George Henty.

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

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"But they have sadly spoiled the appearance of your ship," Valerie Pickard said. "There are three or four great holes along the side, and a ball has gone through your cabin, and the sails, which were so white and pretty, have lots of holes in them."

"Yes, we shall want a good many new cloths," he said; "but that is a very minor matter."

"Monsieur Turnbull is hurt, I hear!"

"Yes, madame; happily it is not very serious – a blow which he only partly parried struck him on the shoulder. It looks a very serious wound, but the doctor says there is no need for any great uneasiness about him; and being seriously wounded in action has its advantages, as it always counts towards promotion. Mr. Lippincott has had one of his ears nearly slashed off, and is not pretty to look at at present, with his head done up in bandages, but the surgeon thinks that, as it was attended to so soon, it is likely that it will heal up."

"And you have escaped altogether, Monsieur Glover?" Louise said.

"Yes, for once I have had good luck. Hitherto I have always come out of a fight more or less damaged; this time I have escaped without a scratch."

"I should feel very proud if I were you," the girl said, "at having done so much with such a small ship – and you so young, too! Why, you do not look more than a year or two older than Valerie, and you have rescued us and all the people on the other ship, and taken a pirate and the vessel they had captured. It seems almost impossible. And you look so quiet and nice, too."

"Louise, you should not talk like that," her mother corrected.

Nat said gravely:

"Mademoiselle, do you know that you are talking to the commander of one of his majesty's ships on his own quarter-deck, where he is, as it were, the monarch of all he surveys, and might inflict all sorts of terrible punishments upon you for your want of respect?"

The girl laughed merrily.

"I am not afraid," she said, "not one little bit, and I don't see why you should mind being told that you are young and quiet-looking and nice, when you are."

"I do not mind in the least," he said, "and certainly I am young; but I can assure you that my former captain would not tell you that I was quiet, for I had the reputation of being the most troublesome middy on board his frigate. But, you see, responsibility has sobered me, and I can assure you that there is a great deal of responsibility in commanding a small craft like this, which has nothing but her speed and her luck to rely on if she happens to fall in with a strongly-armed vessel."

"How can you say that, monsieur," Valerie said indignantly, "when you have taken this pirate, which is ever so much stronger than you are?"

"There may be a little good management in it, but more luck, mademoiselle. If one of his shot had damaged me instead of one of mine damaging him, we should all have had our throats cut two hours ago."

"I don't believe it," she said.

"I believe that you would have beaten him anyhow."

"Ladies very often think what they wish," he said with a laugh, "and no doubt we should have fought to the last; but I can assure you that we should have had no chance with them, and the best I could have done for you would have been to have fired the last shot of my pistol into the magazine."

"Please don't talk about it," Madame Pickard said with a shudder. "And now I suppose that you have had fighting enough, and are going to carry us quietly into port?"

"Yes, madame, to Jamaica; but if you would prefer to be landed at Cape Fran?ois or Port-au-Prince I shall be happy to give you a passage back again."

"We do not want to go there at all, but my husband will go to wind up his affairs, and sell his house there. We have been talking it over, and agree that we should never like to go back to the estate again. Even if things did quiet down the memories are too terrible; and, besides, having once broken out, the blacks might do so again at any time."

"I think you are perfectly right, madame; but I am afraid you will not get much for your estate."

"My husband thinks that, although no white man would buy it, there are plenty of mulattoes who would give, not its real value, but a certain amount, for it. Many of them are rich men who have already large plantations. Ours was one of the most valuable on the island, and with the title from us a purchaser would not be afraid of being disturbed when the soldiers arrive and put down the insurrection; while, even if this should never be done, the negroes, with whom the mulattoes are now friends, would not interfere with him. My husband thinks that perhaps he will get a third of its value, which would be sufficient to keep us all comfortably in France, or wherever we may settle; but our best resource is that we have the whole of last season's produce stored in our magazines at Port-au-Prince."

