The Hour and the Man Part 2

While waiting for lights, the jalousies were once more opened, by orders from the chair. The apartment was instantly pervaded by a dull, changeful, red light, derived from the sky, which glowed above the trees of the Jesuits' Walk with the reflection of extensive fires. The guests were rather startled, too, by perceiving that the piazza was crowded with heads; and that dusky faces, in countless number, were looking in upon them, and had probably been watching them for some time past. With the occasional puffs of wind, which brought the smell of burning, came a confused murmur, from a distance, as of voices, the tramp of many horses in the sand, and a mult.i.tude of feet in the streets. This was immediately lost in louder sounds. The band struck up, unbidden, with all its power, the Ma.r.s.eillaise Hymn; and every voice in the piazza, and, by degrees, along the neighbouring streets and square, seemed to join in singing the familiar words--

"Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrive."

The consternation of the deputies and their guests was extreme. Every man showed his terror in his own way; but one act was universal. Each one produced arms of one sort or another. Even Odeluc, it appeared, had not come unarmed. While they were yet standing in groups about the table, the door burst open, and a negro, covered with dust and panting with haste, ran in and made for the head of the table, thrusting himself freely through the parties of gentlemen. The chairman, at sight of the man, turned pale, recoiled for a moment, and then, swearing a deep oath, drew the short sword he wore, and ran the negro through the body.

"Oh, master!" cried the poor creature, as his life ebbed out in the blood which inundated the floor.

The act was not seen by those outside, as there was a screen of persons standing between the tables and the windows. To this accident it was probably owing that the party survived that hour, and that any order was preserved in the town.

"Shame, Proteau! shame!" said Odeluc, as he bent down, and saw that the negro was dying. Papalier, Bayou, and a few more, cried "Shame!" also; while others applauded.

"I will defend my deed," said Proteau, struggling with the hoa.r.s.eness of his voice, and pouring out a gla.s.s of wine to clear his throat. His hand was none of the steadiest as he did so. "Hush that band! There is no hearing oneself speak. Hush! I say; stop!" and swearing, he pa.s.sionately shook his fist at the musicians, who were still making the air of the Ma.r.s.eillaise peal through the room. They instantly stopped, and departed.

"There! you have sent them out to tell what you have done," observed a deputy.

"I will defend my deed," Proteau repeated, when he had swallowed the wine, "I am confident the negroes have risen. I am confident the fellow came with bad intent."

"_No_ fear but the negroes will rise, anywhere in the world, where they have such as you for masters," said Odeluc.

"What do you mean, sir?" cried Proteau, laying his hand on the hilt of his dripping sword.

"I mean what I say. And I will tell you, too, what I do not mean. I do not mean to fight to-night with any white: and least of all with one who is standing in a pool of innocent blood, of his own shedding." And he pointed to Proteau's feet, which were indeed soaked with the blood of his slave.

"Hush! hush! gentlemen!" cried several voices. "Here is more news!"

"Hide the body!" said Bayou, and as he spoke he stooped to lift it.

Monsieur Brelle made shorter work. He rolled it over with his foot, and kicked it under the table. It was out of sight before the master of the hotel entered, followed by several negroes from the plain, to say that the "force" had risen on several plantations, had dismantled the mills, burned the sugar-houses, set fire to the crops, murdered the overseers, and, he feared, in some cases, the proprietors.

"Where?" "Whose estates?" "What proprietors?" asked every voice present.

"Where did it begin?" was the question the landlord applied himself first to answer.

"It broke out on the Noe estate, sir. They murdered the refiner and his apprentice, and carried off the surgeon. They left another young man for dead; but he got away, and told the people on the next plantation; but it was too late then. They had reached Monsieur Clement's by that time, and raised his people. They say Monsieur Clement is killed; but some of his family escaped. They are here in the town, I believe."

Some of the deputies now s.n.a.t.c.hed their hats, and went out to learn where the fugitives were, and thus to get information, if possible, at first hand.

"All is safe in our quarter, at present, I trust," said Papalier to Bayou; "but shall we be gone? Your horse is here, I suppose. We can ride together."

"In a moment. Let us hear all we can first," replied Bayou.

"Do you stay for that purpose, then, and look to our horses. I will learn what the Governor's orders are, and come here for you presently."

And Papalier was gone.

When Bayou turned to listen again, Odeluc was saying--

"Impossible! incredible! Gallifet's force risen! Not they? They would be firm if the world were crushed flat. Why, they love me as if I were their father!"

"Nevertheless, sir, you owe your safety to being my guest," said the landlord, with a bow as polite as on the most festive occasion. "I am happy that my roof should--"

"Who brought this report?" cried Odeluc. "Who can give news of Gallifet's negroes?" And he looked among the black faces which were cl.u.s.tered behind the landlord. No one spoke thence; but a voice from the piazza said--

"Gallifet's force has risen. The canes are all on fire."

"I will bring them to their senses," said Odeluc, with sudden quietness.

"I have power over them. The Governor will give me a handful of men from the town guard, and we shall set things straight before morning.

The poor fellows have been carried away, while I was not there to stand by them--but making speeches here, like a holiday fool! I will bring them to their senses presently. Make way, friends--make way."

