George Henty.

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

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"Yes, you have done enough for one trip, and I should much regret were you to be deprived of any of your captures."

The Agile was signalled to prepare to pick up her boat, and Nat was soon on board his own craft again. He ran up to within speaking distance of the Spartane, and shouted to Turnbull that the Isis was going to remain in company with them. Turnbull waved his hand, for although he had not entertained any fear of their being attacked, he felt nervous at his responsibility if a sudden gale should spring up and the temporary rudder be carried away. It was a comfort to him to know that, should this happen, the Isis would doubtless take him in tow, for in anything like a wind the Agile would be of little use. However, the weather continued fine, and in five days after leaving Barbados they entered Kingston harbour. Three hours before, the Isis had spread all sail, and entered, dropping anchor half an hour before the Agile sailed in in charge of the three large ships. The brigantine was heartily cheered by the crews of all the vessels in port, but it was naturally supposed that it was the Isis that had done the principal work in capturing the Spartane. Her captain, however, had rowed to the flag-ship directly they came in port, leaving Mr. Ferguson to see to the Spartane being anchored, and had given him a brief account of the nature of the procession that was approaching three or four miles away.

"He is a most extraordinary young officer," the admiral said. "He first distinguished himself nearly three years ago by rescuing the daughter of a planter in Hayti, who was attacked by a fierce hound, and who would have been killed had he not run up. He was very seriously hurt, but managed to despatch the animal with his dirk. Since that time he has been constantly engaged in different adventures. He was in that desperate fight when the Orpheus broke up a notorious horde of pirates on the mainland, and distinguished himself greatly. He was up country in Hayti when the negroes rose, and he there saved from the blacks a lady and her daughter, the same girl that he had rescued from the dog, and shot eight of the villains, but had one of his ribs broken by a ball. In spite of that, he carried the lady, who was ill with fever, some thirty miles across a rough country down to Cape Fran?ois in a litter.

"Then I gave him the command of a little cockle-shell of a schooner mounting four guns, carrying only twenty men. Hearing of a planter and his family in the hands of the blacks, he landed the whole of his crew, while expecting himself to be attacked by boats, and rescued the planter, three ladies, and six white men, and got them down on board, although opposed by three hundred negroes. Then he captured the brigantine he now commands, and a valuable prize that she had taken, and you say he has now captured a French thirty-six-gun frigate, after a fight in which she lost in killed and wounded half her crew, and recovered two Indiamen she had picked up on her way out."

They went out on the quarter-deck, where the admiral repeated to his officers the story that he had just heard, and from them it soon circulated round the ship.

Some of the crew had just cleaned the guns with which they had returned the salute fired by the Isis as she entered the port on arriving for the first time on the station, but they were scarcely surprised when, as the brigantine approached, the first lieutenant gave the order for ten more blank cartridges to be brought up, and for the crew to prepare to man the yards. But the surprise of those on board the other ships of war and the merchantmen was great when they saw the sailors swarming up the ratlines and running out on the yards.

"It is an unusual thing," the admiral remarked to the captains of the Isis and his own ship, "and possibly contrary to the rules of the service, but I think the occasion excuses it."

The brigantine did not salute as she came into the port, as she was considered to be on the station.

"What can they be doing on board the flag-ship?" Nat said to Lippincott.

"I think they are going to man the yards. It is not the king's birthday, or anything of that sort, that I know of; but as it is just eight bells it must be something of the kind."

As they came nearly abreast of the flag-ship, the signal, "Well done, Agile!" was run up, and at the same moment there was a burst of white smoke, and a thundering report, and a tremendous cheer rose from the seamen on the yards.

"They are saluting us, sir," Lippincott exclaimed.

The ensign had been dipped in salute to the flag, and the salute had been acknowledged by the admiral five minutes before. Lippincott now sprang to the stern, and again lowered the ensign. The admiral and all his officers were on their quarter-deck, and as he raised his cocked hat the others stood bareheaded. Nat uncovered. He was so moved that he had difficulty in keeping back his tears, and he felt a deep relief when the last gun had fired, and the cheers given by his own handful of men and by those on board the prizes had ceased. For the next quarter of an hour he was occupied in seeing that the four vessels were anchored in safe berths. Then, as the signal for him to go on board the flag-ship was hoisted, he reluctantly took his place in the gig, and went to make his report. The admiral saw by his pale face that he was completely unnerved, and at once took him into his cabin.

