George Henty.

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

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For another couple of days no one was permitted to see Nat, but at the end of that time the wound assumed a healthy aspect, and he was allowed to receive visits. Captain Crosbie himself was the first to come down.

"I am very glad to hear so good an account of you, Mr. Glover," he said cordially; "you have done us credit again, lad, and have rendered an inestimable service to Monsieur Duchesne and his family. Although it can hardly be considered as in your regular course of duty, I shall certainly forward a narrative of your adventures to the admiral. The next time we go to Port Royal you had better go in for your examination, and if you pass I have very little doubt that acting rank will be given to you at once. Your aiding to carry down that lady, when yourself wounded, was really a very fine action, for Doctor Bemish tells me that you must have suffered intensely. Monsieur Duchesne is most anxious to see you, but the doctor has told him that it will be better for him to wait until you are well enough to go ashore, when you can go and see them all together."

"Thank you, sir, I would much rather do that. But really the person to be thanked is the old negress who gave us warning in time to escape, went down and fetched food, despatched a message to Monsieur Duchesne, and got an answer back, and who did as much as I did in carrying her mistress down."

"Doubtless she behaved very well, Mr. Glover, but that does not alter the fact that you did so also. And, as even you will admit, she had no hand in the fight in which you killed eight of these scoundrels."

"It was not much of a fight, sir. I had such an advantage in position that I really did not like shooting them, in spite of what I had heard of their doings; but it was our lives or theirs, and I knew that if one of them got away he would bring down a score of others, and they would speedily have starved us out."

"At the present time," the captain said sternly, "mercy to these villains would be misapplied; the lesson must be a terrible one, or there will speedily be an end to white rule in the island. Another thing is, that were this revolution to succeed, we might expect similar outbreaks in our own islands. Now I will leave you. Your comrades will come in to see you, but their visits must, for the present, be short."

Nat progressed rapidly. In three days the water-dressings were given up and he was tightly bandaged, and over this, rather to his disgust, the doctor insisted upon his wearing a pair of stays.

"It is all very well, Glover," Doctor Bemish said in answer to his remonstrances, "but we know what you are. You are as active as a cat, and would be constantly forgetting yourself, and springing to do something; but these things laced tightly on will act as a reminder, and will also bind you so closely together that, while you will have the free use of your limbs, your ribs will be held as if in a vice. You will have to keep them on until the bone has fairly knit, and you have every reason to be thankful that this is the only inconvenience you have to suffer from an expedition which might have cost you your life."

Four days later Doctor Bemish said:

"I think you can go ashore to-day.

Of course you must be careful, especially, getting in and out of the boat, but if you do that and walk slowly, I do not think it will do you any harm. Madame Duchesne is up and going on nicely, and they are most anxiously expecting you, and indeed Duchesne said yesterday, that if I did not let you go on shore to-day, he would come on board to see you."

"But I feel like a hog in armour in these stays, doctor."

"Never mind that, lad, you would be almost as bad if you took them off, for I should have to put on twice as many bandages, and to pull them ever so much tighter. I have told the captain that I am letting you go ashore, and have also told Mr. Philpot, so that is all settled. I shall be going off myself in an hour, and will take you with me, and keep an eye over you until you get to their gate."

"One would think that I was a small boy going to be taken to school," Nat laughed, stopping, however, abruptly.

"There! you see," the doctor said, "that gave you a twinge, I know; you must be careful, lad, you must, indeed. There is no objection to your smiling as much as you like, but there is nothing that shakes one up more than a hearty laugh. That is why at other times laughing is a healthy exercise, but with a rib in the process of healing, it is better not to indulge in it."

"Well, I shall be ready when you are."

Nat accomplished the journey without pain.

"Won't you come in, doctor?" he asked when they arrived at the gate.

"No, Glover; this will be a sort of family party. I have warned Duchesne not to throw himself on your neck, and have told him that you are to be looked at and not touched."

With an uneasy smile Nat left him at the gate and walked up the drive. They were evidently on the watch for him, for the door opened almost immediately, and Monsieur Duchesne ran down. "Mon cher!" he exclaimed, "the doctor has said that I must not touch you, but I can scarce refrain from embracing you. How can I thank you for all that you have done?"

