"I didn't intend to strike to her, but I couldn't help it, for she blazed away at me with her smiles, and glances of her dark eyes, and her musical laughter, till I could stand them no longer, and I promised that when I become a commander I will return and marry her forthwith, if she will remain faithful to me."
"And what did she say?" I asked.
"She laughed more than ever, and inquired how long it was likely to be before I could get my promotion. When I said that it might be in five or six, or perhaps eight years, she remarked that that was a terrible long time to wait, and that though constancy was a very fine thing, it didn't do to try it too much."
Irishmen have susceptible hearts, I've heard, but I can't say that I lost mine to any one in particular.
We had altogether a very jolly time of it, which we enjoyed all the more because we knew that it must soon come to an end.
Tom Pim and I, who were inseparable, were at a party one evening, when a good-natured looking gentleman came up to us. "I see that you have been dancing with my little daughter Lucy," he said, addressing Tom. "May I ask your names, and the ship to which you belong?" We told him.
"She's not likely, I understand, to sail for some days, and if you can obtain leave I shall be very happy to see you at my country house, some few miles away from this," he said. "My name is Talboys, and as I'm well known to Captain Macnamara I'll write a note, which you can take on board, asking him or his first lieutenant to give you leave for a couple or three days,—the longer the better,—and to allow any other midshipmen who can be spared to accompany you."
"Thank you very much, sir," I answered; "but we have to return on board to-morrow morning by daylight, and I'm afraid that Mr Saunders won't be inclined to let us go ashore again."
"There's nothing like asking," he observed; "and I think that he'll not refuse my request, so you had better try."
Taking us into an ante-room, he wrote the promised note, of which Tom Pim took charge. He told us, if we could obtain leave, to meet him at Mammy Custard's boarding-house, an establishment much frequented by midshipmen and other junior officers of the service. We had hitherto not slept on shore, but we knew the house well.
The ball was kept up to a late hour. As soon as it was over we repaired to the quay, where several boats were waiting to take off those who had to return to their ships.
Tom and I agreed that we had very little chance of getting leave, but that we should not refuse it if we did. The sky was clear as Nora Creina's eye; every star was reflected on the calm surface of the water in the harbour. We were all inclined to be jolly—officers and men. Our tongues went rattling merrily on. Now and then there came a peal of laughter, now snatches of songs. We had got more than half-way down the harbour when the officer in command sang out, "Mind your helm. Where are you coming to?"
At that instant we ran slap into a shore-boat pulled by negroes, and stove in her bows. Loud shrieks and cries arose from the black crew, who began to scramble into our boat,—the wisest thing they could do, considering that their own was sinking.
"Oh, we all drown! we all drown!" they cried in loud tones. "Jack shark catch me!"
The four blacks had saved themselves, but there were two passengers in the stern-sheets who appeared to be less in a hurry to get on board. Presently, however, finding the boat settling down, one of them made a spring and tumbled on board.
"Why, Tim Connor, where did you come from?" asked one of our men. At that moment the other man, instead of trying to save himself, plunged into the water, and began swimming towards the southern shore. Perhaps he thought that he might escape in the confusion unperceived, but our lieutenant caught sight of him.
"Never mind the boat," he exclaimed. "Out oars. We must get hold of that fellow, whoever he is."
We were not long in coming up with the bold swimmer, who, speedily caught by the hair of his head, was hauled on board, in spite of his struggles to get free. As he was hauled aft by the orders of the lieutenant, I recognised Dan Hoolan.
"Who gave you leave to go on shore, my men?" asked the lieutenant.
"Plaise yer honour," answered Tim Connor, "we were only going for a spree, and intended being off again in the mornin'."
Dan Hoolan sat sulkily, with his hands between his knees, not deigning to reply.
"You'll find that you'll have to pay somewhat heavily for your spree," remarked the lieutenant.
"Seeing as we've not had it," I heard Tim mutter.
By the time we had got back to the boat she had almost disappeared, and we could only pick up a few of the remaining articles she had contained.
A sharp look-out was kept on the two men, who had evidently intended to desert. No further words were exchanged with them. Both sat with downcast looks, probably well aware of the punishment they had brought on themselves.
On reaching the ship they were handcuffed, and placed under charge of a sentry. Tom and I had to keep our watch, and got but little sleep that night.
As soon as we could we presented our note to Mr Saunders.
"Why, you lads are always wanting to go on shore," he observed dryly; "one would suppose you were born on shore. However, as you conduct yourselves well, you may have the leave your friend asks for, and may return by the first boat to Kingston."
"Thank you, sir," we answered, highly delighted. "And may Sinnet and Chaffey go too?" I asked.
"Were they invited?" he inquired.
"We were desired to bring two more of our mess, and we thought that they could be best spared, sir."
"Yes, they may go," said Mr Saunders.
Without delay we conveyed the pleasant intelligence to them. Before long we were again pulling up the harbour, and thus escaped seeing the punishment inflicted on my unfortunate countrymen. I knew that they deserved it, and therefore didn't trouble my head much about the matter. We repaired at once to Mammy Custard's, and had not been there long before Mr Talboys made his appearance.
"Glad you have got leave, my young friends," he said, shaking us all by the hands, as we introduced Sinnet and Chaffey. "The carriages will soon be at the door; but you must take some refreshment before we start, to fortify the inner man for the fatigues of the journey."
Having told Mammy Custard to place luncheon on the table, and desired us to commence operations without waiting for him, he went out, and left us to discuss the viands and refreshing beverages.
We had just finished when Mr Talboys returned, with his daughter, in one buggy, into which he invited me to mount, while he told Tom, Sinnet, and Chaffey to get into the other, which was driven by a black boy. As soon as we had taken our seats, the carriages dashed off, and away we went in a fine style out of Kingston. I'm no hand at describing scenery, nor can I remember the names of the tropical trees which grew in rich profusion on both sides of the road, the climbing plants, the gaily-coloured flowers, and other vegetable wonders. Miss Lucy and I chatted away right merrily. I couldn't help thinking how jealous Tom would be, and I would very gladly for his sake have changed places with him.
"And what do you think of Jamaica?" asked her papa after we had gone some distance.
"It's a wonderfully fine country, sir," I answered. "And if it were not that I love Ballinahone more than any other place on earth, I shouldn't be sorry to take up my abode here when I become a post-captain or an admiral, and wish to settle down for life, should peace be established, and my country not be requiring my services."
"We have our little drawbacks, however," observed Mr Talboys. "You have not been here in the hot season yet. We now and then have an outbreak of the blacks, for the rascals—strange to say—are not contented with their lot. Occasionally too, we are attacked by foreign foes, but we Jamaica men are right loyal, and are prepared to defend our shores against all comers."
"I thought that the blacks were merry peaceable fellows, who never think of rebellion," I observed.
"Nor would they, if they were not put up to it by designing knaves. But in different parts of the island we have had half a dozen outbreaks within my recollection, and not a few before it. Some have been instigated by the enemies of our country; others by newly imported slaves, who have been chiefs, or kings, as they call themselves, in Africa; and on some occasions the Maroons have taken it into their foolish heads to rebel. They are, as you're doubtless aware, free blacks, who live an independent vagabond life on the mountains, and are too ignorant and savage to know that they have no chance of success."
"But I hope, sir, that they're quiet now, or it can't be very pleasant for you to live so far away from the city."
Mr Talboys laughed. "My negroes are quiet and obedient, and I should get information in good time were anything likely to happen," he answered.
"No one would think of attacking our house," put in Miss Lucy. "We are well prepared, and they would gain nothing by the attempt."
We drove on through fine and wild romantic scenery, each turn of the road bringing us to some new point of view. We passed a beautiful waterfall, the bottom and sides of which appeared as if composed of glass or porcelain; it consisted of a number of steps rising up the sides of the hill. These, my friend told me, were incrustations which had formed themselves over the roots of trees growing on either side. The water came flowing down over them, transparent as crystal, and as the rays of sunlight played between the waving branches of the trees, the water glittered with a thousand variegated tints. We descended from our carriages to enjoy a more perfect view. Tom and Charley took it into their heads to attempt walking across some of the steps. Tom ran lightly over them; but Chaffey, while following in his wake, being twice as heavy, broke through the incrustation, and in he soused. He quickly managed, however, to scramble out again, though not until he was wet through nearly up to his middle.
"Why, I thought it was all hard stone," he exclaimed as he reached dry ground.
