George Henty.

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



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"It is very fortunate," the surgeon said, "that the ends of the bone have kept pretty fairly in their places instead of working through the flesh, which they might very well have done."

Very carefully the two surgeons bandaged the arm from the elbow to the finger-tips.

"Now for the shoulder," the doctor said.

They first sponged the wounds and then began feeling the bones again, giving exquisite pain to Nat. Then they drew apart and consulted for two or three minutes.

"This is a much worse business than the other," Dr. Bemish said when he returned to the bedside; "the arm is broken near the shoulder, the collar-bone is broken too, and the flesh is almost in a pulp."

"Don't say I must lose the arm, doctor," Nat said.

"Well, I hope not, Glover, but I can't say for certain. You see I am speaking frankly to you, for I know that you have pluck. The injury to the collar-bone is not in itself serious, but the other is a comminuted fracture."

"What is comminuted, doctor?"

"It means that the bone is splintered, lad. Still, there is no reason why it should not heal again; you have a strong constitution, and Nature works wonders."

For the next half-hour the two surgeons were at work picking out the fragments of bone, getting the ends together, and bandaging the arm and shoulder. Nat fainted under the pain within the first few minutes, and did not recover until the surgeons had completed their work. Then his lips were wetted with brandy and a few drops of brandy and water were poured down his throat. In a minute or two he opened his eyes.

"It is all over now, lad." He lay for sometime without speaking, and then whispered, "How is the girl?"

"Her shoulder is broken," Dr. Bemish replied. "I have not seen her; but the doctor says that it is a comparatively simple case."

"How was it the dog came to bite her?"

"She was a stranger to it. She is not the daughter of your hostess. It seems her father's plantation is some twelve miles away; he drove her in and left her here with Madame Demaine, who is his sister, while he went into town on business. Madame's own daughter was away, and the girl sauntered down into the garden, when the hound, not knowing her, sprang upon her, and I have not the least doubt would have killed her had you not arrived."

"Are you going to take me on board, doctor?"

"Not at present, Glover; you need absolute quiet, and if the frigate got into a heavy sea it might undo all our work, and in that case there would be little hope of saving your arm. Madame Demaine told the French doctor that she would nurse you as if you were her own child, and that everything was to be done to make you comfortable. The house is cool, and your wound will have a much better chance of getting well here than in our sick-bay. She wanted to come in to thank you, but I said that, now we had dressed your arm, it was better that you should have nothing to disturb or excite you.

When the girl's father returns – and I have no doubt he will do so soon, for as yet, though half-a-dozen boys have been sent down to the town, they have not been able to find him – he must on no account come in to see you at present. Here is a tumbler of fresh lime-juice and water. Doctor Lepel will remain here all night and see that you have everything that you require."

The tumbler was held to Nat's lips, and he drained it to the bottom. The drink was iced, and seemed to him the most delicious that he had ever tasted.

"I shall come ashore again to see you in the morning. Dr. Lepel will go back with me now, and make up a soothing draught for you both. Remember that above all things it is essential for you to lie quiet. He will put bandages round your body, and fasten the ends to the bedstead so as to prevent you from turning in your sleep."

"All right, sir; I can assure you that I have no intention of moving. My arm does not hurt me much now, and I would not set it off aching again for any money."

"It is a rum thing," Nat thought to himself, "that I should always be getting into some scrape or other when I go ashore. This is the worst of all by a long way."

A negro girl presently came in noiselessly and placed a small table on the right-hand side of the bed. She then brought in a large jug of the same drink that Nat had before taken, and some oranges and limes both peeled and cut up into small pieces.

"It is lucky it was not the right arm," Nat said to himself. "I suppose one can do without the left pretty well when one gets accustomed to it, though it would be rather awkward going aloft."

In an hour Dr. Lepel returned, and gave him the draught.

"Now try and go to sleep," he said in broken English. "I shall lie down on that sofa, and if you wake up be sure and call me. I am a light sleeper."

"Had you not better stay with the young lady?"

"She will have her mother and her aunt with her, so she will do very well. I hope that you will soon go to sleep."

It was but a few minutes before Nat dozed off. Beyond a numbed feeling his arm was not hurting him very much. Once or twice during the night he woke and took a drink. A slight stir in the room aroused him, and to his surprise he found that the sun was already up. The doctor was feeling his pulse, a negro girl was fanning him, and a lady stood at the foot of the bed looking at him pitifully.