"But, monsieur, I have done next to nothing. I shot some negroes who had not a chance of getting at me, and I helped Dinah to carry madame down. We owe our safety to Dinah, who was splendid in her devotion, making journeys backwards and forwards, to say nothing of giving us the warning that enabled us all to escape in time."

"Dinah was splendid!" Monsieur Duchesne admitted. "But I can do nothing for her. I have told her that she shall have a house and plenty to live on all her days, but she will not leave us. I have made out her papers of freedom, but she says, 'What use are these? I have been your servant all my life, and should be no different whether I was what you call a free woman or not.' What pleased her most was that I have given freedom to her grandson who brought the message down here, and am going to employ him in my stable, and that she has received a new black silk gown. She has got it on in honour of your visit, and if it had been a royal robe she could not be more proud of it."

They had by this time arrived at the door, and Monsieur Duchesne led Nat to the drawing-room, where his wife was lying on a sofa, and Myra standing beside her. The yellow dye had now nearly worn off their faces. Madame Duchesne was still pale, but she looked bright and happy. Nat went up to her and took her hand.

"I am truly glad to see you up again," he said.

"It has all ended well," she replied with tears in her eyes. "It seems like a bad dream to me, especially that journey. How good and kind you were! and I know now how terribly you must have suffered."

"It hurt a bit at the time, madame, but one gets accustomed to being hurt, and it all went on so well that it was not worth grumbling about."

"Ah, you look more yourself now, Myra!" and he held out his hand to her.

"Embrace him, my dear, for me and for yourself. Twice has he saved your life, and has been more than a brother to you."

Myra threw her arms round Nat's neck and kissed him heartily twice, while her eyes were full of tears. "I have not hurt you, I hope," she said as he drew back.

"Not a bit, and I should not have minded if you had," Nat said. Then he sat down, and they talked quietly for some time. "I am going out to-morrow again," Monsieur Duchesne said, "it is the duty of every white to join in punishing these ungrateful fiends. I hear that they have been beaten badly near Port-au-Prince. Some of the negroes are, we find, remaining quietly on the plantations, and these, unless they have murdered their masters, will be spared. No quarter will be given to those taken in arms. At any rate we shall clear all of them out of the plains near the bay, and drive them into the mountains, where we cannot hope to subdue them till a large number of troops arrive from home."

So vigorously, indeed, did the whites pursue the negroes, that in a fortnight after the outbreak it was calculated that no fewer than ten thousand blacks had fallen, many of them being put to death by methods almost as cruel and ferocious as those they had themselves adopted. They were still in such vast numbers that it was evident that it would be impossible to overpower them until troops arrived from France; and, indeed, the farther the French columns penetrated into the mountains, the more severe was the resistance they met with, and on several occasions the whites were repulsed with heavy loss. A truce was therefore agreed upon, it being arranged that neither party should attack the other until its expiration. There being, therefore, no occasion for the Orpheus to remain longer at Cape Fran?ois, she sailed for Jamaica.

Nat's wounds continued to go on well. He was still stiff, and felt the advantages of the encircling stays so much that he no longer objected to wear them. As it was likely that, until matters were finally settled, the Orpheus would be constantly cruising on the coast of Hayti, and that he would ere long see his French friends again, the parting was not a sad one; and, indeed, Nat was by no means sorry to get under way again to escape the expressions of gratitude of Monsieur Duchesne and his wife. Two days after arriving at Port Royal, Nat received notice that a court, composed of three captains of vessels then in port, would, on the following day, sit to examine midshipmen who had either served their time or were within a year of completing it. He at once sent in his name. As he had read hard during the time he had been unfit for service, he had no fear of not passing the ordeal, and at the conclusion of his examination he was told by the president of the court that he had passed with great credit.

