George Henty.

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



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"You have chosen wisely, my child, and have made us both very happy. We can give her to you, Monsieur Glover, without one misgiving; we know that in your hands her life will be a happy one. And now," she went on with a smile, "you will have to face that terrible problem you were discussing an hour since. You will have to choose between a wife and the sea."

"The problem may be settled at once, madame," Nat said with a smile.

"At any rate, there is no occasion to choose at present," Madame Duchesne went on. "Myra is but just past sixteen, and her father and I both think that it is as well that you should wait at least a couple of years before there is any talk of marriage, both for her sake and yours. After your brilliant services, especially in capturing the frigate, you are sure of rapid promotion, and it would be a pity indeed for you to give up your profession until you have obtained the rank of captain, when you could honourably retire. We shall leave for England very shortly, France is out of the question. As you said, you and my daughter are both young, and can well afford to wait."

"That is so, madame, we quite acquiesce in your decision. As to your going to England, it is likely that I may be going there myself very shortly. The admiral hinted to-day that, as the dockyard people say that the Spartane can be ready for sea in ten days or so, he will probably send me home in her. He very kindly kept back my report of the action, and merely stated that the French frigate Spartane had been brought in in tow by his majesty's brigantine Agile, together with two merchantmen she had captured on her way out, which had also been retaken by the Agile, and said that he thought it was only fair that I should carry back my own report and his full despatch on the subject. Of course I may be sent out again, or I may be employed on other service. At any rate I shall be able to get a short leave before I go to sea again. I have been out here now six years, and feel entitled to a little rest. I would certainly rather be employed in the Mediterranean than here, for there is more chance of seeing real service."

The next day Nat received an order from the admiral to hand over the command of the Agile to Lieutenant Turnbull. Lippincott, who would pass his examination and receive his step, was to act as first lieutenant, and a midshipman from one of the ships on the station was to be second officer. Nat himself was ordered to superintend the repairs and fitting out for sea of the Spartane.

"I am awfully sorry that you are going, Glover," Turnbull said. "Of course it is a great pull for me being appointed to the command, but I was very jolly and happy as I was. I don't think there ever was a pleasanter party on board one of his majesty's ships. However, of course it is a great lift for me. I shall try to keep things going as comfortably as you did."

"I have no doubt that you will do that, Turnbull, and you have an able ally in Doyle."

"Doyle was inconsolable when I came on board yesterday and told him that you were going home in the Spartane, and that I was to have the command."

"It is the worst news that I have heard for many a day," Doyle had said.

"You are very well, Turnbull, and I have no sort of complaint to make of you, but I am afraid that the luck will go with Glover. It is his luck and not the ship's; whatever he has put his hand to has turned out well. I don't say that he has not done his work as well as it could be done, but there is no doubt that luck is everything. If one of the Agile's guns had knocked away a mast or spar from the Arrow it would have been all up with you; and again, had a shot from the frigate crippled us, she would have been after taking the Agile into a French port instead of our bringing her in here."

"Yes, but then you see that upon both occasions Glover put his craft where it was difficult to get their guns to bear on her."

"Yes, yes, I know that; but that does not alter it a bit. If there had been only one shot fired, and had we been an unlucky boat, it would, sure enough, have brought one of the spars about our ears."

"Well, Doyle, it may be that it was my luck, and not Glover's, that pulled us through. You see, I should have been shot or had my throat cut by the pirates if we had been taken by them, so possibly I am the good genius of the boat; or it may be Lippincott."

"Botheration to you!" the Irishman said, as he saw by a twinkle in Turnbull's eye that he was really chaffing him; "there is one thing certain, if you get wounded and fall into my hands, you will not regard that as a matter of luck."

"Well, at any rate, doctor, Glover told me half an hour ago of a piece of luck in which none of us here can share. He is engaged to that very pretty French girl whom he is always calling on when we are in port."

"I thought that was what would come of it, Turnbull," Lippincott said; "it would be rum if she hadn't fallen in love with him after all that he did for her."

"I was greatly taken with her myself," the doctor said, "the first time she came on board, but I saw with half an eye that the race was lost before I had time to enter. Besides, I could not afford to marry without money, and one of these poor devils of planters, who have had to run away from Hayti with, for the most part, just the clothes they stood up in, would hardly make the father-in-law yours faithfully would desire. I wonder myself how they manage to keep up such a fine establishment here, but I suppose they had a little put away in an old stocking, and are just running through it. They are shiftless people, are these planters, and, having been always used to luxuries, don't know the value of money."

