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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XIV. A Tale of the West Indies

page 62

Chapter XIV. A Tale of the West Indies.

Very well, Miss Jessie, I will relate as near as possible in my father's own words what happened to John Fly.

Well, to begin shipshape, as your friend Davis says, 1 will commence with the Court Martial order which read as follows: 'A regimental Court Martial will assemble in the officers' mess room, at 11 o'clock to-morrow morning, for the trial of No. 1284, Private John Fly, ———Regiment, and such other prisoners as may be brought before it. J. Gardner, Captain ———Regiment.' This order, my father read from the book handed to him by a sergeant of the company one afternoon as he reclined in a grass hammock on the piazza, of the barracks of that 'little military hothouse,' Nassau, Bahamas, vainly endeavouring to keep himself cool by frequent recourse to a glass of iced sangaree, which stood on a chair beside him. John Fly was a cymbal player in the band, and one of the most diverting characters in the regiment. He was a native of Africa, of the Coromantee nation; black as the ace of spades, with a splendid set of white teeth. His features were well shaped, presenting but few of the characteristics of his race, while his nose was not too flat, nor were his lips too thick for those of an ordinary European. He was possessed of a good deal of shrewdness, and page 63would have been invaluable as a corner man to a troupe of minstrels, he was also a prime favourite with both officers and men of the regiment. He had but one fault—an overweening love for white rum, which caused him to be in perpetual trouble, and, on this occasion, was the means of his being on trial on a charge of 'habitual drunkenness'—i.e., three times drunk within twelve calendar months.

On the following morning the officers comprising the Court Martial were, in pursuance of orders, assembled in the mess room. Captain Gardner, one of the senior officers, a fine good-humoured looking man of about forty-five years of age, whose bronzed face bore evidence of exposure to a tropical sun, and also some unmistakable indications of generous living, now entered the room—a spacious apartment, having a large window at the end, through which the prisoner and escort could be seen standing in the court yard, and from whence the interior of the next room was equally visible.

'Good morning, gentlemen,' said the Captain, glancing at the clock, and wiping the perspiration from his forehead.' I see it wants twenty minutes to the time yet. Dear me, how dreadfully warm it is, and the doctor has not come yet. If I'd known I would have been so thirsty this morning I would have drunk more last night. Here, mess-waiter,' he continued, raising his voice, 'bring me a glass of brandy and water. Ah,' he said, after swallowing it and rubbing his hand caressingly over his stomach, 'I feel somewhat better after that. So that poor devil, John Fly, has been making a fool of himself again. Those band fellows give us more trouble than all the rest of the regiment put together, and all through taking too much grog.'

page 64

After chatting some little time longer, Captain Gardner began to get rather fidgety, giving sundry glances at the empty tumbler on the sideboard. At last he said:

'Well, just to pass away the time, I think I will take another drink. Mess-waiter, bring me another glass of brandy and water.

The sea breeze, which in the west Indies always sets in at 11 o'clock in the morning.