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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

For as the palisade is mostly on higher ground than the huts


"That

would be fortunate indeed, sir. Even if two came in together we could give a good account of them, for as the palisade is mostly on higher ground than the huts, we should only have to slue the guns round and give them such a warm welcome that they would probably haul down their flags at once."

"Yes. You had better tell Mr. Glover to run up the Spanish flag if any doubtful-looking craft is seen to be making for the entrance, and I should always keep a couple of signallers up on the cliff, so as to let you know beforehand what you might have to expect, and to see that there is nothing showing that could excite their suspicions, until it is too late for them to turn back."

Doubtless what was going on in the inlet had been closely watched from the woods, for in the evening of the day on which the frigate sailed away scattered shots were fired from the forest, and the sound of the beating of tom-toms and the blowing of horns could be heard in the direction of the plantation whose buildings they had destroyed.

The lieutenant had gone off to dine with Nat, and they were sitting on deck smoking their cigars when the firing began.

"I almost expected it," he said. "No doubt they have been waiting for the frigate to leave before they did anything, as they would know that at least half of those who have been ashore would re-embark when she left. I have

no doubt the scoundrels whose place we burnt have sent to all the planters in this part of the islands to assemble in force to attack us. If they have seen us making the palisade and mounting the guns, as no doubt they have done, they certainly will not venture to assault the place unless they are in very strong force, but they can make it very unpleasant for us. It is not more than eighty yards to the other side of the creek, and from that hill they would completely command us. You will scarcely be able to keep a man on deck, and we shall have to stay in the shelter of the huts. Of course on this side they would scarcely be able to annoy us, for they would have to come down to the edge of the trees to fire, and as we could fire through the palisade upon them they would get the worst of it."

"We might row across in the boats, sir, and clear the wood of them if they became too troublesome."

"We should run the risk of losing a good many men in doing so, and a good many more as we made our way up through the trees and drove them out, and should gain nothing by it, for as soon as we retired they would reoccupy the position. No; if they get very troublesome I will slue a couple of guns round and occasionally send a round or two of grape among the trees. That will be better than your doing so, because your men at the guns would make an easy mark for them, while we are farther off, and indeed almost out of range of their muskets."

The firing soon died away, but in the morning it was reopened, and it was evident that the number in the wood had largely increased. Bullet after bullet struck the deck of the schooner, and Nat was obliged to order the greater part of the crew to remain below, and to see that those who remained on deck kept under the shelter of the bulwark. Presently a sharp fire broke out from the trees facing the palisade, and this was almost immediately replied to by the blue-jackets and marines. The fire of the assailants soon slackened, and Nat thought that it had only been begun with the object of finding out how strong a force had been left behind. Presently two of the guns on shore spoke out, and sent a volley of grape into the wood in which his own assailants were lurking. It had the effect of temporarily silencing the fire from that quarter. This, however, was but for a short time. When it began again it was taken up on the other side also, the party which had made the demonstration against the palisade evidently considering that the schooner, which lay midway between the two shores, was a safer object of attack than the stockade. As the bulwark now offered no shelter, all went below. Two of the men were about to pull up the boat which was lying at the stern, and Nat went to the ladder to take his place in it, when he was hailed from shore.


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