It was not until the next afternoon that the absolutely necessary repairs to the three vessels were completed, the holes near the water-line covered by planks over which pitched canvas was nailed, the ropes shot away replaced by new ones, and the brigantine's gaff repaired. Then sail was hoisted again, and the three vessels set sail for Kingston, where they arrived on the evening of the third day after starting. No little excitement was caused in the harbour when the Arrow, with her sails and sides bearing marks of the engagement, sailed in, followed by the brigantine flying the British ensign over the black flag, and the Thames with the same flags, but with the addition of the merchant ensign under the black flag, following her. There were two or three ships of war in the port, and the crews saluted the Arrow with hearty cheers. The flag-ship at once ran up the signal for her commander to come on board, and, leaving Lippincott to see to the operation of anchoring, Nat ordered the gig to be lowered, and, taking his place in it, was rowed to the flag-ship.


On mounting to the deck Nat was at once taken to the admiral's cabin.

"So you have been disobeying orders, Lieutenant Glover," he said gravely.

"I hope not, sir. I am not conscious of disobeying orders."

"I fancy you were directed not to engage more heavily-armed craft than your own."

"I was, sir, but the circumstances were peculiar."

"I never knew a midshipman or a young lieutenant, Mr. Glover, who did not find the circumstances peculiar when he wanted to disobey orders. However," he added with a smile, "let me hear the peculiar circumstances, then I shall be able to judge how far you were justified. Give them in full. Have you a written report?"

"Yes, sir, I have brought it with me," Nat said, producing the document.

"Well, lay it down on the table. I don't suppose it is very full, and I am somewhat curious to hear how you brought in a pirate brigantine and a recaptured merchantman – so I understood your flags."

Nat related how he had heard the sound of guns on rounding a headland, and had seen the brigantine lying by the side of the barque she had evidently just captured; how he drew her off in pursuit of the schooner, partially crippled her, returned and retook the Thames, released her crew, placed Mr. Turnbull in command, and how, between them, they had captured the brigantine.

"A very smart action," the admiral said cordially when he had brought the narrative to a conclusion. "It does you very great credit, and fully justifies my appointing you to an independent command. What metal does the brigantine carry?"

"Five guns each side, all twelve-pounders like my own."

"And you have only four?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good indeed, very good! By the way, do you know any of the passengers on board the Thames personally? I observed three ladies on the deck as you came in. I should have thought that they would have had very much better accommodation on the trader than on board your little craft."

"Yes, sir; but they were on board the Arrow before our fight with the brigantine, and although the first mate of the Thames offered them a state cabin they preferred to stay on board, as it was such a short run here."

"Who are they, then?"

"They are refugees, sir. I got them out of the hands of the negroes – three ladies, the husband of the elder one, and seven other white men."

"Is there any story attached to it, Mr. Glover? Let me see, what do you say about it in your report?" and he opened it and read aloud:

I have the honour, sir, to report that, learning there was a white family in the hands of the negroes, I landed with a party and brought them off. They consisted of Monsieur and Madame Pickard and their two daughters, and seven of their white employees. Casualties – eight seamen wounded, none of them seriously.

"Then comes the account of the other affair. Now, please give me the details of this rescue business as minutely as possible."

This Nat did.

"A very risky business, Mr. Glover, though I don't see how you could have acted in any other way. No British officer, I hope, could have been deaf to such an appeal; but if those boats had found the schooner when you all were away, your position would have been well-nigh desperate."

"It would, sir, I quite felt that, but it seemed to me the only possible thing to do. Of course, if I had known that the boats would have come early in the evening, I should have remained on board and beat them off before making a landing, although our chances of success would then have been much smaller. The party who were to attack in the boats were to have been composed of men from the plantation. Their comrades would doubtless have come down to the shore to see us captured, and when they saw their friends beaten off they would have been on the watch, and not improbably, in their fury and disappointment, have massacred all the captives in their hands at once. But I thought it likely that the boats would not put off before they believed us to be asleep, and that I should therefore have time to go up to the plantation and fetch the captives down before they arrived. At any rate, by moving the schooner close inshore I hoped that the boats might not find her. There was no moon, and under the shadow of the rock it was next to impossible to see her, unless a boat happened to pass within a few paces. Having struck the topmasts, the forest behind on steep ground prevented the masts from showing above the sky-line. It was, of course, the choice of two evils, and I took the one that seemed to me to give the greater promise of success."

"You did excellently, the oldest officer in the service could not have done better. I shall be obliged if you will write as full and detailed an account of both affairs as you have given me. I shall send it home with your official report, and with my own remarks upon them. And now about the merchantman; she looks a fine barque. What is her tonnage?"

