George Henty.

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

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"We want to see as much of Nat as we can," his mother urged, "and if he is to divide his time between Yeovil and the rectory, I am afraid we should get but a very small share of him."

"I suppose your brother has told you all his adventures," Myra said the next morning, as she and all the party, with the exception of Mr. Glover and Nat, were seated in the parlour after breakfast was over.

"No, he is a very poor correspondent. He just told us what he had been doing, but said very little about his adventures. I suppose he thought that girls would not care to hear about midshipmen's doings. He did tell us, though, that he had had a fight with a dog that had bitten you."

Myra's eyes opened wider and wider as the eldest, Mary Glover, spoke. Her face flushed, and she would have risen to her feet in her indignation had not her mother laid her hand upon her arm.

"I do not think, Miss Glover," Monsieur Duchesne said gravely, "that you can at all understand the obligation that we are under to your brother. The bite of a dog seems but a little thing. A huge hound had thrown Myra down, and had rescue been delayed but half a minute her death was certain. Your brother, riding past, heard her cries, and rushed in, and, armed only with his dirk, attacked the hound. He saved my daughter's life, but it was well-nigh at the cost of his own, for although he killed it, it was not until it had inflicted terrible injuries upon him – injuries so serious that for a time it was doubtful whether he would live. This was the first service to us. On the next occasion he was staying with us when the blacks rose. Thanks to our old nurse, there was time for them to run out into the shrubbery before the negroes came up, and then take refuge in the wood. My wife was seized with fever, and was for days unconscious.

"The woods were everywhere scoured for fugitives. Six blacks, led by two mulattoes, discovered their hiding-place. Your son shot the whole of them, but had one of his ribs broken by a pistol-ball. In spite of that, he and Dinah carried my wife some thirty miles down to the town across rough ground, where every step must have been torture to him, and brought her and Myra safely to me. Equal services he performed another time to a family, intimate friends of ours, composed of a gentleman and his wife and two daughters, who, with six white men, were prisoners in the hands of the blacks, and would assuredly have suffered deaths of agonizing torture. Though he had but twenty men with him, he landed them all, marched them up to the place, rescued the whole party, and made his way down to his boat again through three hundred and fifty maddened blacks. No less great was the service he rendered when he rescued some fifteen ladies and gentlemen who had been captured by a pirate, and whose fate, had he not arrived, would have been too horrible to think of. As to his services at sea, the official reports have testified, and his unheard-of promotion shows the appreciation of the authorities.

Never were more gallant deeds done by the most valiant naval captains who have ever lived."

Myra had held her father's hand while he was speaking; her breath had come fast, and her eyes were full of tears.

"Thank you, Monsieur Duchesne," Mrs. Glover said, gently; "please remember that all this is quite new to us. Now that we know something of the truth, we shall feel as proud of our boy as your daughter has a right to be."

"Excuse me, Mrs. Glover," Myra said, walking across to her, and kissing her, "but when it seemed to me that these glorious deeds Nat has achieved were regarded as the mere adventures of a midshipman, I felt that I must speak."

"It is quite natural that you should do so," Mrs. Glover said; "for, if fault there is, it rests with Nat, who always spoke of his own adventures in a jesting sort of way, and gave us no idea that they were anything out of the common."

"They were out of the common, madame," Myra said; "why, when he came into Port Royal, with the great frigate in tow of his little brigantine, and two huge merchantmen he had recaptured from her, the admiral's ship and all the vessels of war in the harbour saluted him. I almost cried my eyes out with pride and happiness."

"Myra does not exaggerate," her mother said; "your son's exploits were the talk of Jamaica, and even the capture of the French frigate was less extraordinary than the way in which, with a little craft of four guns, he captured a pirate which carried ten, and a crew four times as numerous as his own."

"I hope you will tell us in full about all these things, Madame Duchesne," Mrs. Glover said, "for I fear that we shall never get a full account from Nat himself."

Myra went across to Mary.

"You are not angry with me, I hope," she said; "we are hot-tempered, we West Indians. When it seemed that you were speaking slightingly of the action to which I owe my life, I don't know what I should have said if my father had not stopped me."