We all had a hearty laugh at his expense. In that climate a ducking doesn't much matter, and he was dry again before we had proceeded much further on our journey.
Late in the evening we caught sight of a long low building, with a broad verandah, surrounded with plantations, and a garden of fruit-trees on the gentle slope of a hill. As we got near, a shout from the master brought out several black boys, accompanied by a number of barking dogs, who welcomed us by leaping round the horses' heads, and yelping and frisking about with delight.
Mr Talboys jumped out, and Lucy leapt into his arms, while I descended on the other side. A stout lady in a sky-blue dress, accompanied by three small damsels in low white frocks, and a little boy in scanty clothing, appeared at the top of the steps. Lucy, running up, kissed them all round, and then Mr Talboys introduced us in due form to his wife and younger daughters.
After a little conversation Madam Talboys led us into a handsome hall, with a table in the centre, on which ample preparations for supper were spread, the light from a dozen wax candles falling on the cut glass, the silver forks and glittering steel, and an epergne filled with fragrant flowers, surrounded by dishes containing salads, fruits of every description, and other cold viands.
"The young gentlemen would like to wash their hands before they commence operations," said Mr Talboys; and he ushered us into a room off the great hall, in which were four snow-white beds, with muslin curtains closely drawn round them, and wash-hand basins filled with deliciously cool water.
We lost no time in plunging our faces into them, arranging our hair, and making ourselves neat and comfortable.
"I say, we have fallen into pleasant quarters," exclaimed Chaffey. "We owe it all to you, Tom. If you hadn't paid attention to Miss Lucy, we should not have been here."
"Belay the slack of that," cried Tom. "Our host might overhear you, and he wouldn't be pleased; nor would Miss Lucy herself."
We were quickly ready; and just as we returned to the hall several black boys entered, each carrying a steaming dish, on which we fell to, when helped, with keen appetites. Two other gentlemen came in,—an overseer and a head clerk on the estate. We all laughed and talked at a great rate. The overseer, Mr Rabbitts, at the request of our host, sang a good song. The clerk followed with another. Then Miss Lucy got her guitar, and warbled very sweetly. Altogether we were merry as crickets.
At length our host remarked that we must be tired, and led us to our sleeping-room. We soon had our heads upon the pillows, with the mosquito curtains drawn close around us.
Though midshipmen are rightly supposed to sleep soundly, I was awakened by fancying that the doctor was running his lancet into me, and was about to assure him that he was operating by mistake on me instead of on some other patient, when I heard a loud whizzing, buzzing sound. I hadn't been careful enough in closing the curtains, and a big mosquito had got in, and was revelling in my fresh blood. I tried in vain to catch the active creature, who was soon joined by others of his abominable race. The humming concert was increased by countless other sounds, which came through the open window,—the croaking of frogs and tree-toads, the chirping and whistling of insects and reptiles, while I could see a party of fireflies glistening among the curtains of the bed. Now and then a huge beetle would make its way into the room, and go buzzing about round and round, till to my infinite relief it darted out of the window! But the noises and the stings of the mosquitoes drove sleep from my eyelids. Presently I heard some one talking outside; it was a nigger's voice, deep and husky.
"If de picaroons cum, den dey cum soon, and cut all our troats."
"Garramarcy, you don't say so!" exclaimed another. "Better tell massa; he know what do."
"Me tink better run away and hide," said the first speaker. "Massa want to stop and fight, and den we hab to fight too, and get killed."
"But if we run away and don't tell massa, he get killed, and Missy Lucy, and missus, and de piccaninnies. Me tink tell massa fust and den run away."
"But if um tell massa, he make um stop and fight. No, no, Cato; you one fool. Wiser to run away, and not say where um go."
The arguments of the first speaker appeared to prevail with his companion. They probably were not aware that any one was sleeping in the room overhead.
As far as I could judge, the matter appeared serious. I recollected the conversation I had had in the morning about the Maroons and the rebel blacks.
Without further thought I jumped from my bed, and rushing to the window, sang out, "Stop, you cowardly rascals. If you move I'll fire at you. Tell your master what you have heard, and he'll act as he considers necessary."
The sound of my voice awakened my companions, who fancied that the house was attacked by thieves.
As the blacks, notwithstanding my threats, seemed inclined to be off, I jumped out of the window, which was of no great height from the ground, followed by Sinnet and Tom. The niggers fancied, I believe, that we were spirits of another world, as we appeared in our night-shirts, which were fluttering in the breeze, and came back trembling and humble enough. We made them show us the window of Mr Talboys' room, as we could not get into the house. Shouting loudly, we awoke him, and I then told him what I had heard.
"You have acted judiciously, young gentleman, whether there is anything in it or not; but I'll be dressed directly, and come out to hear what account the black boys have to give. Take care they don't run off in the meantime."
Presently I heard a bolt withdraw; the door opened, and Mr Talboys made his appearance, a red night-cap on his head and wrapped in a flowered dressing-gown, a candle in one hand, and a thick whip in the other.
"I must examine these fellows," he said as he came out. "They're less liable to prevaricate if they see the whip. Come, now, young gentlemen, you may wish to put on your garments, and while you do so I'll hear what my negroes have to say."
As he was speaking, however, Chaffey came out of our room, bringing our breeches, having first got into his own, lest, as he said, the ladies might inconveniently make their appearance.
"What's this you were talking about, Cato?" asked Mr Talboys, looking sternly at the blacks, who stood trembling before him.
"Caesar cum just now, and say dat Cudjoe, with great number ob niggers, just come down from de mountains, and dey march dis way with muskets, and bayonets, and big swords, and spears, and swear dey kill all de whites dey cum across."
I saw Mr Talboys start.
"How did you hear this, Caesar?" he asked.
"Please, massa, I out last night, to help bury Mammy Quacca, who die in de morning, when my brother Sambo cum in and say he almost caught by Cudjoe's fellows, and hear dem swear dat dey cum to kill all de white people, and before long he tink dey cum dis way to Belmont." (That was the name of Mr Talboys' place.)
"Cudjoe! Who are you talking about? The fellow has been dead these thirty years or more," said our host.
"Dey say him Cudjoe. Perhaps him come to life again," answered Caesar, as if he fully believed such an event probable. "Or maybe him 'Tree Fingered Jack.'"
"Three Fingered Jack" was a negro leader who about that time made himself notorious.
"Possibly some fellow has assumed the name of the old Maroon leader," I observed.
Mr Talboys, after further questioning the blacks, again turned to us, and remarked, "I'm afraid there's some truth in what these negroes say. At all events, it would be wise to be prepared." He spoke in a cool tone, not a bit flustered.
"I'm very sorry to have brought you into a position which may not prove to be very agreeable," he continued; "but I know, young gentlemen, that I can rely on your assistance."
Of course we could give but one answer.
"The first thing to be done is to barricade the house, and I'll get you to do that, with Caesar to assist you," he said. "Keep an eye on the boy, lest he should run away, while I send off Cato to give notice to my neighbours, who will probably assemble here, as this house can be more easily defended than theirs. I will myself summon my overseer and clerks. I, of course, shall also despatch messengers to Kingston for assistance, and we may hope to hold out till the troops arrive. The rebels expect to take us by surprise, and to murder us without resistance, as they have the whites in other districts. I must, however, tell my wife and daughters, or they may be alarmed should they suddenly discover what is going on."
We heard a good deal of talking in Mrs Talboys' room, and then the master of the house came out, with a brace of pistols in his belt, and a sword in his hand.
"The ladies are quite prepared, and will give you all the help they can," he said. "They'll show you where the arms and ammunition are kept."
Having finished dressing, we set to work, under Caesar's directions, to put up shutters, and to strengthen the doors with planks and stout pieces of timber, which we found in a yard, apparently prepared for the purpose. We were soon joined by Mrs Talboys and Miss Lucy, who both appeared equal to the emergency. Having shown us where the arms and ammunition were kept, they assisted to carry planks and to hold the boards up while we nailed them on. Miss Lucy had a hearty laugh at the grimaces made by Chaffey when he happened to hit his finger instead of the nail he was driving in. We worked away as busily as bees, and before Mr Talboys returned had already secured most of the doors and the lower windows. They were all loopholed, so that on whatever side our enemies might assault the house, a warm reception would be given them. We were still working away when Mr Talboys appeared.
"Our friends will soon be here," he said. "We shall muster nearly a dozen muskets, and I hope that with them we may be able to keep the rebels at bay; though, if they're disposed for mischief, they may ravage our plantations with impunity."
