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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

It is useless to talk to Biassou


"I

think your proposal a perfectly fair one, Toussaint, and I have no doubt that any one who has, as I have, a knowledge of the situation here, would not hesitate to accept it. But I doubt whether public opinion at home is ripe for a change that would be denounced by all having an interest in the West Indian Islands, and declared by them to be absolutely destructive to their prosperity. However, you may be assured that I shall represent your offer in the most favourable light. I must ask, however, are you empowered by the other leaders to make it?"

"I have talked the matter with Francois, who is wholly of my opinion," Toussaint said. "It is useless to talk to Biassou; when he is not murdering someone he is drinking; but his opposition would go for little, except among the very worst of our people. He is already regarded with horror and disgust, and you may be assured that his career will ere long come to an end, in which case Francois and I will share the power between us. At the same time I do not blind myself to the possibility that other leaders may arise. The men of one district know but little of the others, and may elect their own chiefs. Still, I think that if I had the authority to say that the proposal I have made to you had been accepted, I could count on the support of the great majority of the men of my colour, for already they are beginning to find that a life of lawless liberty has its drawbacks. Already we have been obliged to order

that a certain amount of work shall be done by every man among the plantations beyond the reach of the towns, in order to ensure a supply of food.

"The order has been obeyed, but not very willingly, for there can be no doubt that a portion of the men believed that when they had once got rid of the masters there would be no occasion whatever for any further work, but that they would somehow be supplied with an abundance of all that they required. The sickness that has prevailed has also had its effect. There are few, indeed, here who have any knowledge of medicine, and the poor people have suffered accordingly. When in the plantations they were always well tended in sickness, while here they have had neither shelter nor care. It is all very well to tell them that liberty cannot be obtained without sacrifices, and that it must be a long time before things settle down and each man finds work to do, but the poor people, ignorant as they are, are like children, and think very little of the future. The effect of centuries of slavery will take many years to remedy. For myself, although I believe that we shall finally obtain what we desire, and shall become undisputed masters of the island, I foresee that our troubles are only beginning. We have had no training for self-government. We shall have destroyed the civilization that reigned here, and shall have nothing to take its place, and I dread that instead of progressing we may retrograde until we sink back into the condition in which we lived in Africa."

At this moment a negro ran up.

"Doctor," he said, "there are a large number of our people close at hand, and I think I can make out Biassou among them."


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