"Do you speak French, monsieur?" she asked.

"A little," he replied, for he had learned French while at school, and since the frigate had been among the West Indian islands he had studied it for a couple of hours a day, as it was the language that was spoken in all the French islands and might be useful to him if put in charge of a prize.

"Have you slept well?" she asked.

"Very well."

"Does your arm hurt you very much now?"

"It hurts a bit, ma'am, but nothing to make any fuss about."

"You must ask for anything that you want," she said. "I have told off two of my negro girls to wait upon you. Of course they both speak French."

Half an hour later Dr. Bemish arrived.

"You are going on very well, Glover," he said after feeling the lad's pulse and putting his hand on his forehead. "At present you have no fever. You cannot expect to get through without some, but I hardly expected to find you so comfortable this morning. The captain told me to say that he would come and see you to-day, and I can assure you that there is not one among your mess-mates who is not deeply sorry at what has happened, although they all feel proud of your pluck in fighting that great hound with nothing but a dirk."

"They are useless sort of things, doctor, and I cannot think why they give them to us; but it was a far better weapon yesterday than a sword would have been."

"Yes, it was. The room is nice and cool, isn't it?"

"Wonderfully cool, sir. I was wondering about it before you came in, for it is a great deal cooler than it is on board."

"There are four great pans full of ice in the room, and they have got up matting before each of the windows, and are keeping it soaked with water."

"That is very good of them, doctor. Please thank Madame Demaine for me. She was in here this morning – at least I suppose it was she – and she did not bother me with thanks, which was a great comfort. You are not going to take these bandages off and put them on again, I hope?"

"Oh, no. We may loosen them a little when inflammation sets in, which it is sure to do sooner or later."

Captain Crosbie came to see Nat that afternoon.

"Well, my lad," he said cheerfully, "I see that you have fallen into good hands, and I am sure that everything that is possible will be done for you. I was talking to the girl's mother and aunt before I came in. Their gratitude to you is quite touching, and they are lamenting that Dr. Bemish has given the strictest orders that they are not to say anything more about it. And now I must not stay and talk; the doctor gave me only two minutes to be in the room with you. I don't know whether the frigate is likely to put in here again soon, but I will take care to let you know from time to time what we are doing and where we are likely to be, so that you can rejoin when the doctor here gives you leave; but mind, you are not to dream of attempting it until he does so, and you must be a discontented spirit indeed if you are not willing to stay for a time in such surroundings. Good-bye, lad! I sincerely trust that it will not be very long before you rejoin us, and I can assure you of a hearty welcome from officers and men."

Three days later, fever set in, but, thanks to the coolness of the room and to the bandages being constantly moistened with iced water, it passed away in the course of a week. For two or three days Nat was light-headed, but he woke one morning feeling strangely weak. It was some minutes before he could remember where he was or how he had got there, but a sharp twinge in his arm brought the facts home to him.

"Thank God that you are better, my brave boy," a voice said in French, as a cool hand was placed on his forehead; and turning his head Nat saw a lady standing by his bedside. She was not the one whom he had seen before; tears were streaming down her cheeks, and, evidently unable to speak, she hurried from the room, and a minute later Doctor Lepel entered.

"Madame Duchesne has given me the good news that you are better," he said. "I had just driven up to the door when she ran down."

"Have I been very bad, doctor?"

"Well, you have been pretty bad, my lad, and have been light-headed for the past three or four days, and I did not for a moment expect that you would come round so soon. You must have a magnificent constitution, for most men, even if they recovered at all from such terrible wounds as you have had, would probably have been three or four times as long before the fever had run its course."

"And how is the young lady?"

"She is going on well, and I intended to give permission for her to be carried home in a hammock to-day, but when I spoke of it yesterday to her mother, she said that nothing would induce her to go until you were out of danger. She or Madame Demaine have not left your bedside for the past week, and next to your own good constitution you owe your rapid recovery to their care. I have no doubt that she will go home now, and you are to be moved to Monsieur Duchesne's house as soon as you are strong enough. It lies up among the hills, and the change and cooler air will do you good."

"I have not felt it hot here, doctor, thanks to the care that they have taken in keeping the room cool. I hope now that there is no fear of my losing my arm?"