On returning to the frigate, he found a note from the admiral requesting him to call upon him on his return from the court, and he at once proceeded to the flag-ship. "I have heard a great deal of you, Mr. Glover," the admiral said when he was ushered into his cabin. "First of all I heard the story from your captain of the gallant manner in which you, at the risk of your own, saved a young lady's life at Cape Fran?ois, when attacked by a savage hound, and were seriously injured thereby. Then I received Captain Crosbie's official report of the share you took in the attack upon that formidable nest of pirates, the report being supplemented by his subsequent relation to me of the whole facts of the affair. Your conduct there also did you very great credit, and, had you passed, I should at once have given you acting rank. Now you have again distinguished yourself, though scarcely in a manner which comes under my official knowledge. I should be glad to hear from you a detailed account of the affair."

When Nat had finished his narration, he said, "You have scarcely done justice to yourself. Your captain and Dr. Bemish were dining with me last night, and the latter said that, wounded as you were, the work of carrying that French lady down to the coast must have been an intensely painful one, as was shown by the state of your wound when he examined it. In all these matters you have shown courage and conduct, and as I hear that you have now passed, I shall take the first opportunity of giving you acting rank. You speak French fluently?"

"I speak it quite fluently, sir, but as I have only picked it up by ear, I cannot say that I speak it well."

"However, the fact that you speak it well enough to converse freely may be useful. Hayti is likely to be in a very disturbed state for some time. There can be little doubt that the negroes in the other islands are all watching what takes place there with close attention, and that there is a possibility of the revolt spreading. At present there is no saying what the course of events may be. Already the governor here has received letters from several French residents expressing their desire that we should take the island, as they believe that the French revolutionary government will make no serious effort to put down the rising. Of course, at present, as we are at peace with France, nothing whatever can be done. At the same time, it is important that we should obtain accurate information as to what is going on there, and what is the feeling of the negroes and of the mulatto population, and we shall probably have several small vessels cruising in those waters. The Falcon, under the command of Lieutenant Low, who also belonged to the Orpheus, has been for some weeks on the southern coast of the island. I intend to have three or four other craft at the same work soon, and on the first opportunity I shall appoint you to one of them."

Nat expressed his warm thanks, and retired. Three or four days later he received an intimation that the prize Arrow, a schooner of a hundred and fifty tons, would at once be put into commission, and that the admiral had selected him for her command. This was far more than Nat had even hoped for. From the manner in which the admiral had spoken, he thought that he would be appointed to a craft of this description, but he had no expectation whatever of being given the command. With the intimation was an order for him to again call upon the admiral.

"It is a small command," the admiral said when Nat expressed his thanks for the appointment. "We cannot spare you more than twenty-five hands, a quarter-master, and two midshipmen. You will have Mr. Turnbull of the Leander as your first officer, and Mr. Lippincott of the Pallas. She has carried six guns hitherto, but you will only take four. These, however, will be twelve-pounders; before, she had only nines. Naturally, it is not intended that she shall do any fighting. Of course, if you are attacked you will defend yourself, but you are hardly a match for any of these piratical craft except quite the smaller class – native boats manned by bands of desperadoes. Your mission will be to cruise on the coast of Hayti, to take off white fugitives should any show themselves, and to communicate if possible with the negroes, find out the object they propose to themselves, and report on their forces, organization, and methods of fighting. In all this great care will be necessary, for they have shown themselves so faithless and treacherous that it is impossible to place any confidence in their promises of safe-conduct. In such matters it is impossible to give any advice as to your conduct, you must be guided by circumstances; be prudent and careful, and at the same time enterprising. The schooner is a very fast one. She has been a slaver, and has more than once shown her heels to some of our fastest cruisers. Therefore, if you come across any piratical craft too big to fight, you will at least have a fair chance of outsailing her."

Greatly delighted, Nat returned to the Orpheus.

"So, you are going to leave us, Mr. Glover," the captain said when he came on board. "I congratulate you, but at the same time we shall be very sorry to lose you, and I hope that when there is a vacancy we shall have you back again. You fully deserve your promotion, and have been a credit to the ship."