The overseer and clerks, each armed to the teeth, soon afterwards came in, and our preparations for defence went on still more rapidly. It was now midnight, but as yet none of the neighbours had arrived; and we formed but a small garrison to defend so small a building from the host of foes who might attack it.
"Me go out and see whether niggers come?" said Caesar.
"No, no; you stay in the house, and help fight," answered his master, who hadn't forgot the black's purpose of running away and leaving us to our fate.
"Cato, you go out towards Silver Springs, and learn, if you can, the whereabouts of the rebels. Call at Edghill on your way, and tell Mr Marchant and his family to hurry on here, and that we'll do our best to protect them."
"Yes, massa," answered Cato, who, for a black, was a man of few words, and was evidently a trustworthy fellow.
Caesar looked somewhat disappointed. I suspect that if he had found the rebels approaching, we should not have seen his face again. We were kept fully employed improving the fortifications. Mr Talboys, who was full of resources, devised three platforms, which were run from the upper windows above the doorway, with holes in them through which hot water or stones, or other missiles, could be dropped on the heads of the assailants. We had also means of access to the roof, so that if it were set on fire, we might extinguish the flames.
Still the enemy didn't appear, nor did Cato return to bring us information. Had we been idle, the suspense might have been more trying; but as we were actively engaged, we scarcely thought of what might possibly happen. At last Cato's voice was heard shouting—
"Massa Marchant and de piccaninnies come, but de rebels cum too, and dis nigger not know which get in first."
"We must go and help our friends then. Who'll accompany me?" asked Mr Talboys.
"I will, sir," said I.
"And I," said Tom Pim. And our other two messmates said the same.
The overseer seemed inclined to stop and defend the house. We immediately set out, Mr Talboys leading the way, and we keeping close to him. The night was dark, and we might easily have missed our road. After going some distance he stopped for a moment to listen. There came through the night air the tramp of feet, and the hum of voices, though apparently a long way off.
"What can have become of Marchant?" exclaimed Mr Talboys, after we had gone some way further.
"Here I am," said a person who stepped out into the middle of the road with a child in his arms. "My wife was tired, and our children declared they could go no further without resting, and except our two nurse girls, all the slaves have run away."
"They might have rested too long," said Mr Talboys. "Come, Mrs Marchant, I'll help you; and these young gentlemen will assist the children."
We discovered the family group seated on a bank; and each of us taking charge of one of the children, we followed Mr Talboys back towards Belmont as fast as our legs could move. He strode along at a great rate, for the sounds, which before had been indistinct, now grew louder and louder, and we knew that the enemy could not be far off. That they were marching towards Belmont there could be no doubt. Mrs Marchant gave a shriek of alarm every now and then, and the children cried with terror. We tried to soothe them, but it was no easy matter to do so as we ran along.
"Try and keep the children quiet," said Mr Talboys in a suppressed tone, "or the blacks will hear us. Push on, young gentlemen; I'll bring up the rear and defend you."
"I'll stay with you," I said; for it struck me that Chaffey might easily carry the child I had charge of, and so I handed it to him.
"And I'll stay also," said Tom, giving his charge to Sinnet, who, with one of the black girls, was dragging another along. Mr Marchant had enough to do to support his wife and carry another of their progeny. The house was already in sight, but we could hear the tramp of the insurgents' feet coming nearer and nearer, though we could not tell whether we ourselves were yet seen. Mr Marchant and his family hurried on, probably sorry that they had not made more speed at first. We had our pistols ready, a brace each, in our belts, and our swords by our sides, should we come to a close encounter; but the blacks had, we concluded, firearms, and might shoot us down, should they see us, at a distance. I could not but admire the cool gallantry of Mr Talboys, with so much at stake, yet willing to risk his own life in the defence of those he had promised to protect. He stood for nearly a minute to enable his friend's family to get ahead. The ground rose gradually towards the house, and we could now distinguish a dark mass coming across the open space in the plain below.
"Now we'll move on," said Mr Talboys; and we proceeded deliberately towards the house.
"They must have got in now," he added shortly afterwards, speaking as before in a suppressed tone.
It was time indeed for us to be hurrying on, for as we looked round, a party of blacks, forming the advance guard, and whom we had not previously seen, suddenly appeared, not fifty paces off. They saw us at the same time, and with loud yells came rushing up the slope.
"On, lads, as fast as your legs can carry you," cried Mr Talboys, and, facing round, he fired his musket into the middle of them. Whether any one fell we did not stop to see, but ran towards the house. The blacks followed, hoping to overtake us, and fortunately not stopping to fire. Mr Marchant and his family were only just then entering the house. They had got safe in, and we were about to follow when a shower of bullets came whistling round our heads and rattling against the walls. We sprang in, Mr Talboys following. No time was lost in closing the door and putting up the barricades. We had scarcely finished when a second volley was fired, showing that the rebels were in earnest, and meant, if they could do so, to destroy the inmates of the house. Still, finding that we had escaped them, instead of dashing on, they kept at a respectful distance, under such cover as the hedges and palings afforded them. As the bullets pinged against the shutters and walls the children began to cry, and Mrs Marchant and her black damsels to shriek out. Mrs Talboys and Lucy remained perfectly quiet, doing their best to calm the fears of their guests.
"We have a strong house and brave defenders, and we need not be afraid of the rebels," said the former in a quiet tone.
Meantime Mr Talboys, leaving us to defend the lower storey, mounted to the top of the house, where, keeping under shelter, he could take a look-out at whatever was going on below.
Presently we heard him shout, "Who are you, and what is it you want?"
"We free and independent people," answered a voice from the crowd; "we want our rights. We no get dem, den we kill all de whites."
"Much obliged for your kind intentions," answered Mr Talboys. "There are two sides to that question, and you must look out not to be killed yourselves, which you will be, I promise you, if you attack us."
"We see about dat," one of the blacks shouted out.
Mr Talboys replied, and made what sounded to me so long a speech that I wondered the insurgents had patience to listen to it, till I discovered that his object was to prevent them as long as possible from recommencing hostilities. Like other brave men, being unwilling to shed blood, he would not allow any of us to fire until it should become absolutely necessary. He again asked the rebels what they wanted.
"We want our rights, dat's what we want," they shouted.
"That's what all your friends in the island wish you to have, but you won't get them by murdering the few white people in your power," answered our host.
"Dat you say is true, Massa Talboys," cried a black from the crowd.
"Hold your tongue, Quembo; take dat!" and the sound of a crushing blow, accompanied by a shriek, reached our ears, as if the last speaker had brained his wiser comrade.
"We no cum here to talk, we cum to fight," shouted several together. There was a good deal of jabbering, and once more I saw, through a loophole out of which I was looking, the sable army approaching.
"Stand to your arms!" cried Mr Talboys. "We mustn't let these fellows get too confident. Shade all the lights, but don't fire until I give the word."
It was pretty evident, from the bold way the blacks came on, that they supposed we were badly supplied with firearms, one shot only having been discharged. Mr Talboys waited till they got within thirty paces, when, just as two or three of them had hurriedly discharged their pieces, he gave us the order to fire, and we sent a shower of bullets among the sable mass. Without stopping to see what effect it had produced we all reloaded as rapidly as possible. A few bullets rattled against the house, but before we again fired the greater number of our assailants were scrambling off, in spite of the efforts of their leader to induce them to make a stand. As far as I could judge, looking through my loophole, none were killed, though several must have been wounded.
A NARROW ESCAPE.
The overseer proposed dashing out, with a whip in one hand and a sword in the other.
"The rascals won't stop running if they see us coming after them," he said.
Mr Talboys, however, wisely ordered all of us to remain inside the walls.
"There are brave fellows among them, notwithstanding the cowardice of some, and they are very likely to turn round and cut us to pieces," he observed.
This would certainly have been the case, for we heard the blacks shouting and shrieking at no great distance off, though beyond the range of our muskets. They had evidently halted.
"We must be ready for another attack, my friends," cried Mr Talboys. "Keep at your posts."
Miss Lucy came up to where Tom and I were standing.
"We're so much obliged to you," she said. "If those dreadful blacks had got in, we knew that we should all be killed. You have defended us bravely, and we're so glad that no one has been hurt."
"When we think that we have you to defend, we'll fight as long as we have a charge of powder and a ball remaining, and after that, too, for we should make good use of our swords, depend on it," answered Tom gallantly.
