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A Roving Commission by G. A. Henty

About the centre of the palisade


had better stay where you are, Mr. Glover, until it gets dusk. You would only be a mark for every man with a musket, up in the trees above us, and, so far as I can see, there is nothing we can do until they begin work in earnest."

"Very well, sir," Nat shouted back, "I will come off after it gets dusk."

Firing continued all day, but died away at sunset, and soon afterwards Nat went ashore.

"This is very awkward," the lieutenant said. "It is most unpleasant being potted at all day by fellows who won't show themselves, but I can't see that we can help it. By the noise and jabbering that breaks out at times, I should think that there must be some hundreds of them on this side alone, and we shall have to wait till they begin in earnest. Their leaders must know that they can be doing us no harm by their distant fire, and they must sooner or later make an attack on us. You see they have a strong temptation. They must have seen that none of the slaves have been taken away, and as there are five hundred of them, and I suppose they are worth from twenty to forty pounds a head, it is a big thing, to say nothing of the stores. Then I have no doubt they are thirsting for revenge, and although they must see that they will have to fight very hard to take the place, they must try without delay, for they will know that the frigate will be back again before very long, and will probably bring

some craft with her to carry away the slaves. So I think we must put up with their fire till they harden their hearts and attack us in earnest. They will make the attack, I expect, about the centre of the palisade, for your guns would cover both our flanks. If we are hard pressed I will light a port fire, and you had better land with twenty of your men, leaving five to take care of the ship and work a gun or two should they try to take us in flank."

"I should not be surprised if they tried to-night. Shall I bring ten of the men on shore at once, sir?"

"Well, perhaps it would be as well. Forty men are not a very large force for this length of palisade and to work some of the guns at the point where they may attack us, and I expect their first rush will be a serious one, and we shall have all our work cut out for us. There is one thing; we can rely, in case of their making a way in, on the slaves. By this time they quite understand that we are friends and that the people who had been firing on us are their enemies, and I believe they would fight like demons rather than fall into their hands again. I have torn up a bale of white calico and have given a strip of it to each man to tie round his head, so that we can tell friend from foe and they can recognize each other in the dark. The enemy won't reckon on that, and will think that they have only a small body of whites to deal with. Do you notice how silent the woods are now? I think we may take that as a sign that they are preparing for mischief."

"The sooner it comes the better. Have you plenty of port fires, Mr. Playford?"

"Yes, a large boxful came on shore with the last boat yesterday."

Nat went off again, and picked out ten men to land with him.

"Get the other boat down," he said to the petty officer. "You will understand that if any attack is made on the flanks of the work you are to open fire at once upon them with grape. If a blue light is burned at the edge of the water ten men are to land instantly. You will remain in charge of the other five. So far as we know they have no boats, but they may have made a raft, and may intend to try and take the schooner, thinking that the crew will probably be on shore. So you must keep a sharp look-out on the other side as well as this. Light a blue light if you see a strong party coming off, and we will rejoin you at once."

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