A Roving Commission: or, Through the Black Insurrection at Hayti
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In a few seconds the men were out, and Nat and the two seamen ran with them to the edge of the wood, to which the other captives had been passed on as soon as they were freed. By this time the air was ringing with yells and shouts.
"Now, men, move along a little farther so as to get a view of the fire, and then we will give them a volley."
The negroes were rushing forward, yelling and shouting, when twenty-five muskets rang out with deadly aim, for the blacks were not more than thirty yards away.
"Load again, lads! that will sicken them for a bit," he shouted; and indeed the negroes with yells of astonishment and fear had run back, leaving some fourteen or fifteen of their number on the ground.
"Are you all loaded?"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Then down the hill you go. Have the three ladies gone on?"
"Yes, sir; the two blacks went down with them."
"Have the Frenchmen got their pikes? That is good; now keep as close as you can together. They are coming up by scores, and will make a rush in a minute or so."
As fast as they could the sailors and the rescued men made their way down the hill, but owing to the thickness of the trees it was impossible to run. They had gone but a short distance when there was an outburst of yells round them, and, looking back, Nat saw a number of blazing brands.
"You had better have kept in the dark," he muttered. "You would not have come so fast, but more of you would go back alive. Don't hurry, men," he said; "take it coolly. Take care of the trees. They are sure to come up to us, for they can see their way; but they won't be in such a hurry when we open fire again."
They were half-way down the hill when he gave the order: "You four men next to me turn round and pick off some of those fellows with torches. The rest halt in case they make a rush."
The four shots were fired one after the other. As many negroes fell.
"Are you ready, lads? Four more fire!"
The shots had an equal success. Many of the negroes at once took refuge behind trees.
"That will do, men; on you go again! Don't make more noise than you can help. With all that yelling they won't be sure that we have moved."
It was not, indeed, until they were down on the shore that the negroes again came up with them. Then they burst out at several points from the trees, being uncertain of the exact course the retreating party had taken.
"Now, keep together in a body, men!" Nat shouted in English, and repeated the same order in French. "March steadily forward. We have got to fight our way through them."
Now that the negroes saw how comparatively small was the number of their foes, they rushed upon them.
"Don't throw away a shot!" Nat shouted. "Now, let them have it!"
The men who had already fired had loaded again, and as the negroes came up, a crackling fire broke out from the little party.
"Now, lads, at them with pistol, cutlass, and pike! We must get through these fellows ahead before others come up."
With a loud cheer the sailors rushed upon the blacks, cutting and thrusting, the men who had been released fighting with desperate fury with their pikes, mad with the thirst for revenge for the horrible atrocities that they witnessed and the thought of the fate they had escaped.Pistols cracked out continually, and it was not long before the negroes lost heart; and the sailors, at Nat's order, flung themselves upon them and cut a way through.
"Straight on now, men! Show them that you can run as well as fight. We shall have a hundred more of them down on us directly."
There was no doubt of this; the yells that rose from the forest and the light of many brands showed that the whole of the negroes were hastening to join their comrades. Nat had previously begged the two officers and the quarter-master not to use their pistols, and he, with them, ran in the rear line. A few only of the negroes pressed closely behind them; the rest, dismayed by the slaughter that had taken place, awaited the arrival of their comrades.
"Now, turn and let them have both barrels!" Nat said; and the four men, facing round, levelled their pistols, and six of the leading negroes fell, while the others halted at once. "Keep your other pistols," Nat said; "we shall want them at the gangway."
There was a shout of satisfaction as the men in advance caught sight of the schooner. The two negroes had already placed the gangway in position, and had crossed it with the three ladies and Monsieur Pickard, who had accompanied them.
"Over you go, men!" Nat shouted; "they are close behind us."
Most of the men were across when a crowd of blacks came rushing along. Sam and Pomp had taken their station at the taffrail, and as the head of the mob came on their muskets flashed out, and the two leading men fell. Then they opened fire with their pistols, and at the same moment Nat and his three companions discharged their remaining pistols and then ran down the gangway, the sailors having by this time all passed over. The planks were at once pulled on board.
"Now, unshackle the chain and round with the capstan!" Nat shouted. "The rest of you lie down behind the bulwarks."
A moment later the chain was unshackled, and as the capstan rapidly revolved, the schooner's head receded from the shore. Yells of rage broke from the negroes, and a scattered fire of musketry was opened.
"Now, Turnbull, do you and Lippincott each go to a gun, and when we are far enough off for them to bear on those rascals let them have it."
A minute later the bow-gun was fired. It was too near for the shot to spread properly, but it cut a lane through the crowd, and half a minute later the second gun crashed out. By this time the sailors had all loaded their muskets again.
"Now for a volley!" Nat shouted; "that will finish them; or I am mistaken."