"I see, Mr. Glover," he began kindly, "that you would much rather that I did not say anything to you at present. The welcome that has been given to you speaks more than any words could do of our appreciation of your gallant feat. I do not say that you have taken the first prize since war was declared, for it is probable that other captures have been made nearer home, but at any rate, it is the first that has been made in these waters. I was surprised indeed when Captain Talbot told me that he had a hundred French prisoners on board, and some fifty wounded. As he had not the mark of a shot either in his sails or in his hull, I could not understand, until he gave me an outline of what had taken place – of how he had become possessed of them. Is your prize much injured?"

"She has a good many shot-holes on each quarter, sir, and the stern lights and fittings are all knocked away. She suffered no very serious damage. She requires a new mizzen-mast; but there is not a hole in her canvas, which is all new, for we fired only at the stern, and it was just below the deck that her mast was damaged."

"You have, I hope, written a full report of the engagement?"

Nat handed in his report. It was very short, merely stating that, having fallen in with the thirty-six-gun French frigate the Spartane, convoying two prizes, he had engaged her, and after placing himself on her quarter, had raked her until her mizzen-mast fell, and her rudder was smashed; that, seeing that she could not get away, he had then returned to the prizes, which turned out to be the Jane of Liverpool, of eight hundred tons burden, and the Flora of London, of nine hundred and thirty. The crew of the latter, on seeing that the Spartane was crippled, had risen and overpowered the prize crew. The other struck her colours when he came up to her. He then returned to the Spartane, which struck her flag without further resistance.

"I desire to bring to your notice the great assistance I received from Lieutenant Turnbull, whom I afterwards placed in charge of the prize, and from Mr. Lippincott. It is also my duty to mention that assistant-surgeon Doyle has been indefatigable in his attentions to my own wounded and those of the Spartane."

Then followed the list of his own casualties, and those of the Spartane.

"A very official report, Mr. Glover," the admiral said with a smile, when he had glanced through it. "However, the admiralty will wish to know the details of an action of so exceptional a character, and I must therefore ask you to send me in as complete an account of the affair as possible, both for my own information and theirs. Now, I think you had better take a glass of wine. I can see that you really need one, and you will have to receive the congratulations of my officers. By the way, do you know anything of the cargoes of the two ships you retook?"

"No, sir, I have really not had time to enquire. Till we left Barbados I was constantly employed, and on my way out I have kept close to the Spartane in order to be able to assist at once if anything went wrong with the steering-gear. I should wish to say, sir, that I feel under the deepest obligations to Captain Talbot for the great assistance that he and his crew have rendered me in getting up the jury-mast, and fitting up the temporary rudder. Had it not been for that I might have been detained for some time at Barbados."

Having drunk a glass of wine, Nat went out with the admiral on to the quarter-deck. The officers pressed round, shook hands, and congratulated him. It did not last long, for the admiral said kindly:

"The sound of our cannon, gentlemen, has had a much greater effect upon Mr. Glover's nerves than had those of his prize, and I think we must let him off without any further congratulations for to-day. Besides, he has a long report to write for me, and a good many other things to see to."

Nat was glad indeed to take his place in the gig, and to return to the Agile. He spent two hours in writing his report in duplicate. When he had done this he went ashore to the prize agent to enquire what formalities were needed with regard to the recaptured merchantmen; and having signed some official papers, he went up to Monsieur Duchesne's. Monsieur Pickard and his family had sailed months before for England, but the Duchesnes were still in possession of the house they had hired. They enjoyed, they said, so much the feeling of rest and security that they were by no means anxious for a sea voyage; and indeed Madame Duchesne was still far from well, and her husband was reluctant to take her to the cold climate of England until summer had well set in.