After this the blacks were quiet for some time, but we could not judge whether they intended again to come on. Mr Talboys assured us that they were still in the neighbourhood, and that we must be prepared at any moment for an attack. The time went slowly by. I heard Caesar and Cato talking; and as the danger appeared to lessen, the courage of the former increased.
"Dem niggers, how dey did run when we fired at dem! great cowards! Just dey cum on again, and see how we pepper der legs," said Caesar.
"Better dey not cum," observed Cato, like a true philosopher, probably doubting his companion's resolution.
As there was no necessity to keep at our posts, I went up and asked Mr Talboys if he would allow me to take his place, while he joined the ladies.
"Thank you," he said; "I was intending to summon you, for I wish to take a look round our fortifications, to be sure that we have no weak points, for I strongly suspect we have not done with those fellows yet."
He was just about to descend, when I caught sight of a bright light away to the northward.
"What is that?" I asked, pointing it out to him.
"It comes from the direction of Marchant's house," he answered. "I very much fear the rebels have set fire to it. Yes, there is no doubt about it," he added, as forked flames were observed to burst up round the first light, and to extend on either side. Presently another light was seen in the south-east.
"That must be from Peek's estate. I hope they had warning, and made their escape in time, or the villains will have murdered them, to a certainty. Fortunately there are no women or children there."
We stood watching the progress of the flames.
"We'll not tell the Marchants of the disaster," he continued. "It might drive them out of their wits; but they may consider themselves fortunate in having escaped with their lives."
Loud shouts rising from the spot where we supposed the blacks to be showed the pleasure they felt at seeing the houses burning.
"They would be still more delighted could they destroy Belmont," observed Mr Talboys. "They will, I fear, soon again attempt to carry out their design."
He now begged me to remain where I was, and to give him immediate information, should I observe anything suspicious, and went down to carry out his intention of examining every assailable point in the house. I kept, my eyes turned, first to one side, then to the other, peering into the darkness, when I observed something moving, away to the right. It seemed like a black line; and after watching it for a few seconds, I felt sure that it was formed by a number of negroes creeping cautiously on to the right of the house, and endeavouring to conceal themselves. I was afraid that my voice might be heard should I shout out, so I went down the steps and soon found Mr Talboys. The moment I told him what I had seen, he sprang up with me, but we could see nothing, though we watched for some minutes.
"If they were really blacks you saw, they intend to take us by surprise," he said. "We must keep a look-out, and be prepared for them."
Just as he was speaking, there came a loud crashing sound, and the next instant cries and shouts rang through the house. Mr Talboys sprang down the steps, and I followed him. There was no difficulty in ascertaining in what direction to go. A door had evidently been burst open in the southern wing of the house. A piercing shriek was heard as we hurried on. The rest of the party, deserting their posts, had already gone to drive back our assailants. The overseer and clerk, Sinnet and Chaffey, were encountering them bravely. Two had already paid dearly for their temerity, when Mr Talboys, springing forward, attacked them furiously. I kept with him, and did my best with my hanger, cutting and slashing at the woolly pates of the fellows, who evidently were not prepared for so determined a resistance. Those in front gave way, and others who were about to enter hesitated to advance. Mrs Talboys was rendering us good service by holding up a lantern, by which we could see our assailants, while the light, falling on their eyes, prevented them from seeing us. Though I observed my other two messmates, I could nowhere see Tom Pim. What could have become of him? I thought. I was, however, sure that he would not have held back, for though he was but a little fellow, he knew how to use his hanger as well as any of us. The fight didn't last long; another black was killed, two lay wounded on the ground, and the rest bolted out of the door, which, though shattered, was not off its hinges.
"Quick! Bring some planks," cried Mr Talboys.
There were some near at hand, with which we had intended to secure that particular door. We were not long in putting them up, and placing a heavy chest of drawers against them. Just as this was done, Mrs Talboys exclaimed—
"Where is Lucy?"
"And where is Tom Pim?" I cried out.
Neither of them answered. Before any search could be made, Mr Marchant, who had been watching at the other side of the house, shouted out—
"The enemy are upon us I the enemy are upon us! Quick! quick!"
We hurried to our posts, and before many seconds had elapsed, a shower of bullets came rattling against the walls.
"Fire away, my friends," cried Mr Talboys.
We obeyed the order with alacrity. I was thinking all the time, however, as to what could have become of Tom and Lucy. In vain I expected my messmate to hasten to his post. Again the blacks were checked. Had they been a minute sooner, the case would have been very different. They calculated, of course, on their friends getting in at the back of the house, and causing a diversion in their favour. For twenty minutes or more we kept loading and firing as fast as we could. Mr Talboys was everywhere, now at one window, now at another, while the clerk and Cato were guarding the back and wings of the house. How the hours had passed by I could not tell, when at length I saw a faint light in the eastern sky. It gradually increased in brightness, and in a wonderfully short time daylight burst upon the world. As the blacks had failed to get into the house during the night, it was less likely that they would succeed during the day. They fired a parting volley, and then, to our great satisfaction, beat a rapid retreat. The search for Lucy and Tom was now renewed.
"Oh, my dear husband, what can have become of her?" cried Mrs Talboy in accents of despair.
That they were not in the house was very certain. I proposed to sally forth and search for them.
"I'll go myself," said Mr Talboys. "The rebels will be on the look-out, and you very probably will be captured if you go alone."
He consented, however, to my accompanying him. We went out at the back door, which Mr Talboys ordered to be closed after us. We had not gone far when we discovered a ribbon, which I knew Miss Lucy had worn on her shoulder.
"She must have been carried off by the blacks when they first burst into the house," cried Mr Talboys.
"The wretches cannot have had the barbarity to injure her," I said.
"I don't know! I don't know!" answered her father in an agonised tone of voice.
We followed the track of the blacks, which was distinctly marked by the plants and canes being trampled down where they had gone across the garden and plantation, and continued on for some distance. No other trace of Tom or Lucy could we discover. We had to proceed cautiously, as at any time we might come suddenly upon a party of them, when we might find it very difficult to escape. We were, however, both well-armed, with muskets in our hands, braces of pistols in our belts, and swords by our sides, so that we hoped, should we fall in with any enemies, to keep them at bay while we retreated. We looked round on either side, in the expectation of seeing something else that either Lucy or Tom might have dropped; but sometimes I could not help fearing that they might have been killed, and that we should come upon their dead bodies. Still I tried to put away the thought from me, as it was too dreadful I suspect the same idea occurred to Mr Talboys, who looked stern and determined, and seldom spoke, while his eye was ranging round, far and near. We were going in the direction we fancied the blacks had taken. Mr Talboys was of opinion that, finding they could not succeed in destroying Belmont, they had gone off to attack some other house and ravage the plantations. We were making our way across the country instead of along the high road, where the blacks might have discovered us at a distance; but sometimes the foliage was so thick that we could not see a dozen yards ahead. This had its advantages and its disadvantages. It was evidently the line which the party of blacks who had nearly surprised us had followed. Now and then we got close to the high road, and we were able, while still keeping under shelter ourselves, to look along it either way.
"The rebels have not, I suspect, gone off altogether, and we may not be far from them now," whispered Mr Talboys. "Be very cautious; keep under cover as much as you can, and avoid making any rustling among the branches."
We had moved on scarcely a dozen paces after this, when suddenly a number of black heads appeared above the bushes close in front of us. The white eyes of the negroes, as they caught sight of us, showed that they were more astonished than we were at the sudden encounter. Exclamations of surprise escaped from their lips.
"On, lads," shouted Mr Talboys at the top of his voice, as, drawing his sword, he sprang forward. "Send those rascals to the right about."
Uttering a shout, I imitated his example.
The blacks, evidently supposing that a strong body of whites was upon them, turned, and endeavoured to make their way through the brushwood, without looking back to see who was pursuing them. As they had no other encumbrances than their muskets, they soon distanced us. Not one of them fell, for Mr Talboys refrained from firing, as did I, waiting until he told me to do so.
"Now, my young friend, it will be well to beat a retreat before these rascals discover that we are alone," he said.
We were about to do as he proposed, when, unfortunately, one of the blacks, who was nearer to us than the rest, looked round, and seeing no one besides us, shouted to his companions. Now one stopped, now another, till the whole party came to a stand-still, turned round, and faced us.
"Spring back and try to get under cover," said Mr Talboys in a low voice. "If the fellows advance, fire; but not till then. I'll speak to them." He then shouted, "You have carried off two young people from my house. Give them up at once unhurt, and we will not punish you as you deserve; but if they're injured, not one of you shall escape hanging."