It was indeed decisive, and with yells of rage and pain the negroes darted into the forest behind them. As fast as the guns could be loaded, round after round of grape was fired among the trees. By this time the schooner was close to the kedge; this was hauled up and sail set, but the breeze was so light that the vessel scarcely moved through the water. The guns were again loaded with grape, and a keen watch was kept, as it was possible that the boats might not yet have arrived, having delayed putting off until it was thought that all on board would be asleep. In the meantime the wounds were examined. None of these was serious. Only a small proportion of the negroes were armed with muskets, and these being among the crowd had for the most part been unable to fire; consequently only one man had been hit in the arm by a ball, while six or eight had received gashes more or less deep from the knives and other weapons of the negroes.
"Even if the boats have not been here," Nat said to Lippincott, "I don't think we shall have any trouble with them; they will have heard our guns, and, I dare say, the musketry firing, and will know that, now we are awake and on our guard, we should probably sink them before they reached us."
Half an hour passed, and then, as they got beyond the shelter of the island, they caught a little breeze, and the schooner began to slip through the water.
Nat called the men from the guns. "I don't think that we shall have any more fighting to-night," he said. "You have all done very well. We have certainly killed three times our own number, and we have successfully carried out the main object of our adventure. I have ordered the steward to serve out a good ration of rum all round, but I should advise you who have got wounds to keep your share for a few days."
"It won't hurt us, sir," one old sailor said, and three or four other voices were raised in assent.
"I did not suppose that my advice would be taken," Nat said with a laugh to Turnbull, "still, it was as well to give it; and I don't suppose that an extra allowance of grog will go far towards heating their blood."
"Not it," the middy replied; "rum is cheap out here, and I don't suppose that half a bottle would be considered by them as an excessive drink. How are you going to stow our passengers away? Of course we will give up our cabins to the ladies."
"I think the best plan will be for us to turn out altogether, Turnbull; there will be our three state-rooms for the ladies, and the father can sleep on the sofa of the main cabin. We will have a screen put up forward of the steward's cabin, and have cots slung for ourselves there. Of course we will take our meals with them aft. I don't think there are any spare hammocks, and the eight white men must make a shift to sleep on some old sails – it won't be for many days. Well, Sam, what is it?"
"Supper am ready, sah."
Leaving the quarter-master to take charge of the watch, they went below. They had not expected to see the ladies up, but they were all there.
"Monsieur Pickard, I must introduce myself and my officers."
"It needs no introductions, sir," the Frenchman, a tall, thin man some fifty years of age, said in a broken voice; "my daughter Louise has told me your names, and how good you have been to her. Ah, monsieur, no words can express our obligations to you all! It was not death we feared, but such a death. Even now we can scarce believe that this is all true, and that we have escaped from those fiends. In the name of my wife and my daughters and myself, I thank you with all my heart for what you have done for us. Little, indeed, did we think, when we helped Louise through that narrow window in order that she might warn you that you were going to be attacked, and with the hope that she might escape from the awful fate that awaited us there, that it would be the means of saving us all. We heard the negroes saying that the schooner was flying the British flag, but we had no idea that she was a vessel of war, thinking it was a small trader they were about to attack. But even had we known it, it would not have raised any hopes in our minds, for we should not have thought that, with so small a force as such a vessel could carry, her commander would think of attacking so great a number of men as, Louise would have told you, had us in their power."
"We are only too glad to have an opportunity of being of service to you and your family, Monsieur Pickard. Indeed, had there been only these two officers and myself on board, I am sure that we should have made an attempt to release you; and should, I have no doubt, have succeeded in doing so without being discovered, as would have been the case to-night, had not they taken it into their heads to come into the hut just at that moment. And now, monsieur, for the sleeping arrangements. My cabin is at the service of madame, those of Mr. Turnbull and Mr. Lippincott, of the young ladies. We shall have cots slung for ourselves elsewhere; that sofa must serve for you, Monsieur Pickard. To-morrow, madame, we will place at your disposal whatever there is on board the ship for fabricating dresses for your daughters that will be less striking than that now worn by Mademoiselle Louise. We have a roll of white duck, from which, I have no doubt, they will be able to contrive a couple of white dresses." For the eldest girl, as well as Louise, was in boy's clothes, as the Pickards had fortunately had warning before the outbreak took place on their plantation, one of the men with them having overheard what was said at a meeting of the negroes, and in consequence they, the overseers, two white superintendents of the indigo works, a carpenter and mechanic, had during the night taken to the woods, Madame Pickard dressing her daughters in some clothes that they had in store, and which were cut down to fit them.
"And now, ladies," Nat went on, "I know that you will above all things be longing for bed, but I hope that you will each take a basin of soup and a glass of wine before you turn in, you must need them sorely. The steward will get your cabins ready for you. I am sure that Mademoiselle Louise will set you a good example; she recovered her appetite as soon as she learned that we intended to get you out."