"Six hundred tons, sir. She is a nearly new vessel, and sails fast for a ship of that kind. Her first mate told me that she has a very valuable cargo on board, principally, I think, tobacco, sugar, coffee, wax, copper, mahogany, and cedar from Cuba. Her passengers are all Spanish."

"She seems to be a valuable prize, and as recaptured from the pirates there will be a handsome sum to be divided, and it is fortunate for you and your officers that the little craft was commissioned independently, not as a tender to one of the frigates. As it is, except the flag's share, it will all fall to yourselves and your crew. How many men have you lost?"

"None at all, sir; though, as you will see by my report, in the two affairs the greater part of them received more or less severe wounds. Mr. Turnbull was somewhat severely wounded, Mr. Lippincott nearly lost an ear, and I escaped altogether."

"Well, it was your turn, Lieutenant Glover. You have come back three times more or less severely hurt already. You say that the brigantine is fast?"

"Yes, sir. She is not so fast as the schooner in a light wind, nor so weatherly, but in anything like strong winds I have no doubt that she would overhaul us."

"Was there anything in her hold?"

"There are a good many bales and cases, sir. I have not opened them, but by their marks they come from three different ships, which she had no doubt captured and sunk before we fell in with her. I questioned one of the prisoners, and he told me that it was only a month since she came out, and he declared that they had not yet chosen any place as their head-quarters. As others questioned separately told the same story, I imagine that it was true."

"Where did she hail from?"

"She came from Bordeaux. They said that she had taken out letters of marque to act as a privateer in case of war breaking out with us, but I fancy that she was from the first intended for a pirate, for it seems that she had only forty hands when she started, and picked up the others at various French ports at which she touched before sailing west. I should say, from the appearance of her crew, that they are composed of the sweepings of the ports, for a more villainous set of rascals I never saw."

"Well, it is fortunate that you should have stopped their career so soon. She might have given us a great deal of trouble before we laid hands on her. We have had comparatively quiet times since the Orpheus destroyed that nest of them, and if she had confined her work to homeward-bound ships it might have been months before we had complaints from home, and found that there was another of these scourges among the islands. I shall row around presently, Mr. Glover, and have a look at your two prizes. When you see my gig coming I shall be obliged if you will meet me on the deck of the brigantine."

At four o'clock in the afternoon the watch on deck reported that the admiral's gig was being lowered, and Nat immediately got into his own boat and was rowed to the brigantine, whose name was the Agile. When the admiral approached, instead of making straight for the accommodation ladder, he rowed slowly round the vessel, making a very careful examination of the hull. When he came on deck, he said:

"Except for a few shot that hit her low down, and the general destruction of her bulwarks, no damage has been done to her."

"No, sir, we aimed high, our great object being to knock away some of her spars. I don't think that her square sails will be of any use in the future, they are riddled with balls from our stern-chasers."

"A new gaff and bowsprit, a new suit of sails, new bulwarks, and a few patches, and she would be as good as ever. What damage have you suffered?"

"The schooner has half a dozen holes in her bow, sir, and a dozen or so in her sails, nothing that the dockyard could not set right in a fortnight."

He then went below. "Excellent accommodation," he said, after going round, "that is for a fair crew, but she must have been crowded indeed with eighty men. What should you consider to be a fair crew for her, Mr. Glover?"

"Twenty men, sir, if she were a simple trader; I should say from thirty-five to forty would be none too much if she were going to fight her guns."

"Now we will have a look at your craft. You may as well take a seat in my gig. Yes," he went on, as he rowed round her as he had done with the brigantine, "now that the sails are furled she does not seem any the worse for it, except in the bow and those two holes in the bulwarks."

Monsieur Pickard and the ladies were seated on the deck, and rose as the admiral came on board.

"Please introduce me to your friends, Mr. Glover."

Nat did so, and the admiral shook hands with them all.

"I think I may congratulate you on your escape from a very terrible position."

"Yes, indeed," Madame Pickard said. "No words can express the gratitude we feel to Monsieur Glover, his two officers, and the crew. Our position seemed hopeless, the most terrible of deaths and the worst of atrocities stared us in the face."

"I have heard all about it, madame, and consider that Lieutenant Glover managed the whole business with great discretion as well as bravery. He has a bad habit of getting into scrapes, but an equally good one of getting out of them with credit to himself. This is the third time he has rendered signal services to ladies in distress, and I suppose I should add that he has in addition saved the lives of the ladies on board the barque lying astern. If there were a medal for that sort of thing he would assuredly deserve it. He ought to have been born six or seven hundred years ago, he would have made a delightful knight-errant.