"No; I think that I can promise you that. In a day or two I shall re-bandage it, and I shall then be able to see how the wounds are getting on; but there can be no doubt that they are doing well, or you would never have shaken off the fever so soon as you have done."

"Of course the Orpheus has sailed, doctor?"

"Yes. She put to sea a week ago. I have a letter here that the captain gave me to hand to you when you were fit to read it. I should not open it now if I were you. You are very weak, and sleep is the best medicine for you. Now, drink a little of this fresh lime-juice. I have no doubt that you will doze off again."

Almost before the door closed on the doctor Nat was asleep. A fortnight later he was able to get up and sit in an easy-chair.

"How long shall I have to keep these bandages on, doctor?"

"I should say in another fortnight or so you might take them off the forearm, for the bones seem to have knit there, but it would be better that you should wear them for another month or six weeks. There would indeed be no use in taking them off earlier, for the bandages on the shoulder and the fracture below it cannot be removed for some time, and you will have to carry your arm in a sling for another three months. I do not mean that you may not move your arm before that, indeed it is desirable that you should do so, but the action must be quiet and simple, and done methodically, and the sling will be necessary at other times to prevent sudden jerks."

"But I shall be able to go away and join my ship before that, surely?"

"Yes, if the arm goes on as well as at present you may be able to do so in a month's time; only you will have to be very careful. You must remember that a fall, or even a lurch against the rail, or a slip in going down below, or anything of that kind, might very well undo our work, for it must be some time before the newly-formed bone is as strong as the old. As I told you the other day, your arm will be some two inches shorter than it was."

"That won't matter a rap," Nat said.

That afternoon Nat had to submit to what he had dreaded. The doctor had pronounced that he was now quite convalescent, and that there was no fear whatever of a relapse, and Monsieur and Madame Duchesne therefore came over to see him. He had seen the latter but once, and then only for a minute, for she found herself unable to observe the condition on which alone the doctor had allowed her to enter, namely, to repress all emotion. Madame Demaine came in with them. Since her niece had been taken away, she had spent much of her time in Nat's room, talking quietly to him about his English home or his ship, and sometimes reading aloud to him, but studiously avoiding any allusion to the accident. Monsieur Duchesne was a man of some thirty-five years of age, his wife was about five years younger, and they were an exceptionally handsome couple of the best French type. Madame Duchesne pressed forward before the others, and to Nat's embarrassment bent over him and kissed him.

"You cannot tell how we have longed for this time to come," she said. "It seemed so cold and ungrateful that for a whole month we should have said no word of thanks to you for saving our darling's life, but the doctor would not allow it. He said that the smallest excitement might bring on the fever again, so we have been obliged to abstain. Now he has given us leave to come, and now we have come, what can we say to you? Ah, monsieur, it was our only child that you saved, the joy of our lives! Think of the grief into which we should have been plunged by her loss, and you can then imagine the depth of our gratitude to you."

While she was speaking her husband had taken Nat's right hand and pressed it silently. There were tears in his eyes, and his lips quivered with emotion.

"Pray do not say anything more about it, madam," Nat said. "Of course I am very glad to have saved your daughter's life, but anyone else would have done the same. You don't suppose that anyone could stand by and see a girl mauled by a dog without rushing forward to save her, even if he had had no arm of any kind, while I had my dirk, which was about as good a weapon for that sort of thing as one could want. Why, Harpur, our youngest middy, who is only fourteen, would have done it. Of course I have had a good deal of pain, but I would have borne twice as much for the sake of the pleasure I feel in having saved your daughter's life, and I am sure that I have had a very nice time of it since I have begun to get better. Madame Demaine has been awfully good to me. If she had been my own mother she could not have been kinder. I felt quite ashamed of being so much trouble to her, and of being fanned and petted as if I had been a sick girl. And how is your daughter getting on? The doctor gave me a very good account of her, but you know one can't always quite believe doctors; they like to say pleasant things to you so as not to upset you."

"She is getting on very well indeed. Of course she has her arm in a sling still, but she is going about the house, and is quite merry and bright again. She wanted to come over with us to-day, but Dr. Lepel would not have it. He said that a sudden jolt over a stone might do a good deal of mischief. However, it will not be long before she sees you, for we have got leave to have you carried over early next week."