"We not got de young white folks here," sang out a voice from among the negroes. "You talk ob hanging, massa; take care we not hang you. What we stop here for?" continued the speaker to his companions; "dere not many dere, or dey cum on."
From the way the blacks were looking, I guessed that they were trying to discover how many persons were opposed to them; but as yet they fancied that there were others behind us.
"Do you quietly retreat, my young friend," said Mr Talboys in a low voice. "Make your way back to the house as fast as you can, and tell them to be on their guard. I can manage these fellows as well alone, and your life would be needlessly risked by remaining."
"I will do as you wish, sir; but if there's to be fighting, I should prefer to stay by you," I answered.
"I'll try to avoid it, then," said my friend, and once more he spoke to the blacks.
"If the young folks are not with you, tell me where they are."
"We know nothin'," answered the black. "Maybe by dis time dey hang from de branch ob one tree."
"I don't believe that any of you would have had the cruelty to kill them," he cried out. "Do as I wish you," he continued, in a low voice, to me.
Still I could not bring myself, for the sake of saving my own life, to leave him to be taken by the blacks; for it seemed to me that he would have but a small chance of escaping from them. I was hesitating, when I heard a shout from beyond where they were standing, and presently a number more rushed up, who by their furious gestures, as soon as they saw us, seemed to threaten our immediate destruction.
"I'll kill the first who comes on," cried Mr Talboys.
They answered with derisive cries, and several of them levelled their muskets. Mr Talboys and I kept ours pointed at them, sheltering ourselves as we could behind the trunks of two trees which stood close together.
Our chance of escaping appeared very small.
While we thus kept the blacks in check, a sound in the rear struck my ears. It was the tramp of many feet. It became louder and louder. The blacks, jabbering away as they were to each other, did not apparently hear it. Mr Talboys did, however, and he knew that it was more important than ever to refrain from firing. He again shouted to them—
"Do any of you who have just come know where my daughter and young friend are gone to?"
They didn't reply, but we heard them talking to one another. This further put off the time. The sound of tramping feet grew louder.
"You make fool ob us, Massa Talboys," at last said one of the blacks, who, probably from his understanding English, had been chosen as spokesman.
Gesticulating violently, the whole body now gave vent to loud shouts and cries, and dashed forward, with the intention of overwhelming us. We both fired, in the hopes of delaying their advance, and then sprang back to the shelter of some other trees we had noted behind us. The blacks, as they rushed on, fired, but their bullets passed high above our heads, stripping off the bark and branches, which came rattling down upon us.
We had but a small chance of again escaping, should we attempt the same proceeding; but, as the blacks were within twenty paces of us, a party of redcoats dashed through the brushwood, one of their leaders being a small naval officer whom, to my joy, I recognised as Tom Pim. The blacks saw the soldiers, and, without waiting to encounter the sharp points of their bayonets, turned, and scampered off as fast as they could manage to get through the bushes, the speed of most of them being increased by the bullets poured in on them, while several bit the ground.
The soldiers continued the pursuit till the blacks, scattering in all directions, got out of range of their muskets. Mr Talboys and I accompanied them; but not till the halt was called had we an opportunity of speaking to Tom.
"And where is Lucy, my dear fellow?" asked Mr Talboys, grasping Tom by the hand.
"All right, sir," answered Tom. "She's safe in the house. When the blacks broke in last night, she was close to the door, and a piece of wood striking her, she fell to the ground. The blacks, rushing in, seized her before I was able to lift her up, and while I was shouting out for assistance, and trying to defend her, they got hold of me, and carried us both off. It was only a short time ago that I knew you were safe; for I was dreadfully afraid that they had got into the house, and murdered you all. Fortunately, the blacks allowed Miss Lucy and me to remain together; so I told her to keep up her spirits, and that I would try and help her to run away. Most of the blacks who at first had charge of us hurried back, expecting to pillage the house, and only two remained. We heard the shots you fired, but I still did not know that you had driven them out. Meantime our two black guards were so occupied in trying to find out what was going on, that I took the opportunity of drawing my hanger, which had not been taken from me, and giving one a slash across the eyes, and another a blow which nearly cut off his arm. I seized Miss Lucy's hand, and we ran off as fast as we could. Neither of our guards were in a condition to follow us, and we ran and ran, scarcely knowing in what direction we were going. Miss Lucy said that she thought we were on the high road to Kingston; but she became at last so tired that she could go no further, and we had to rest. It soon became daylight; and just as we were going on again, we met with the soldiers, who were being brought up by Captain Ryan to your assistance."
"You behaved most bravely, and I am deeply indebted to you, my young friend," said Mr Talboys, grasping Tom's hand. "Had you not offered so determined a resistance, I believe that the blacks would have got into the house, and we should all have been destroyed."
As the men had had a long and rapid march, their commander was glad to accept Mr Talboys' invitation to return at once to Belmont, to partake of the refreshments they so much needed.
Miss Lucy on our arrival rushed into her father's arms, and was warm in her praises of the gallant way in which Tom had rescued her.
Everybody was engaged either in cooking or carrying provisions to the soldiers, who had assembled under the shade of the trees in front of the house. Sentries were of course placed, to give due notice should the blacks rally and attempt another attack, though Mr Talboys considered it very improbable that such would be made.
As our leave was to expire the day after these events took place, having enjoyed a sound sleep, early in the morning we started in the carriages that had brought us, Cato driving Tom and me. We were glad to think that our kind friends were well protected, as Captain Ryan said that his orders were to remain there until reinforcements arrived.
I won't describe our parting, or what Tom said to Miss Lucy; if not affecting, it was cordial.
On our way we met more troops moving towards Belmont. We got back to Kingston, and thence on board the frigate, within the time Mr Saunders had given us leave to be absent.
The account of our adventures created great interest on board. When I told Larry of our narrow escape with Mr Talboys—
"Thin, Maisther Terence dear, don't be after going on shore again without me," he exclaimed. "If you had been killed I'd never have lifted up my head, nor shown my face at Ballinahone again; for they would be saying that I ought to have been by your side, and died with you if I could not save you."
I promised Larry not to go anywhere, if I could help it, without him. We expected soon to have sailed, but we were detained by Sir Peter Parker, then the admiral at Jamaica. There were also several other frigates and three line-of-battle ships in the harbour. Tom and I especially wanted to be off, as we could not expect to obtain leave again to go on shore, though we determined if the ship was detained to ask for it.
"Not much chance of that," observed Nettleship, who had just come from the shore. "The people are expecting an attack from the French and Spaniards, who have large fleets out here under the Count De Grasse, and the Governor has just got a letter, it is said, taken on board a prize, in which the whole plan for the capture of the island is detailed. The inhabitants are everywhere up in arms, and vow that they will fight to the last sooner than yield. More troops are expected, and every preparation is being made for the defence of the island."
We had seen the Triton frigate go out that morning, though we were not aware of her destination. She carried despatches from Sir Peter Parker, giving Lord Howe the information which had been received, and requesting that reinforcements might immediately be sent to the island. The people on shore were actively engaged in strengthening Fort George, Fort Augusta, and the Apostles' Battery, and throwing up new forts in various directions. While the blacks were labouring at the fortifications, all the white men were being drilled to serve in the militia, which was numerous and enthusiastic; so we hoped that even should the French and Spaniards land, they would be soundly thrashed.
Some days passed before we received any news of our friends at Belmont. No leave was granted, as the captain could not tell at what moment we should be ordered to sea. Tom and I were therefore unable to go to Kingston to make inquiries about them. At length a shore-boat came off with letters, and one, which I knew by the superscription to be from Mr Talboys, was handed to me. As I opened it, a small delicate note— addressed, Tom Pim, Esquire, H.M.S. Liffy—fell out. As Tom was standing close to me at the time, he eagerly snatched it up. I was right in my surmises with regard to my letter. Mr Talboys having again expressed his thanks for the services my messmates and I had rendered him, after saying that his family were all well, went on to inform me that the outbreak of the blacks had been quickly suppressed, the ringleaders having been caught and hanged. Mr Marchant's house and three others had alone been destroyed, and with the exception of an overseer and two clerks, the remainder of the inhabitants had managed to escape. "I hope," he added, "that we shall see you and your messmates again, and I shall be especially pleased to welcome that brave young fellow who so gallantly rescued my daughter."
"What does your letter say, Tom?" I asked, when I had finished mine.
