load, but he still suffered a great deal, and he kept in the rear behind the others, while Myra chatted with Monsieur Laurent, learning from him what had happened in the town, and giving him a sketch of their adventures. As they passed the house of Madame Duchesne's sister, the invalid said that she would be taken in there, as she had heard from Monsieur Laurent that their own house was partially unroofed. Myra ran in to see her aunt, who came out with her at once.
"Ah, my dear sister," she cried, "how we have suffered! We had no hope that you had escaped until your husband brought us the joyful news three days ago that you were still in safety. Come in, come in! I am more glad than ever that our house escaped without much damage from the storm."
Although the house was intact, the garden was a wreck. The drive up to the house was blocked by fallen trees, most of the plants seemed to have been torn up by the roots and blown away, the lawn was strewn with huge branches.
Two of the house servants had now come out and relieved those carrying the litter.
"Ah, Monsieur Glover," continued Madame Duchesne's sister, "once again you have saved my niece; my sister also this time! Of course you will come in too."
"Thanks, madame, but if you will allow me I will go straight on board my ship. I am wounded, though in no way seriously. Still, I shall require some medical care, for I have a rib broken, and the journey down has not improved it."
"In that case I will not press you, monsieur. Dr. Lepel has gone out with the column, and may not be back for some days."
"Good-bye, Madame Duchesne!" Nat said, shaking the thin hand she held out to him. "I will come and see you soon, and hope to find you up by that time. Now that your anxiety is at an end you ought to gain strength rapidly."
"May Heaven bless you," she said, "for your goodness to us!"
"That is all right," he said cheerfully. "You see, I was saving my own life as well as yours; and it is to you, Dinah," he said, turning and shaking her hand, "it is to you that we really all owe our lives. First you warned us in time, then you took us to a place of safety, and have since got us food and news, and risked your own life in doing so.
"Good-bye, Myra; I hope that when I see you again you will have got that dye off your face, and that you will be none the worse for what you have gone through."
The girl's lip quivered.
"Good-bye, Nat. I do so hope your wound will soon heal."
"You are fortunate, indeed, in having escaped," Monsieur Laurent said as they turned away. "From all we hear, I fear that very few of the whites, except in plantations quite near the towns, have escaped. It is strange that the house servants, who in most cases have been all their lives with their masters and mistresses, and who have almost always been treated as kindly as if they were members of the family, should not have warned them of what was coming."
"I should think that very few of them knew," Nat replied. "They were known to be attached to their masters and mistresses, and would hardly have been trusted by the others. I cannot think so badly of human nature as to believe that a people who have been so long in close connection with their masters should, in almost every case, have kept silent when they knew that there was a plot to massacre them."
"Well, I will say good-morning," Monsieur Laurent said. "I want to be back with the troops. I was detained yesterday, to my great disgust, to see to the getting-off of a freight, and I should not like to miss another chance of paying some of the scoundrels off."
Nat made his way slowly and carefully – for the slightest movement gave him great pain – to the wharf. One of the frigate's boats was ashore. The coxswain looked at him with surprise as he went down the steps to it.
"Well, I'm jiggered," the man muttered, "if it ain't Mr. Glover!" Then he said aloud: "Glad to see you back, sir. The ship's crew were all glad when they heard the other day that the news had come as how you were safe, for we had all been afraid you had been murdered by them niggers. You are looking mighty queer, sir, if I may say so."
"My face is stained to make me look like a mulatto. Whom are you waiting for?"
"For Mr. Normandy."
"Well, how long do you expect he will be?"
"I can't say, sir. It is about a quarter of an hour since he landed, and he said he would be back in half an hour; but officers are generally longer than they expect."
"Well it won't take you above ten minutes to row off to the ship and back. I will take the blame if he comes down before that. I have been wounded, not badly, but it is very painful. I want to get it properly dressed."
"All right, sir, we will get you on board in no time."
"Give me your arm. I must get in carefully."
The men stretched to their oars, and in five minutes Nat was alongside the Orpheus. He had heard, as he expected, that Dr. Bemish had gone with the party that had been landed, but his assistant was on board. The first lieutenant was on deck. He saw by Nat's walk as he went up to report his return that something was the matter.
"Are you ill or wounded, Mr Glover?"
"I am wounded, sir. I had a rib broken by a pistol-ball, and I have had a long journey, which has inflamed it a good deal."