Turnbull burst into a fit of laughter in which Lippincott joined, for in the early days of the cruise on the Arrow they had heard from Nat how his friends had for generations laid by a portion of their revenues, and allowed the interest to accumulate, so that, now that the time had come for utilizing the reserve, they were really much richer people than they had been when living on their fine plantation. Doyle looked astonished at their laughter.

"My dear Doyle," Turnbull went on, "it is too comical to hear you talking of a shiftless planter – you, belonging as you do to the most happy-go-lucky race on the face of the earth. Now, I will ask you, did you ever hear of a family of Irish squires who for generations put aside a tenth part of their income, and allowed the interest to accumulate without touching it, so that, when bad times came, they found that they were twice as well off as they were before?"

"Begorra, you are right, Turnbull; never did I hear of such a thing, and I don't believe it ever happened since the first Irish crossed the seas from somewhere in the east."

"Well, at any rate, Doyle, that is what the Duchesnes have done, and I should think, from what Glover says – though he did not mention any precise sum, for he did not know himself – but I should say that it must come to at least a hundred thousand pounds."

"Mother of Moses!" the doctor exclaimed; "it is a mighty bad turn you have done me, Turnbull, that you never gave me as much as a hint of this before. I should have been sorry for Glover, who is in all ways a good fellow; still I should have deemed it my duty to my family, who once – as you know, is the case of almost every other family in the ould country – were Kings of Ireland. I should have restored the ancient grandeur of my family, built a grand castle, and kept open house to all comers – and to think that I never knew it!"

"Then you think, doctor," Lippincott said, with a laugh, "that you only had to enter the lists to cut Glover out?"

"I don't go quite so far as that; but, of course, now the thing is settled for good, it would be of no use trying to disturb it, and it would hardly be fair on Glover. But, you see, as long as it was an open matter, I might have well tried my luck. I should have had great advantages. You see, I am a grown man, whereas Glover is still but a lad. Then, though I say it myself, I could talk his head off, and am as good as those who have kissed the Blarney stone at bewildering the dear creatures."

"Those are great advantages, no doubt, Doyle; but, you see, Glover had one advantage which, I have no doubt, counted with the lady more than all those you have enumerated. He had saved her life at the risk of his own, he had carried her, and her mother, through terrible dangers."

"Yes, yes, there is something in that," Doyle said, shaking his head; "if the poor young fellow is satisfied with gratitude I have nothing more to say. At any rate, I have lost my chance. Now, perhaps, as you know all about this, you might put me up to some other lady in similar circumstances, but with a heart free to bestow upon a deserving man."

"I should not be justified in doing so, Doyle. After what you have been saying about building a baronial castle, and keeping open house, it is clear that you would soon bring a fortune to an end, however great it might be; and, therefore, I should not feel justified in aiding you in any way in your matrimonial adventures."

"It's a poor heart that never rejoices," the doctor said. "The tumblers are empty. Sam, you rascal, bring us another bottle of that old Jamaica, fresh limes, and cold water. It is one of the drawbacks of this bastely climate that there is no pleasure in taking your punch hot."

One of the negroes brought in the materials.

"Now, doctor," Turnbull said, "I know that in spite of this terrible disappointment you will drink heartily the toast, 'Nat Glover and Mademoiselle Duchesne, and may they live long and happily together!'"

"That is good," Doyle said as he emptied his tumbler at a draught; "nothing short of a bumper would do justice to it. Hand me the bottle again, Lippincott, and cut me a couple of slices off that lime. Yes, I will take two pieces of sugar, please, Turnbull. Now I am going to propose a toast, 'The new commander of the Agile, and may she, in his hands, do as well as she did in those of Nat Glover.'"