"Well, I shouldn't like to show it to any one else," he said; "but as you know how I regard Miss Lucy, I will to you. I can't say that I am quite satisfied with it. It's a little too patronising, as if she thought herself a great deal older than I am. You shall have it," and he handed me the note.
"My dear Tom,"—it began,—"you are such a dear little fellow that I feel I must write to you to say how grateful I am to you for having saved me from those dreadful blacks. I should not have supposed that you would have been able to do it, but I shall never forget your bravery. I long to come back to Kingston, to see you again, and tell you so. But papa says that you are not likely to obtain leave, so I must wait patiently till we have beaten the French and Spaniards who threaten to invade our island, and peace is restored. I wish I could promise to do as you ask me, but mamma says I should be very foolish if I did. Do you know, I think so likewise; because it may be years and years before you are a commander, or even a lieutenant; but I want you to understand, notwithstanding, that I like you very much, and am very grateful, and shall always be so, as long as I live. So, my dear Tom, believe me, your sincere friend,—Lucy Talboys."
"It's very clear, Tom, that Miss Lucy will not commit herself, and it's fortunate for you probably that she is so hardhearted," I observed. "I'd advise you not to be downcast about the matter, and be content with the friendship and gratitude of her family."
Tom, however, looked very melancholy, and some time afterwards Chaffey observed to me that he was sure something was amiss with Tom, as he was completely off his feed.
While we were allowed to go on shore our life was pleasant enough, but when confined on board it was somewhat dreary work, and we all longed for a change of some sort. A climate with the thermometer at ninety doesn't conduce to high spirits.
We were aroused one evening as most of us were below, by Sinnet rushing into the berth, and exclaiming—
"The Glasgow is on fire, and the boats are ordered away to her assistance."
The Glasgow was a frigate, lying at no great distance from us, and was to have sailed with the land breeze with a company of troops to the westward. We hurried on deck. Our boats were being lowered, as were those of the other ships in the harbour. Smoke in dense volumes was rising from the hatchways of the Glasgow, and more was pouring out of her ports. Her crew were at their stations, hauling up buckets of water, and labouring like brave men to quench the rising flames; but all their efforts, as far as I could see, were ineffectual. Nettleship and some of the older midshipmen went off in the boats.
"I hope that they'll draw the charges of their guns, or we shall have some of their shot rattling on board us," said Tom. "There are plenty of boats, so I don't suppose any of the crew will be lost."
"I should think not, unless the magazine catches fire," I answered.
"They'll drown that the first thing, if they can," remarked Tom. "I wish we could have gone in one of the boats. I don't like to see people in danger and be unable to try and help them."
In spite of all the exertions being made on board, with the assistance of the men from the other ships who had now arrived alongside, the smoke increased in denseness, and presently burst up above the hatchway, while we could see the red glare through the ports. The ship having been in the West Indies for some time, her woodwork was like tinder, and the flames rapidly gained the mastery. Now forked tongues of fire burst out from the midship ports, gradually working their way forward and aft. At length all attempts to save the ship were abandoned. The crew were seen descending into the boats, some collected forward, others under the quarter. Down they came by ladders and ropes, the midshipmen and the boys first, the men following, looking like strings of sausages surrounding the ship. Rapidly as every one moved, there was no confusion. As the boats were loaded they pulled off, others taking their places. So quickly had the fire spread that it seemed as if the officers had scarcely space left them to stand on before descending. Shouts were raised when the glitter of the gold lace on their coats was seen as they came over the quarter. The last man to quit was the brave captain of the ship. Almost in an instant afterwards she was in a fierce blaze fore and aft, the flames rushing out of the cabin windows as well as through the bow ports. We in the meantime had got springs on our cables, as had all the other ships, in case she should drift from her moorings.
"I suspect the shot were withdrawn," I observed to Tom Pim.
"I hope so," he answered; but just then—crash! there came a couple of round shot against our side, while more guns were heard going off in the opposite direction.
We immediately hauled away on one of our springs, just in time to escape several more iron missiles, which went bounding across the harbour. Three or four other ships were struck, but no one on board ours was hurt. Presently there came a loud roar, the mizen-mast shot up, followed by the after-part of the deck, and then came hissing down into the water. The flames surrounding the other masts formed a fiery pinnacle rising into the dark sky, and immediately afterwards down they came with loud crashes, the ship looking like a huge roaring and raging cauldron of flame, while crash succeeded crash as the heated guns fell into the hold. Several of the people brought on us were severely scorched, showing the desperate efforts they had made to try and save their ship. Dr McCall and the assistant-surgeons had work enough in attending to them. Fortunately the soldiers had not arrived alongside the Glasgow before she caught fire, and when they came down the harbour they were put on board our frigate, and we received orders to carry them to their destination.
Everything was done as rapidly as possible for their accommodation. The men were berthed on the main-deck. The captain received the commanding officer, the lieutenants messed in the gun-room, and we had the pleasure of entertaining the ensigns. The land breeze began blowing about eight o'clock, the time the Glasgow was to have sailed. We were detained some time in getting off provisions from the shore, but by dint of hard work all was ready by ten o'clock, and the night being bright, the anchor was hove up. With every sail that we could carry set, we glided out of the harbour. It was important to get a good offing, so that we might weather Portland Point, the southernmost part of the island, before the sea-breeze should again begin to blow. We hoped that the land breeze, which generally begins to drop about midnight, would last longer than usual, so as to carry us well out to sea. There are ugly rocks off Portland which it is not pleasant to have under the lee at any time.
"Shure it would be hard to bate these nights out here, Mr Terence," said Larry, whom I met on deck, and who seemed to enjoy as much as I did the calm beauty of the scene, the stars like specks of glittering gold shining out of the heavens of the deepest blue, each one reflected in the tranquil ocean. The line of coast, seen astern and on our starboard quarter, rose into various-shaped mountains, their outlines clearly marked against the sky; while every now and then a mass of silver light was spread over the water, as some inhabitant of the deep leaped upwards, to fall again with a splash into its liquid home.
I asked Larry how Hoolan was going on after his flogging.
"He doesn't talk much, Mr Terence, but he looks as sulky as ever, and I wouldn't trust him more than before," was the reply.
"He can harm no one, at all events," I observed; "and I don't think he has much chance of making his escape, even if he still thinks of attempting it."
"Faith, I don't fancy he could hide himself among the black fellows; and no merchant skipper would like to have him aboard his craft," said Larry.
Going aft, I met Tom Pim, for he and I were in the first watch. We were pacing the deck together, when we were joined by one of our passengers, Ensign Duffy.
"Can't sleep, my dear fellows," he said in a melancholy tone, which made Tom and me laugh. "My thoughts are running on a charming little girl I met at Kingston. I was making prodigious way with her when we were ordered off to the out-of-the-way corner of the world to which you are carrying us, and the chances are we shall not meet again."
"What's her name, Duffy?" I asked.
"Lucy Talboys," he answered promptly. "I don't mind telling you young fellows, as you are not likely to prove rivals; but I say, if either of you meet her I wish you'd put in a word about me. Say how miserable I looked, and that you are sure I had left my heart at Kingston."
"I will gladly say anything you wish; but perhaps she will think you left it with some other lady," I observed.
"Say I was always sighing and uttering 'Lucy! Lucy!' in my sleep."
"I'll not say anything of the sort," exclaimed Tom. "I never heard you utter her name till now, and I don't believe she cares the snuff of a candle for you."
Just as we were about to go below, at eight bells, we made out Portland Point broad on our starboard beam, so that we hoped, should the wind not fail us before morning, to be well to the westward of it. We were just turning into our hammocks, the other watch having been called, when we heard the canvas flap loudly against the masts, and were summoned on deck again to take in studding-sails. Still the land wind favoured us, the sails once more bulged out, and before we went below we had brought Portland Point on the quarter. When we went on deck again in the morning the frigate lay nearly becalmed off Carlisle Bay, thence we had a westerly course to Pedro Bluff. The sun, as it rose higher and higher in the cloudless sky, beat down hot and strong upon our heads, while officers and men, as they paced the deck, whistled perseveringly for a breeze. At length a dark blue line was seen extending in the south-east across the shining waters. It approached rapidly. Presently the canvas blew out, and with tacks on board we stood along the coast. Our speed increased with the rising breeze. We were not long in getting round Pedro Bluff, when we stood directly for Savannah-le-Mer, then a pretty flourishing little town at the south-west end of the island. Here we were to land some of the redcoats, and were to take the rest round to Montego Bay, at the north-west end of Jamaica. We came off it on the following morning.