"What are the ladies like in the other ship, Mr. Glover?"

"I have no idea, sir. I only saw them for a moment when I ran into the cabin and cut their bonds. I have only seen the gentlemen for a minute or two when they joined the boarders from the Thames under Mr. Turnbull, and I was much too busy to notice them."

"Have you not gone on board since?"

"No, sir, I had nothing to go on board for, and I don't speak any Spanish."

"We tried to persuade him, Monsieur l'Amiral," Valerie said, "but monsieur is modest, he has never let us thank him yet; and although he pretended that he only kept ahead of the other two because his ship was a faster sailer, it was really because he did not wish to be thanked."

"But other people are modest too," the admiral said with a smile. "I have heard of two young ladies who came on board, and who would not stir out of their cabins until they had made themselves new dresses."

The two girls both coloured up at the allusion, and Monsieur Pickard laughed. "Now I will go below, Mr. Glover. She is very small by the side of the brigantine," he said, as he completed his visit of inspection. "I am not surprised that the pirates chased you after your impudence in firing at them, and that they thought they could eat you at a mouthful. Now, we will pay a visit to the barque."

To Nat's great relief, he found that the passengers had all gone ashore. It was certain that they would be detained for some little time, as there would be legal formalities to be gone through, and repairs to be executed, and additional hands to be obtained; and, all feeling terribly shaken by the events that had taken place on board, and the loss in some cases of near relations, they had been glad to land until the ship was again ready for sea. The mate in charge handed to the admiral the ship's manifest and papers.

"You have no seriously wounded on board?" the latter asked him. "Because if so, I should advise you to send them ashore to the hospital at once."

"No, sir. All who fell on the deck were thrown overboard by the pirates as soon as they obtained possession of the ship. I believe that they fastened shot to their feet to make them sink at once."

The admiral nodded. "That is likely enough. Dead bodies drifting ashore might cause inquiries to be made; their intention no doubt was to take all the most valuable part of the cargo out of the ship, and then to scuttle her with all on board."

"Are we likely to be detained here long, sir?"

"Not as far as we are concerned. We shall require you to sign in the presence of a magistrate here a formal document acknowledging that the vessel was absolutely captured, and in possession of the pirates, and that she was recaptured by his majesty's schooner the Arrow, and to sign a bond on behalf of the owners to pay the legal proportion of the value of the ship and cargo to the admiralty prize court in London. You will, of course, take her home yourself, but I shall send a naval officer with you, as the ship and its contents remain the property of government until the charges upon her are acquitted. If we were at war with France we should retain her here until she could sail under convoy of a vessel of war homeward-bound, but there is no occasion for doing that now. I do not suppose that you will find much difficulty in obtaining mates and enough sailors to make up your complement here. Scarcely a ship sails from the port without some of her men being left behind, either as deserters or through having been too drunk to rejoin. At any rate you had better be careful whom you pick, and if you should find a difficulty in obtaining men whose discharge-books show that they have hitherto borne a good character, I should advise you to ship eight or ten stout negroes. They are good hands at managing their own craft, and although they might not be of much use aloft, they are as a rule thoroughly trustworthy fellows, and quite as good for work on deck as our own men. I will give you an order on the dockyard for any repairs that you cannot get executed elsewhere. They will of course be charged for, but need not be paid for here, as they will go down in the account against the ship."

Fortunately the dockyard was not busy, and the Agile and the Arrow were the next morning taken into dock, and a strong gang of men at once set to work upon them. Three days later a signal was made for Nat to go on board the flagship.

"I have received the report from the dockyard people, Mr. Glover," the admiral said. "They confirm our opinion that the Agile has not suffered any serious damage; that she is a new and well-built vessel, and well fitted for our service, and she will therefore be retained at the valuation they set upon her. Here is your commission as her commander. Having done so well in the little Arrow, I have no doubt as to your ability and fitness for the post. She will carry forty hands. I shall give you two petty officers, a boatswain's mate and a gunner's mate. I had thought of giving you another midshipman, but I think it would be better that you should take a surgeon. Three or four assistant surgeons came out last week, and I can very well spare you one.

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