Three days later the Agile started on another cruise. Nat spent his time in the dockyard, where he was so well known to all the officials that they did everything in their power to aid him to push matters forward, and a week after the brigantine had left the Spartane was ready for sea. Nat had seen the admiral several times, but had heard nothing from him as to who were the officers who were to take the Spartane home, nor whether he was to sail as a passenger bearing despatches or as one of the officers. When he went on board the flag-ship to report that all was ready for sea, the admiral said:

"Mr. Winton, first lieutenant of the Onyx, is invalided home. He is a good officer, but the climate has never agreed with him, and, as his father has lately died and he has come into some property, he will, I have no doubt, go on half-pay for a time until he is thoroughly set up again. I shall therefore appoint him as first lieutenant of the Spartane; Mr. Plumber, second lieutenant of the Tiger, will go second.

"I have decided, Mr. Glover, to give you the rank of acting commander. You captured the ship, and it is fair that you should take her to England. Mind, I think it probable enough that the authorities at home may not be willing to confirm your rank, as it is but little over two years since you obtained your present grade. I feel that I am incurring a certain responsibility in giving you the command of a thirty-six-gun frigate, but you have had opportunities of showing that you are a thorough seaman, and can fight as well as sail your ship."

"I am immensely obliged, sir," Nat said hesitatingly, "but I have never for a moment thought of this, and it does seem a tremendous responsibility. Besides, I shall be over two officers both many years senior to myself."

"I have spoken to both of them," the admiral said, "and pointed out to them that, after you had captured the frigate with the little brigantine you commanded, I considered it almost your right to take her home. I put it frankly to them that, if they had any objection to serving under one so much their junior, I should by no means press the point, but that at the same time I should naturally prefer having two experienced officers with you instead of officering her entirely with young lieutenants junior to yourself. I am glad to say that both of them agreed heartily, and admitted the very great claim that you have to the command. Mr. Winton is anxious to get home, and knows that he might have to wait some time before a ship of war was going. Mr. Plumber is equally anxious for a short run home, for, as he frankly stated to me, he has for three years past been engaged to be married, and he has some ground for hope that he may get appointed to a ship on the home station. So as these gentlemen are perfectly willing to serve under you there need be no difficulty on your part in the matter. We will therefore consider it as settled.

"I have made out your appointment as acting commander. I sincerely hope that you will be confirmed in the rank. At any rate, it will count for you a good deal that you should have acted in that capacity. Here are your instructions. You will be short-handed; I cannot spare enough men from the ships on this station to make up a full complement. A hundred and fifty are all that I can possibly let you have, but I have told the masters of these two Indiamen that they will have to furnish a contingent. I have been on board both the ships to-day. I addressed the crews, and said that you were going to take home the Spartane and were short of hands. I said that I did not wish to press any men against their will, but that I hoped that five-and-twenty from each ship would come forward voluntarily; that number had aided to bring the Spartane in here; they knew you, and might be sure that the ship would be a comfortable one; and I told them that I would give them passes, saying that they had voluntarily shipped for the voyage home on my guaranteeing that they should, if they chose, be discharged from the service on their arrival. More than the number required volunteered at once, but I asked the captain to pick out for me the men who had before been on board the Spartane, and of whose conduct you had spoken highly. Three merchantmen will sail under your convoy."

Nat went ashore after leaving the admiral, and naturally went straight to the Duchesnes.

"Who do you suppose is going to command the Spartane?" he asked as he went in.

"I know who ought to command her. You took her, and you ought to command her."

"Well, it seems absurd, but that is just what I am going to do."

Myra clapped her hands in delight.

"Have they made you a real captain, then?"

"No," he said with a laugh, "I shall be acting commander. That gives one the honorary rank of captain, but it may be a long time before I get appointed to that rank. The admiral has been awfully kind, but the people at home are not likely to regard my age and appearance as in any way suitable for such a position."

"I am happy to say, Nat, that we shall sail under your convoy. I have been settling all my affairs and making my arrangements for leaving, and have this morning definitely taken cabins in the Myrtle. As the furniture is not ours, and we have not accumulated many belongings, knowing that we might be sailing at any moment, we can get everything packed by to-night and go on board to-morrow morning. The captain could not tell me at what hour we should sail. He said that it would depend upon the frigate."

"I should like to start at eight if I could, but I cannot say whether everything will be quite ready. However, you had better be on board at that hour. It will be jolly indeed having you all so close to me."

"Shall we be able to see each other sometimes?" Myra asked.