As the harbour is intricate, we hove-to outside, while the soldiers were landed in the boats. I went in one, and Tom Pim in another, the second lieutenant having the command of the whole. We had a long and a hot pull, and Ensign Duffy, who was in my boat, declared that if it was proportionately hot on shore to what it was on the water, he should expect to be turned into baked meat before he had been there long. Larry was pulling bow-oar, and very well he pulled by this time, for though he was a perfect greenhorn when he came to sea, he had been accustomed to row on the Shannon.
The frigate, I should have said, was to call on her way back for some of the soldiers whom those we took out had come to relieve. Our approach had been seen by the officers at the barracks, which were situated about a mile from the town; and they came down to welcome their comrades in arms. Leaping on shore, the rocks which formed the landing-place being slippery, I fell, and came down on my knees with great force. I felt that I was severely hurt, and on attempting to rise, found it impossible to do so, even with the assistance of Larry, who sprang to my side, uttering an exclamation of sorrow. On this, one of the officers, whom I perceived by his dress to be a surgeon, came up to me, and at once examined my hurt.
"It requires to be instantly attended to," he said, "or inflammation may set in, and in this climate the consequences may be serious."
My friend Duffy proposed that I should be carried to the barracks, though my lieutenant at first objected to letting me go, declaring that he should not be long in getting back to the ship.
"Long enough to allow of the young gentleman losing his leg, or perhaps his life," remarked the surgeon. "I'll have him at once taken to a house in the town, and when your frigate comes back, I hope he'll be in a condition to embark."
Hearing this, the lieutenant not only gave me leave to remain, but allowed Larry to stay and attend on me. Tom Pim took my hand as Duffy and some of his men were placing me upon a door, which had been procured to carry me into the town.
"I wish that I was going to stay with you, Paddy," he said; "but it's of no use to ask leave, though I'd give a great deal if I could. We shall be very dull without you."
"Thank you, Tom," I answered. "If I had my will I'd rather go off. I suppose the doctor is right; and it's safer to let him attend to me at once."
I was carried immediately to a house which I found belonged to a Mr Hans Ringer, an attorney, who had charge of several plantations in that flourishing neighbourhood. The doctor and he, it was evident, were on most intimate terms, for on our arrival, without any circumlocution, the latter at once said—
"I have brought a young midshipman who requires to be looked after, and I'd be obliged to you if you'd order your people to get a room ready for him immediately."
I could scarcely have supposed that so serious an injury could have been so easily inflicted. Soon after my arrival I nearly fainted with the pain, but the doctor's treatment at length soothed it, and he was able to set the injured bones.
I must make a long story short, however.
Mr Ringer and his family treated me with the greatest kindness; indeed, nothing could surpass the hospitality of the inhabitants of Jamaica; and it was with the utmost difficulty, when I got better, that the doctor could get him to allow me to be carried to the barracks, where the fresher air would assist me in regaining my strength. Larry, of course, spent most of his time with me; indeed, had I not insisted on his going out, he never would have left my bedside.
I was now every day expecting the return of the frigate, when I believed that, well or ill, I should have to go on board her.
"That must depend on circumstances, my lad," said Dr McManus. "For if you can't go, you can't. The captain must find another opportunity of getting you on board."
"But suppose the frigate has to fight an action, I would not be absent on any account," I exclaimed.
"With a fractured tibia, and the inflammation which would be sure to supervene, you would not render much service to your country," observed the doctor. "When you have sufficiently recovered you can get back to Port Royal, and rejoin your ship; she's not likely to be sent to a distance while the enemy's fleet threaten the island. Indeed, we require all the forces on shore and afloat we can collect. I don't quite understand what we shall do if we are attacked here, though I'm very sure we shall fight to the last before we let the French and Spanish land."
I saw that there was no use in arguing the point, but I was determined, if I could, to go off and rejoin my ship. Larry did his best to console me.
"It's not a bad place to be in, if you only had the use of your legs, Mr Terence. Them nager boys and girls are mighty funny creatures. What bothers me most is that I didn't bring my fiddle on shore, for sure if I had, it would have been after setting them all dancing, till they danced out of their black skins. It's rare fun to see them laughing as if they'd split their sides, when I sing to them. They bate us Irishmen hollow at that fun, I'll allow. I find it a hard matter to contain myself when I see them rolling their eyes and showing their white teeth as they stretch their mouths from ear to ear."
I happened to tell Dr McManus of Larry's talent.
"I'll try and get a fiddle for the boy, and put it to the test," he said good-naturedly.
In the evening I was aroused from a nap into which I had fallen, by the sound of an Irish jig played on a violin, followed by shouts of laughter, clapping of hands, shrieks, and merriment, while the noise of feet from the courtyard below told me that Larry had been as good as his word. I thanked the doctor, who came in while the revels were at their height.
"I sent into the town and borrowed a fiddle, for I was sure that your follower's music would do as much good to the men as the fresh air of the hills. They and the black boys and girls are all toeing and heeling it together. The niggers, I confess, beat them hollow in agility and endurance."
I asked the doctor to wheel me to the window, that I might look out and see the fun. He good-naturedly complied, and assisted me to sit up. There were forty or fifty white men, and almost double the number of blacks of both sexes,—the women dressed in gay-coloured petticoats, with handkerchiefs round their heads; the men in white or striped cotton—the light colour contrasting with their dark skins,—one and all clapping their hands, snapping their fingers, and moving here and there in figures it was difficult to follow, but all evidently enjoying themselves immensely, judging by their grinning countenances and rolling eyes.
After this Larry became an immense favourite with the soldiers, as he found not a few of our countrymen among them. The officers of the little garrison were very kind to me, and I was never in want of society, as one or other was constantly by my bedside.
Notwithstanding this, as I got better I became more and more anxious to receive news of the frigate, and began to wonder what had become of her. Though I could not walk, I saw no reason why I should not return on board. The doctor, however, was still of a different opinion; and I was greatly disappointed when, on returning from the town one day, he told me that she had come off the harbour, and that he had sent on board to say that I was not yet fit to be moved, but would rejoin my ship by the first opportunity after I was convalescent. I could only thank him for his kindness, keeping my feelings to myself.
At length I was able to get out of bed, and walk with the assistance of a crutch. Had the doctor and Larry not held me up, however, the first time I made the attempt, I should have fallen down again. I felt just as, I suppose, an infant does on his first trying to toddle. After this I got rapidly better, and was soon able to join the officers in the mess-room, and in a short time to throw away my crutches.
The first walk I proposed to take was into Savannah-le-Mer to inquire about vessels proceeding to Port Royal. I was accompanied by Ensign Duffy and Larry. With their help I got on better than I expected; and though I didn't feel inclined to take a leap, I fancied that if put to it I could run as well as ever.
We repaired to the house of Mr Ringer, who received us cordially, and from him I learnt that a fine vessel, the Princess Royal, would sail for Kingston the next day. He insisted on my remaining at his house, promising to drive me back to the barracks in the evening, that I might wish the kind doctor and my other friends there good-bye. We accordingly returned as he proposed. It was a difficult matter to get Larry away from his late companions, who seemed inclined to detain him vi et armis, the men grasping his hands, and the black girls hanging round him, many of them blubbering outright at the thoughts of parting from the "lubly Irish boy dat play de fiddle,"—as for pronouncing his name, that they found beyond their power.
The officers drank my health in overflowing bumpers, and had I not remembered my uncle's advice, and prevented my own glass from being filled, I should not have been in a fit state to present myself at Mr Ringer's hospitable mansion. I remember thinking the night oppressively hot, and was thankful that Mr Ringer was good enough to drive me from the barracks into the town.
"I don't know what to make of the weather," said my host the next morning, when we met at breakfast.
Not a breath of wind stirred the atmosphere, and it seemed as if all nature was asleep; while the sky, instead of being of a cerulean blue, was suffused, as the sun rose, with a fiery red tinge.
The hour—about noon—at which it was arranged that I should go on board was approaching. My host offered to accompany me down to the harbour, but before we reached it we encountered a violent squall, which almost took us off our legs, and sent Larry's hat flying up the street. He made chase after it, and we stopped to let him overtake us, while a number of other people, caught by the wind, passed us running off in the same direction. At length his hat, driven into a doorway, was recovered, and Larry came battling against the wind to rejoin us.
"You'll not put to sea to-day," said my friend; "nor for many a day to come, if I mistake not; but we'll make our way to the harbour, and see how things are going on there."
