G. A. (George Alfred) Henty.

A roving commission; or, Through the black insurrection at Hayti online

. (page 26 of 29)
Online LibraryG. A. (George Alfred) HentyA roving commission; or, Through the black insurrection at Hayti → online text (page 26 of 29)
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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.

"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



Online LibraryG. A. (George Alfred) HentyA roving commission; or, Through the black insurrection at Hayti → online text (page 26 of 29)