The next day Nat moved his effects ashore. There was but little leave-taking between him and his comrades, for it was certain that they would often meet at Port Royal. He spent his time for the next fortnight in the dockyard seeing to the refitting of the schooner. The superintendent there had heard of the affair with the dog, and of the manner in which he had saved the lives of the French lady and her daughter, Dr. Bemish being an old friend of his. He was, therefore, much more complaisant than dockyard officials generally are to the demands made upon them by young lieutenants in command of small craft. Indeed, when the schooner was ready for sea Nat had every reason to be proud of her. She had been provided with a complete suit of new canvas, all her woodwork had been scraped and varnished, the running rigging was new, and the standing rigging had also been renewed wherever it showed signs of wear. Her ballast, which had before been almost entirely of iron ore, was now of pig-iron, and in view of the extra stability so given she had had new topmasts ten feet higher than those she had before carried.

"I should advise you to keep your weather eye lifting, Mr. Glover," Captain Crosbie said when Nat paid his farewell visit to the frigate; "that craft of yours looks very much over-sparred. If you were caught in a squall with your topsails up the chances are you would turn turtle."

"I will be very careful, sir," Nat said; "although, now she has iron ballast, I think that even with the slight addition in the height of the spars she will be as stiff as she was before in moderate breezes, while she will certainly be faster in light winds."

"That is so," the captain agreed; "and of course it is in light winds that speed is of the most importance. There can be no doubt that in the hands of a careful commander a large spread of canvas is a great advantage, while in the hands of a rash one a craft can hardly be too much under-sparred."

Turnbull, Nat's first officer, was a quiet young fellow, a few months junior to Nat. He was square in build, with a resolute but good-humoured face, and Nat had no doubt that the admiral had selected him as being likely to pull better with him than a more lively and vivacious young fellow would be. From the first day they met on board he was sure that he and Turnbull would get on extremely well together. The latter carried out his suggestions and orders as punctually as he would have done those of a post-captain, going about his work in as steady and business-like a way as if he had been accustomed for years to perform the duties of a first officer. One evening Nat had asked him and Lippincott to dine with him at an hotel, and ordered a private room.

"I think," he said when the meal was over and the waiter had placed the dessert and wine on the table and had retired, "that we are going to have a very pleasant cruise. I am afraid we sha'n't have much chance of distinguishing ourselves in the fighting way, though we may pick up some of those rascally little craft that prey on the native commerce and capture a small European merchantman occasionally. With our small crew we certainly cannot regard ourselves as a match for any of the regular pirates, who would carry vastly heavier metal, and crews of at least four times our strength. The admiral expressly warned me that it was not intended that the Arrow should undertake that sort of business. Our mission is rather to gain news of what passes in the interior, pick up fugitives who may be hiding in the woods, and act in fact as a sort of floating observatory. Any fighting, therefore, that we may get will be if we are attacked. In that case, of course, we shall do our best. I am sure we shall be a pleasant party on board. Of course in a small craft like this we shall mess together. It is necessary, for the sake of discipline, that when we are on deck we should follow the usual observances, but when we are below together we shall be three mess-mates without any formality or nonsense."

The two juniors remained on their ships until the schooner was out of the hands of the dockyard men. According to custom, Nat did not join until they and the crew had gone on board and spent a day in scrubbing the decks and making everything tidy and ship-shape; then the gig went ashore to fetch him off. As he rowed alongside he could not help smiling at seeing the sentries at the gangway and the two young officers standing there to receive him. However, with an effort he recovered his gravity, mounted the short accommodation ladder, saluted the flag, and returned the salutes of his officers and men. On board the frigate he had been an inconsiderable member of the crowd, now he was monarch of all he surveyed. Then the crew were formed up, and according to custom he read his commission appointing him to the command, and the articles of war.

"Now, my men," he said when he had brought the meeting to an end, "I have, according to rule, read the articles of war, a very necessary step when taking command of a vessel of war with hands collected from all parts, and many of them coming on board one of his majesty's ships for the first time; but it is a mere formality to a crew composed of men like yourselves, who will, I am perfectly sure, do your duty in storm and calm, and who will, should there be any occasion for fighting, show that, small as our number is, we are capable of taking our own part against a considerably larger force. I and my officers, will do all in our power to make the ship a comfortable and pleasant one, and I rely upon you to show your zeal and heartiness in the service."

The men replied with a hearty cheer. Most of them belonged to the Orpheus. These had already told the others of their captain's doings in Hayti and in the attack on the pirate island, and said how popular he was on board.

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