"Go down at once and have it seen to; you can tell me your story afterwards. Have the ladies who were with you got safely down also?"
The lieutenant nodded, and Nat then went below and placed himself in the hands of the assistant surgeon.
"My word, Glover, you have got your wound into a state!" the latter said after he had examined him. "What on earth have you been doing to it? It seems to have been a pretty clean break at first, and it wouldn't have bothered you above three weeks or so, but the ends have evidently been sawing away into the flesh. Why, man alive, what have you been doing?"
"I have been helping to carry a sick woman down from the hills," Nat said quietly. "If it had been level ground it would not have hurt so much, but on rough ground strewn with branches one could not avoid stumbling occasionally, and although it had been bandaged before I started the wad slipped and the thing got loose, and after that it was like walking with a red-hot needle sticking into me."
"So I should say. Well, I will put you into a berth in the sick-bay at once. Fortunately we have some ice on board and I will put some of it on the wound and try to get the inflammation down."
In a short time he returned with a basin of ice and a jugful of iced lime-juice. Nat took a long drink, and then turned so that the ice could be applied to the wound.
"You must keep yourself as still as you can. I sha'n't attempt to bandage you at present, there is really nothing to be done till we have got the inflammation down."
"I will lie quiet as long as I am awake, but I cannot answer for myself if I go off to sleep, which will not be long, for I am as tired as a dog. To-day's walk would have been nothing if I had been all right, it was the pain that wore me out."
"I don't suppose you will move. You may be sure that that rib will act like an alarm, and give you warning at once if you stir in the slightest."
Having seen Nat comfortable, the young surgeon went up on deck.
"How do you find Mr. Glover?" the first lieutenant asked. "He says that it is only a broken rib."
"Well, sir, it was only a broken rib at first, now it is a broken rib with acute inflammation round it. There is a flesh wound about four inches long where the bullet struck, broke the rib, ran along it, and went out behind. That would not have been anything if he had kept quiet; as it is, it is as angry as you could want to see a wound. But that is not the worst, the two ends of the bone have been rubbing against each other with enough movement to lacerate the flesh, with the natural result that a wonderful amount of inflammation has been set up round it."
"But how did he manage it?"
"It seems, sir, that he has been carrying, or helping to carry, a sick woman down from the mountains, and he says the ground was very rough and strewn with boughs, so that one can understand that he got some terrible shakes and jolts, which would quite account for the state of his wounds."
"I should think so. When Monsieur Duchesne came off with the news that his wife was safely hidden, and that Glover was with her, he said that his daughter, who had written the note, reported that her mother was ill. No wonder he has got his wound in such a state if he has, as you say, aided to carry her down all that distance. He must have had a brush with the negroes."
"That must have been before he started, sir; for he said that the bandage shifted, so his wound must have been bound up before he set out."
"It was a gallant thing for a lad to undertake – a most gallant action! Why, it must have been torture to him."
"It must indeed, sir."
"He is not in any danger, I hope?"
"Not unless fever intervenes, sir. No doubt with rest and quiet and the use of ice we shall succeed in reducing the inflammation; but it is likely enough that fever may set in, and if so there is no saying how it may go. I shall be glad to have Doctor Bemish back again to take the responsibility off my hands."
Late that afternoon Monsieur Duchesne came on board to thank Nat. He was not allowed to see him, as the doctor said that absolute quiet was indispensable. He had had a full account from Myra of the adventures through which the little party had gone, and he retailed this to the lieutenant and doctor in the ward-room.
"A most gallant business altogether," the first lieutenant said when he had finished, "and certainly the most gallant part of it was undertaking to carry Madame Duchesne when practically disabled. But I can understand, as you say, that directly the negroes were defeated by the force that went out against them, some of them would have made for that cave, and it was therefore absolutely necessary to get away before they came. However, I hope that we need not be anxious about him; he has gone through three or four scrapes, any of which might have been fatal. There was that fight with the dog; then he was in the thick of that business with the pirates, and was blown up by the explosion, and half his crew killed. He has had some marvellous escapes, and I think we may feel very hopeful that he will get over this without serious trouble. It was lucky indeed his finding your family jewels on two of those scoundrels that he shot."
"It would have been a great loss, but it is such a little thing in comparison to the saving of my wife and daughter, that I have scarcely given it a thought. I shall do myself the pleasure of calling again to-morrow morning to know how he is."