"I am not in the slightest degree angry," Mary said; "or, rather, if I am angry at all it is with Nat. It is too bad of him keeping all this to himself. You see, he was quite a boy when he left us, and he used to tell us funny stories about the pranks that the midshipmen played. Although we felt very proud of him when he told us that he had gained the rank of commander, we did not really know anything about sea matters, and could not appreciate the fact that he must have done something altogether out of the way to obtain that rank. But, of course, we like you all the better for standing up for him. I am sure that in future we girls shall be just as angry as you were if anyone says anything that sounds like running him down."

The time passed rapidly, and, as the girls were never tired of listening to the tales of Nat's exploits, and Myra was never tired of relating them, Nat would have come in for any amount of hero-worship had he not promptly suppressed the slightest exhibition in that direction.

It was but a few days after his arrival in England that Monsieur Duchesne learned by a letter from a friend, who was one of the few who escaped from the terrible scene, that their fears had been justified, and that Cape Fran?ois, the beautiful capital of Hayti, had ceased to exist. Santhonax and Poveren had established a reign of terror, plunder, and oppression, until the white inhabitants were reduced to the most terrible state of suffering. The misery caused by these white monsters was as great as that which prevailed in France. At last General Galbaud arrived, having been sent out to prepare for the defence of the colony against an attack by the British. The two commissioners, however, refused to recognize his authority. Not only this, but they imperatively ordered him to re-embark, and return to France. Each party then prepared for fighting. The commissioners had with them the regular troops, and a large body of blacks. The governor had twelve hundred sailors, and the white inhabitants of the city, who had formed themselves into a body of volunteers.

The fighting was hard; the volunteers showed the greatest bravery, and, had they been well supported by the sailors, would have gained the day. The seamen, however, speedily broke into the warehouses, intoxicated themselves with rum, and it was with difficulty that their officers could bring them back into the arsenal. The commissioners had, the night before, sent to a negro chief, offering pardon for all past offences, perfect freedom, and the plunder of the city. He arrived at noon on the 21st of June, and at once began the butchery of the white inhabitants. This continued till the evening of the 23rd, by which time the whole of the whites had been murdered, the city sacked, and then burned to the ground.

Before Nat sailed in the Spartane, the Duchesnes had taken a house at Torquay. Here the climate would be better suited to madame, the summer temperature being less exhausting and the winter so free from extremes that she might reasonably hope not to feel the change.

For five years Nat commanded the Spartane. If he did not meet with the exceptional good fortune that he had found in the West Indies, he had, at least, nothing to complain of. He picked up many prizes, took part in several gallant cutting-out adventures, and captured the French frigate Euterpe, of forty-six guns. For full details of these and other actions a search must be made in the official records of the British navy, where they are fully set forth. After a long and hard-fought battle, for which action he received post rank, he retired from the service, and settled down with Myra near Plymouth, where he was within easy reach of his own relations.

As soon as he was established there, her father and mother took a house within a few minutes' walk of his home. He congratulated himself that he had not remained in the West Indies, for had he done so he would, like all the naval and military forces in the islands, have taken part in the disastrous attempt to obtain possession of the island of San Domingo. The Spaniards had ceded their portion to the French, and although the whites, mulattoes, and blacks were at war with each other, they were all ready to join forces against the British. The attempt to conquer an island so populous and strongly defended, and abounding with mountains in which the enemy could maintain themselves, was, if undertaken by a force of anything less than a hundred thousand men, foredoomed to failure. The force at first sent was ridiculously inadequate, and although it received reinforcements from time to time, these were not more than sufficient to fill the gaps caused by fever. Consequently, after four or five years' fighting, and the loss of fully thirty thousand men, by fatigue, hardship, and fever, the effort was abandoned, after having cost some thirty millions of money.

At the end of the war, Toussaint was virtually Dictator of Hayti. He governed strongly and well, but as he was determined to admit no interference on the part of the French, he was finally treacherously seized by them, carried to France, and there died, it is said by starvation, in prison. His forebodings as to the unfitness of the blacks for self-government have been fulfilled to the letter. Civil wars, insurrections, and massacres have been the rule rather than the exception; the island has been gradually going down in the scale of civilization, and the majority of the blacks are as savage, ignorant, and superstitious as their forefathers in Africa. Fetish worship and human sacrifices are carried on in secret, and the fairest island in the western seas lies sunk in the lowest degradation – a proof of the utter incapacity of the negro race to evolve, or even maintain, civilization, without the example and the curb of a white population among them.

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