And Odeluc stepped out among the blacks on the piazza, that being the shortest way to Government-House.

"I hope he is not too confident," whispered a town deputy to a friend from the south. "But this is bad news. Gallifet's plantation is the largest in the plain, and only eight miles off."

A sort of scream, a cry of horror, from one who stood close by, stopped the deputy.

"Boirien! what is the matter?" cried a deputy, as Boirien hid his face with his arms upon the table, and a strong shudder shook his whole frame.

"Do not speak to him! I will tell you," said another. "Oh, this is horrible! They have murdered his brother-in-law on Flaville's estate, and carried off his sister and her three daughters into the woods.

Something must be done directly. Boirien, my poor fellow, I am going to the Governor. Soldiers shall be sent to bring your sister into the town. We shall have her here before morning; and you must bring her and her family to my house."

No one could endure to stay and hear more. Some went to learn elsewhere the fate of those in whom they were interested. Some went to offer their services to the Governor; some to barricade their own houses in the town; some to see whether it was yet possible to entrench their plantations. Some declared their intention of conveying the ladies of their families to the convent; the place always. .h.i.therto esteemed safe, amidst all commotions. It soon appeared, however, that this was not the opinion of the sisters themselves, on the present occasion, nor of the authorities of the town; for the m.u.f.fled nuns were seen hurrying down to the quay, under the protection of soldiers, in order to take refuge on board the vessels in the bay. All night long, boats were plying in the harbour, conveying women, children, plate, and money, on board the ships which happened to be in the roads.

The landlord would have been glad of the help of any of his guests, in clearing his house; but they had no sympathy to spare--no time to think of his plate and wines. As the whites disappeared from the room, the blacks poured in. They allowed the landlord to sweep away his plate, but they laid hands on the wines; and many a smart speech, and many a light laugh, resounded within those walls till morning, while consternation reigned without. When these thoughtless creatures sauntered to their several homes in the sunrise, they found that such of their fellow-servants as they had been accustomed to look up to, as abler and more trusted than themselves, had disappeared, and no one would tell whither they were gone--only that they were quite safe.

When Monsieur Papalier returned to the hotel, from his cruise for information, he found his neighbour Bayou impatiently waiting on horseback, while Henri, still in his white ap.r.o.n, was holding the other horse.

"Here, sir--mount, and let us be off," cried Bayou. "We owe it to my friend Henri, here, that we have our horses. The gentlemen from the country very naturally took the first that came to hand to get home upon. They say Leroy is gone home on a dray-mule. I rather expect to meet Toussaint on the road. If he sees the fires, he will be coming to look after me."

"He cannot well help seeing the fires," replied Papalier. "They are climbing up the mountain-side, all the way along the Haut du Cap. We shall be singed like two porkers, if we do not ride like two devils; and then we shall be lucky if we do not meet two thousand devils by the way."

"Do you suppose the road is safe, Henri?" asked Bayou. "I know you will tell me truth."

"Indeed, master, I know nothing," replied Henri. "You say you shall meet Toussaint. I will ride with you till you meet him, if you will.

Our people all know him and me."

"Do so, Henri. Do not wait to look for another horse. Jump up behind me. Mine is a strong beast, and will make no difficulty, even of your weight. Never mind your ap.r.o.n. Keep it for a flag of truce, in case we meet the enemy."

They were off, and presently emerged from the comparative darkness of the streets into the light of the fires. None of the three spoke, except to urge on the horses up the steep, sandy road, which first presented an ascent from the town, and then a descent to the plain, before it a.s.sumed the level which it then preserved to the foot of the opposite mountains, nearly fifty miles off. No one appeared on the road; and the hors.e.m.e.n had, therefore, leisure to cast glances behind them, as they were slowly carried up the ascent. The alarm-bell was now sending its sullen sounds of dismay far and wide in the air, whose stillness was becoming more and more disturbed by the draughts of the spreading fires, as the canes caught, like torches, up the slopes to the right. Pale twinkling lights, sprinkled over the cape and the harbour-lights which looked like glow-worm tapers amidst the fiery atmosphere, showed that every one was awake and stirring in the town, and on board the ships; while an occasional rocket, mounting in the smoky air, from either the Barracks or Government-House, showed that it was the intention of the authorities to intimate to the inhabitants of the remoter districts of the plain that the Government was on the alert, and providing for the public safety.

On surmounting the ridge, Henri stretched out his hand, and pulled the bridle of Monsieur Bayou's horse to the left, so as to turn it into a narrow, green track which here parted from the road.

"What now, sir?" cried Papalier, in a tone of suspicion, checking his horse, instead of following.

"You may, perhaps, meet two thousand devils, if you keep the high road to the plain," answered Henri, quietly. To Monsieur Bayou he explained that Toussaint would probably choose this road, through Madame Oge's plantation.

"Come on, Papalier; do not lose time. All is right enough," said Bayou.

"The gra.s.s-tracks are the safest to-night, depend upon it."

Papalier followed, in discontented silence. In a few moments, Henri again pulled the bridle--a decided check this time--stopping the horse.

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