CHAPTER II
REJOINED

Four days later Monsieur Duchesne came down with six negroes and a cane lounging chair, on each side of which a long pole had been securely lashed. Nat's room was on the ground floor, and with wide windows opening to the ground. The chair was brought in. Nat was still shaky on his legs, but he was able to get from the bed into the chair without assistance.

"I shall come over to see you to-morrow," Madame Demaine said, as he thanked her and her husband for their great kindness to him, "and I hope I shall find that the journey has done you no harm."

Four of the negroes took the ends of the poles and raised them onto their shoulders, the other two walked behind to serve as a relay. Monsieur Duchesne mounted his horse and took his place by Nat's side, and the little procession started. The motion was very easy and gentle. It was late in the afternoon when they started, the sun was near the horizon, and a gentle breeze from the sea had sprung up. In half an hour it was dusk, and the two spare negroes lighted torches they had brought with them, and now walked ahead of the bearers. It was full moon, and after having been so long confined in a semi-darkened room, Nat enjoyed intensely the soft air, the dark sky spangled with stars, and the rich tropical foliage showing its outlines clearly in the moonlight.

Presently Monsieur Duchesne said:

"I have a flask of brandy and water with me, Mr. Glover, in case you should feel faint or exhausted."

Nat laughed.

"Thank you for thinking of it, monsieur, but there is no fatigue whatever in sitting here, and I have enjoyed my ride intensely. It is almost worth getting hurt in order to have such pleasure: we don't get such nights as this in England."

"But you have fine weather sometimes, surely?" Monsieur Duchesne said.

"Oh yes, we often have fine weather, but there are not many nights in the year when one can sit out-of-doors after dark! When it is a warm night there are sure to be heavy dews; besides, the stars are not so bright with us as they are here, nor is the air so soft. I don't mean to say that I don't like our climate better; we never have it so desperately hot as you do, and besides, we like the cold, because it braces one up, and even the rain is welcome as a change, occasionally. Still, I allow that as far as nights go you beat us hollow."

The road presently began to rise, and before they reached the end of the journey they were high above the plain. As they approached the house the negroes broke into a song, and on their stopping before the wide verandah that surrounded the house, Madame Duchesne and her daughter were standing there to greet them as the bearers gently lowered the chair to the ground. The girl was first beside it.

"Ah, monsieur," she exclaimed as she took his hand, "how grateful I am to you! how I have longed to see you! for I have never seen you yet; and it has seemed hard to me that while aunt and the doctor should have seen you so often, and even mamma should have seen you once, I should never have seen you at all."

"There is not much to see in me at the best of times, mademoiselle," Nat said as he rose to his feet, "and I am almost a scarecrow now. I wanted to see you, too, just to see what you were like, you know."

He took the arm that Monsieur Duchesne offered him, for although he could have walked that short distance unaided, he did not know the ground, and might have stumbled over something. They went straight from the verandah into a pretty room lighted by a dozen wax candles. He sat down in a chair that was there in readiness for him. The girl placed herself in front of him and looked earnestly at him.

"Well," he said with a laugh, "am I at all like what you pictured me?"

"You are not a scarecrow at all!" she said indignantly. "Why do you say such things of yourself? Of course you are thin, very thin, but even now you look nice. I think you are just what I thought you would be. Now, am I like what you thought I should be?"

"I don't know that I ever attempted to think exactly what you would be," Nat said. "I did not notice your face; I don't even know whether it was turned my way. I did take in that you were a girl somewhere about thirteen years old, but as soon as the dog turned, my attention was pretty fully occupied. Madame Demaine said your name was Myra. I thought that with such a pretty name you ought to be pretty too. I suppose it is rude to say so, but you certainly are, mademoiselle."

The girl laughed.

"It is not rude at all; and please you are to call me Myra and not mademoiselle. Now, you must get strong as soon as you can. Mamma said I might act as your guide, and show you about the plantation, and the slave houses, and everywhere. I have never had a boy friend, and I should think it was very nice."

"My dear," her mother said with a smile, "it is not altogether discreet for a young lady to talk in that way."

"Ah! but I am not a young lady yet, mamma, and I think it is much nicer to be a girl and to be able to say what one likes. And you are an officer, Monsieur Glover!"

"Well, if I am to call you Myra, you must call me Nat. Monsieur Glover is ridiculous."



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