"Ah, my dear Nat," Madame Duchesne said, "we were hoping that you would be able to spare time to call to-day. My husband would have gone off to see you, but he knew that you had a great deal to do. All the town is talking of your capture of the French frigate, and the recapture of the two prizes that she had taken. Several of our friends have come in to tell us about it; but of course we were not surprised, for your capturing the frigate with the Agile was no more wonderful than your taking the Agile with the Arrow."

"It was a lucky affair altogether, Madame Duchesne."

"I knew that you would say so," Myra said indignantly. "Whatever you do you always say it is luck, as if luck could do everything. I have no patience with you."

"I will endeavour not to use the word again in your presence, Myra," Nat laughed. "But I have no time for an argument to-day, I have only just run in for a flying visit to see how you are. I have no end of things to see to, and I suppose it will be some days before all the business of the prizes is finished, the frigate formally handed over, and the value of the Indiamen and their cargo estimated. However, as soon as I am at all free I will come in for a long talk. You know that there is nowhere that I feel so happy and at home as I do here."

It was indeed three days before he had time to pay another visit.

"It is too bad of you, not coming to dinner," Myra said as he entered. "We really did expect you."

"I hoped that I should be able to get here in time, but ever since I saw you I have been going backwards and forwards between the ships and the shore, calling at the dockyard and prize court. To-day there has been a regular survey of the Spartane. They were so long over it that I began to think I should not be able to get away at all."

"You will be becoming quite a millionaire," Monsieur Duchesne said, "if you go on like this."

"Well, you see, we were lucky – I beg your pardon, Myra – I mean we were fortunate. We had a very small crew on board the Arrow, and as it was an independent command, the whole of the prize-money for the capture of the Agile and her prize was divided among us, with the exception of the flag share; and I found, to my surprise, that my share came to ?2500. Without knowing anything of the cargoes of the prizes that I have recaptured now, and what will be paid for the Spartane, I should think that my share would come to twice as much this time, so that I shall be able before long to retire into private life – that is, if I have any inclination to do so."

"But I suppose," Madame Duchesne said, "that if you marry you will want to settle down."

"I am too young to think of such a matter, madame," Nat laughed. "Why, I am only just nineteen, and it will be quite soon enough to think of that in another eight or ten years. But there is no doubt that when the time comes I shall give up the sea. I don't think it is fair to a wife to leave her at home while you are running the risk of being shot. It is bad enough for her in time of peace, but in war-time it must be terrible for her, and it strikes me that this war is likely to be a long one. It seems to me that it is a question for a man to ask himself, whether he loves his profession or a woman better. If he cares more for the sea, he should remain single; if he thinks more of the woman, let him settle down with her."

"That sounds very wise," Monsieur Duchesne said with a smile, "but when the time comes for the choice I fancy that most men do not accept either alternative, but marry and still go to sea."

"That is all right when they have only their profession to depend upon," Nat said. "Then, if a woman, with her eyes open to the fact that he must be away from her for months, is ready to take a man for better or for worse, I suppose the temptation is too strong to be withstood. Happily it won't be put in my way, for even if I never take another ship I shall have enough to live on quietly ashore."

"Now, you must tell us the story of the fight," Myra said.

"The story is told in twenty words," he replied. "She did not suspect that we were an enemy until we had passed her, and our broadside told her what we were. As the Agile is faster and much more handy than the frigate, we managed to keep astern of her, and, sailing backwards and forwards, poured our broadsides in her stern, while she could scarce get a gun to bear on us. We managed to cripple her rudder, and after this the fight was virtually over. However, she kept her flag flying till we shot away her mizzen, after which, seeing that she was at our mercy, and that her captain, two lieutenants, and more than half her crew were killed or wounded, she lowered her colours. Now, really that is the whole account of the fight. If I were telling a sailor, who would understand the nautical terms, I could explain the matter more clearly, but if I were to talk for an hour you would understand no more about it than you do now."

An hour later, Nat went out with Monsieur Duchesne to smoke a cigar on the verandah, Myra remaining indoors with her mother, who was afraid of sitting out in the cool evening breeze.