"Many times, I hope; but of course it must depend partly on the weather. If we are becalmed at any time you might come on board and spend a whole day, but if we are bowling along rapidly it would scarcely be the thing to stop two ships in order that the passengers might go visiting."

It was twelve o'clock on the following day when the Spartane fired a gun, and at the signal the anchors, which had all been hove short, were run up, the sails shaken out, and the Spartane and the three vessels under her charge started on their voyage.

CHAPTER XIX
HOME

The voyage home was a pleasant but not an exciting one. No suspicious sails were sighted until they neared the mouth of the Channel. Then two or three craft, which bore the appearance of French privateers, had at different times approached them, but only to draw off as soon as they made out the line of ports of the Spartane. There had been sufficient days of calm and light winds to enable the Duchesnes to frequently spend a few hours on board the frigate. Nat had felt a little uncomfortable at first, but it was not long before he became accustomed to the position. Of course he could not be on the same familiar terms with his officers as he had been on board the Agile, but he insisted upon the first and second lieutenants dining with him regularly.

"It will really be kind of you if you will," he said, "for I shall feel like a fish out of water sitting here in solitary state." And as he had drawn something on account of his prize-money and kept an excellent table, the two officers willingly agreed to the suggestion.

"I have always thought, Mr. Winton," he said, "that there is a good deal more stiffness than is at all necessary or even desirable on board a ship of war. It is not so in the army. I dined several times at regimental messes at Kingston, and although the colonel was, of course, treated with a certain respect, the conversation was as general and as unrestrained as if all had been private gentlemen; yet, of course, on the parade ground, the colonel was as supreme as a captain on his quarter-deck. At sea, the captain really never gets to know anything about his officers, except with regard to their duties on board a ship, and I don't think it is good, either for him or the officers in general, that he should be cut off from them as much as if he were an emperor of China."

"I agree with you so far," Mr. Winton said. "I do think the reins of discipline are held too tautly, and that where the captain is a really good fellow, life on board might be much more pleasant than it now is; but with a bad-tempered, overbearing sort of man your suggestion would act just the other way."

"Well, we could easily put a stop to that," Nat said, "if the admiralty would refuse to appoint bad-tempered and overbearing men to any command."

The other laughed. "That would help us out of the difficulty, certainly; but I think that any change had better be deferred until they perceive, as every junior officer in the service perceives, that such men are a curse to themselves and everyone else, that they are hated by the whole crew, from the ship's boys to the first lieutenant, and that a ship with a contented and cheerful crew can be trusted at all times to do her duty against any odds."

Sailing south of the Isle of Wight, the Spartane came in through the Nab Channel. There she left her convoy, who anchored on the Mother Bank, while she sailed into Portsmouth harbour, with the white ensign flying over the tricolour. As she entered she was greeted with loud cheers by the crews of the ships of war. As soon as she had picked up moorings Nat landed at the dockyard, and, proceeding to the admiral's, reported himself there.

"The admiral is away inspecting the forts in the Needles passage," a young officer said. "Captain Painton might be able to give you any information that you require."

"I only want formally to report myself before taking post-chaise to London."

"Perhaps you had better see him," the other said, a little puzzled as to who this young officer could be who was in charge of despatches.

"I think I had."

"What name shall I say?"

"Glover."

The flag-captain was a short, square-built man, with keen eyes, and a not unpleasant expression, but bluff and hasty in manner.

"Now, Mr. Glover, what can I do for you?" he asked shortly.

"Well, sir, I hardly know the course of procedure, but as I want to start with despatches for London in a quarter of an hour I shall be glad to be able to hand over the ship I command, or, if it cannot be taken over in that summary way, to know whether my first officer is to retain charge of her until I can return from town."

"And what is the vessel that you have the honour to command, sir?" Captain Painton said with a slight smile.

"The Spartane frigate, a prize mounting thirty-six guns, that entered the harbour a quarter of an hour ago."

The captain had an idea that this was an ill-timed joke on the part of the young lieutenant.

"Do you wish me to understand, sir," he said sternly, "that you are in command of that prize?"

"That certainly, sir, is what I wish you to understand. I have brought her home from Jamaica, and have the honour to hold the appointment of acting commander. There, you see, are the official despatches of which I am the bearer, addressed to the Admiralty, and with the words 'In charge of Acting Commander Glover.'"



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