On reaching it we found the sea already lashed into a mass of seething foam. The larger vessels strained at their anchors, some tossing and tumbling about, others already overwhelmed by the waves. It was with difficulty we could stand our ground.
"Unless the hurricane passes by, for hurricane it is, not one of those vessels will escape destruction," said Mr Ringer. As he spoke, one of them parted from her cables and drove towards the shore.
"We must beat a rapid retreat if we wish to save our lives," he continued; "the tempest is down upon us!"
The wind, which had previously blown from the south-east, suddenly shifted to the southward.
Grasping my arm, he hurried me off from the spot on which we were standing. At the same time down came a deluge of rain—not in mere drops, but in regular sheets of water. It wetted us to the skin in a few moments. Larry, now seizing my other arm, dragged me forward. As we looked back for a moment, we observed the sea rising in a mountain billow, hissing and foaming, and approaching the shore. It was but the first, however, of others still larger which were to follow. It broke with a thundering roar,—the water rushed on, flowing by the spot we had already reached; but even though we were nearly up to our knees, I couldn't resist taking another glance behind. The whole ocean was covered with wreck; and one of the larger vessels I had seen just before, had disappeared beneath the surface.
As we hurried on, crash succeeded crash. First one house fell, then another, and another, and from some bright flames burst forth, which even the descending rain failed to quench. It was useless to attempt saving the lives of our fellow-creatures, for the same destruction would have overtaken us. Our great object was to reach the higher country in the direction of the barracks. Had Larry and I been alone, we should in all probability have lost our lives; but Mr Ringer, knowing the town, led us quickly through it by the shortest route. As we dashed through the streets, scarcely looking to the right hand or to the left, piercing cries of agony and despair struck on our ears. The smaller and more lightly built houses were levelled in a moment, and many even of the larger were crumbling away.
"Don't you wish to go to your own house? if so, we must not stop you; we will go with you," I said to Mr Ringer.
"We should only be crushed by the falling ruins if we made the attempt," he answered at the top of his voice, and even then I could scarcely hear what he said. "I'll try and get to it from the rear when I have seen you out of the town."
Not far off from where we then were was a fine house, that had hitherto withstood the hurricane. Presently a blast struck us which, had we not clung together, would have blown us down. At the same time, looking up, I saw the house literally rocking. Down came one wall, and then another, the roof fell in, and in one instant it was a heap of shapeless ruins.
"I trust the inmates have escaped," cried Mr Ringer.
Just then loud shrieks and cries for help struck on our ears. They came, it seemed, from beneath the ruins. We could not withstand the appeal for assistance, and calculating as well as we could in what direction the still standing walls would fall, we sprang forward, taking a course to avoid them across the mass of ruins. An arch, which had apparently formed the centre of a passage, was yet uninjured, though blocked up. The cries seemed to us to come from thence. We should find, we knew, great difficulty in removing the debris which encumbered it, and the walls might at any moment fall down and crush us. Still Larry and I, having climbed to the top of the heap, began pulling away the beams and planks and rubbish which stopped up the entrance. Mr Ringer joined us, though evidently considering our occupation a very dangerous one. However, we persevered, and at length had made an opening sufficiently large to look in. We could see two ladies, an old gentleman, and a mulatto servant.
"We have come to help you," I cried out. "If you'll climb up here you'll be free, and there may yet be time, Mr Ringer thinks, to reach the open country."
Mr Ringer joining us, the two gentlemen recognised each other.
"What, Martin! Glad to see you safe," said the former. "Come, get out of that place as fast as possible."
Encouraged by us, the youngest of the ladies first made the attempt, and succeeded in getting high enough to reach our hands. The old lady followed, though unless Mr Martin and the mulatto girl had shoved behind, we should have found it impossible to have got her through. Mr Martin and the girl followed.
As may be supposed, we didn't stop longer on the ruins than was necessary, but scrambling over them, again reached the open street. Scarcely were we there before down came the remaining wall, with a crash which broke in the arch. It would certainly have destroyed Mr Martin and his family had they been there. The event showed us clearly the importance of getting out of the town. It seemed scarcely possible that any one passing through the narrow streets could escape being killed. Even in the broader ones the danger of being crushed was fearful. Mr Ringer assisted Mrs Martin, I offered my aid to the young lady, and Larry took charge of the old gentleman, who required helping as much as his wife and daughter. I had forgotten all about my lameness. We of course were somewhat delayed in our progress. Now we had to scramble over fallen walls—now we narrowly escaped being killed by masses of masonry and timber falling around us.
At length the open was reached, and we made our way to some higher ground overlooking the bay. We had reason to be thankful that we were out of the town. Providentially we reached a small stone building, which afforded us some shelter from the driving rain and furious wind, against which it was impossible to stand alone. The bay, as we looked down upon it, presented a fearful scene. The whole shore was strewn with masses of wreck. Not a small craft had escaped, and the largest, with all anchors down, were tossing about, and seemed every moment likely to be engulfed. The town itself was a heap of ruins, scarcely a house was standing, and none had escaped injury. In some places flames were raging, which would have set fire to other houses had it not been for the mass of water descending on them, while even amid the uproar of the elements we could hear the shrieks and cries of the inhabitants who still survived. Presently another immense wave rolled into sight, out of the dense mist which now shrouded the ocean. On it came with a tremendous roar. The first vessel it reached was in a moment buried beneath it. We thought the others would share the same fate, but the cables parted, and they were borne on the summit of the wave high up above the beach. On, on it came. Mr Ringer shouted out to us to escape; and he had reason to do so, for it seemed as if the wave would overwhelm the spot where we stood. Though the water swept up a portion of the height, the wave broke before it reached it, leaving the Princess Royal high and dry on the shore, while it receded, roaring and hissing, carrying off everything in its course. The crew of the stranded ship had good cause to be thankful for their escape. On again looking towards the town, we saw that the sea had swept away many of the houses in the lower part, while the water rushed through the streets, extinguishing some of the fires, and must have overwhelmed all caught in its embrace. Mr Ringer proposed that we should make our way to the barracks, but the ladies were unwilling to encounter the storm, and begged to remain where they were. Evening was now approaching, but the hurricane gave no signs of abating. In whatever direction we looked we could see its dire effects. Not a shrub, not a cane, remained standing. Every tree had been blown down. It seemed as if a vast scythe had passed over the land. The uproar continued as loud as before.
"This is a mighty curious country," shouted Larry to me. "It beats a faction fight in Tipperary hollow. I was after thinking it was the most peaceable disposed part of the world, seeing how quiet it has been since we came out here. Hullo! what's that?"
There was a loud rumbling sound. The earth shook beneath our feet.
"It's an earthquake," cried Mr Ringer. "Heaven forbid that it should increase."
The ladies clung to Mr Martin with looks of terror. Again there came that fearful shaking of the earth; many of the remaining buildings toppled over. Flashes of lightning, brighter than I had ever before beheld, darted from the sky and lighted up the sea. Even the night scarcely added to the horrors of those moments, as far as we were concerned, though it must have done so to the miserable people still within the precincts of the town. At one time the water seemed to recede altogether out of the bay, but presently, as if gathered up in a heap, it once more rolled over the land.
Hour after hour went by, till about midnight, almost as suddenly as it had commenced, the hurricane passed away from us on its devastating course; and in a short time, excepting the roar of the surf upon the shore, scarcely a sound was heard. On this we set out for the barracks, hoping that they had withstood the tempest. Although they had suffered considerably, the larger portion had escaped.
Mr Martin and his wife and daughter warmly expressed their gratitude to us for having rescued them from their perilous position, saying that they must have perished had we not come to their assistance.
"I wish that I had a home to which to invite you, said Mr Martin, with a melancholy smile; but I trust that my house may ere long be rebuilt, and that I may have the means of showing my gratitude better than I can now."
"I shall be very happy to stay with you if I have the chance," I answered; "but I suspect it will be a long time before I again get leave."
The officers, as might have been expected, received us in the kindest way possible. Duffy was delighted to see us. He fancied I might have gone on board, and sailed before the hurricane came on.
Next morning the commanding officer marched the whole of the men down, to render such assistance as they could to the survivors among the suffering inhabitants. I have never since witnessed a more fearful scene of destruction than the town presented. Numbers were lying about in the streets, where they had been crushed to death by the falling masses, many among them being the principal people in the place. In all directions the survivors were rushing about in quest of relatives or friends; while the larger number of the dead lay concealed beneath the ruins.