"Going back to our conversation about marriage, Nat," Monsieur Duchesne said, "it is a question which my wife and I feel some little interest in. You see, it is now more than three years since you saved Myra's life, after which you rendered her and my wife inestimable service. Now, I know that in your country marriages are for the most part arranged between the young people themselves. With us such an arrangement would be considered indecent. If your father and mother were out here, the usual course would be for your mother to approach my wife and talk the matter over with her. My wife would consult with me, and finally, when we old people had quite come to an understanding, your father would speak to you on the subject. All this is impossible here. Now, it seems to my wife and myself that, having rendered such inestimable services to us, and having been thrown with my daughter a good deal – who, I may say, without any undue vanity, is a very attractive young lady – you could scarcely be indifferent to her.

"As you said, according to your British notions you are too young to think of marrying; and, at any rate, my wife has sounded Myra, and the girl has assured her that you have never said a word to her that would lead her to believe you entertained other than what I may call a brotherly affection for her. Now, I can tell you frankly, that one of our reasons for remaining here for the past six months has been that we desired that the matter should be arranged one way or the other. It has struck us that it was not your youth only that prevented you from coming to me and asking for Myra's hand, but a foolish idea that she is, as is undoubtedly the case, a very rich heiress. Before I go farther, may I ask if that is the case, and if you really entertain such an affection for my daughter as would, putting aside all question of money and of your youth, lead you to ask her hand?"

"That I can answer at once, sir. Ever since I first met her, and especially since I saw how bravely she supported that terrible time when she might fall into the hands of the blacks, I have thought of your daughter as the most charming girl that I have ever met. Of course, I was but a lad and she a young girl – no thought of marriage at that time even entered my mind. During the past three years that feeling has grown, until I have found that my happiness depends entirely upon her. I felt, monsieur, that my lips were sealed, not only by the fact that she was an heiress and I only a penniless lieutenant, but because it would be most unfair and ungenerous were I, on the strength of any services I may have rendered, to ask you for her hand."

"It is not on account of those services, much as we recognize them, that I offer you her hand, but because both her mother and herself feel that her happiness, which is the great object of our lives, is involved in the matter. In most cases, a young lady well brought up does not give her heart until her father presents to her an eligible suitor. This is an exceptional case. I do think that any girl whose life had been saved, as hers was, at the risk of that of her rescuer, and who, during a most terrible time, came to look up to him as the protector of herself and her mother, and who, moreover, was constantly hearing of his daring actions, and to whom her dearest friends also owed their lives, could not but make him her hero. I need not say that the subject has not been mooted to her, and it was because I desired the matter to be settled before we left for Europe that we have lingered here. I am glad indeed that I now know your feeling in the matter. I am conscious that in giving her to you we are securing her happiness. I have, of course, ever since the day when you saved her from that dog, watched your character very closely, and the result has been in all respects satisfactory. Now, I will go in and tell her that I will take her place by her mother's side, and that she may as well come out here and keep you company."

In a minute Myra stepped out on to the verandah.

"It is cool and nice here, Nat. I think it would do mother more good out here than keeping in the house, where in the first place it is hot, while in the second place it gives me the horrors to see the way the moths and things fly into the lights and burn themselves to death."

"No doubt it is pleasanter here," Nat said, wondering how he ought to begin.

"That was very soberly said, Nat," Myra laughed. "One would think that it was a proposition that required a good deal of consideration."

"It was a proposition that received no consideration. In point of fact, just at present, dear, my head is a little turned with a conversation that I have just had with your father."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean that I see before me a great and unlooked-for happiness, a happiness that I had hardly ventured even to hope for, but at present it is incomplete; it is for you to crown it if you can do so. Your father has given his consent to my telling you that I love you. I do love you truly and earnestly, Myra, but I should not be content with anything less than your love. I don't want it to be gratitude. I don't want any thought of that business with the dog, or of the other business with the blacks, to have anything to do with it."

"They must have something to do with it," she said softly, "for it was owing to these that I first began to love you. It was at first, no doubt, a girl's love for one who had done so much for her, but since then it has become a woman's love for the one man that she should choose out of all. I love you, Nat, I love you with all my heart."

Ten minutes later they went hand in hand into the house. Monsieur Duchesne had told his wife what had occurred in the verandah, and as they came in she rose and threw her arms round Myra's neck and kissed her tenderly.

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