"Do so, monsieur; you will probably find Captain Crosbie here. I had a note from him an hour ago, saying that he was returning, and would be here by eight o'clock. The negroes having been defeated, and the safety of the town being ensured for a while, he does not consider that he would be justified in joining in the pursuit of the blacks among the hills."
Nat was not aware of the return of the landing-party until the next morning, when on opening his eyes he saw Dr. Bemish by his side.
"You young scamp," the latter said, shaking his finger at him, "you seem determined to be a permanent patient. As soon as you recover from one injury you are laid up with another. So here you are again."
"It is only a trifle this time, doctor."
"Umph, I am not so sure about that. Macfarlane tells me that, not content with getting a rib broken, you go about carrying one end of a stretcher with a woman on it across ground where it was difficult, if not impossible, to move without ricking and hurting yourself. So that not only have you set up a tremendous amount of inflammation round the wound, but you have so worn the ends of the bone that they will take three times as long knitting together as they would have done had they been left alone."
"I am afraid that is all true, doctor," Nat replied with a smile; "but, you see, I thought it better to run the risk of inflammation, and even this terrible rubbing of the end of the bones you speak of, than of being caught by these fiendish negroes, and put to death by the hideous tortures with which they have in many cases slowly murdered those who fell into their hands."
"It must have hurt you badly," Dr. Bemish said, as, after removing the dressing that had, late the evening before, been substituted for the ice, he examined the wound.
"It did hurt a bit, doctor, but as four lives depended upon my being able to hold on, there was nothing for it but to set one's teeth hard and keep at it. How does it look this morning?"
"What do you think, Macfarlane? you can form a better opinion than I can, as I have not seen it before."
"The inflammation seems to have abated a good deal."
"In any case we will syringe the wound thoroughly with warm water. There are doubtless some particles of bone in it, and until these are got rid of we can't hope that it will heal properly. I will get that large magnifying-glass from my cabin."
For half an hour the wound was fomented and washed.
"As far as I can see it is perfectly clean now," Dr. Bemish said, after carefully examining it with the glass. "We will put a compress on, with a wet cloth over it, which must be damped with iced water every half-hour. When we quite get the inflammation down, Glover, which will, I hope, be in two or three days, we will bandage it tightly, and I will buy you a pair of stays on shore, and lace you up so that there shall be no chance of your performing any more pranks with it, and then I fancy you will be able to come up on deck, if you will promise to keep yourself quiet there."
"Well, that is better than I expected, doctor."
"Have you any message to send to your friends? because I am going ashore now to see them. Monsieur Duchesne was off yesterday afternoon, but Macfarlane very properly refused to let him see you."
"Tell him he can't see me for some days, doctor. I do so hate being made a fuss over."
"I will keep him away for a day or two anyhow," the doctor laughed. "He gave the ward-room a full history of your affair, so you won't have the trouble of going over it again."
"That is a comfort," Nat growled. "How long is the Orpheus likely to stop here, doctor?"
"Ah, that is more than I can say! At any rate the captain will not leave until he gets orders from Jamaica. The ?olus has just come into port, and the captain will send her off at once with despatches to the admiral, saying what has taken place, and how he landed a force to protect the town, and went out with a party to attack the insurgent blacks. He will ask for instructions, as they have no French vessel of war here, and the land force is insufficient to defend the place if attacked in earnest, especially as there is a considerable negro population who would probably rise and join the insurgents if these made an assault upon the town. The general hope on board is that we shall get orders to stay here, or at least to cruise on the coast. Now that we have broken up that nest of pirates, things are likely to be dull here for some time, though I have little doubt that ere very long we shall be at war with the French. According to the last news, which arrived since you left us, that National Assembly of theirs is going farther and farther, and its proceedings are causing serious alarm throughout Europe, for they are altogether subversive of the existing state of things. It is to its measures that this terrible insurrection here is due, and the first consequence of what is really a revolution in France will be the loss of her most valuable colony. I suppose you have heard that something like two thousand whites have been murdered. I have no doubt that now they have recovered from the first shock, the French here will take a terrible vengeance; but though they may kill a great number of the negroes, I doubt if it will be possible to reduce half a million blacks to submission, especially in an island like this, with mountain ranges running through it where cannon would be absolutely useless, and the negroes could shelter in the almost impenetrable forests that cover a large portion of it."
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