The roar of guns was heard. It was the frigate which was now coming up with a rattling breeze, firing at the flying junks. The pirates made the most desperate efforts to escape. They cut and slashed away with their axes in the most frantic manner at the grapnels which they themselves had thrown on board the brig, and at the ropes which secured them to each other, and, at length, those who could not free their junks began cutting their throats, blowing out their brains, jumping overboard, or disembowelling themselves, while others, in the madness of their desperation, fired into their magazines, or threw torches into the holds of their vessels, in the hopes of burning their foes with themselves. In this last amiable intention they did not succeed as well as they expected, for as the junks were by this time pretty well separated, though some blew up and some burned, a great number were captured by the boats. The frigate now got up to the scene of action, and her shot as she passed them sank several more of the junks which might have escaped, and crippled others, which the boats succeeded in capturing.
Jack and Alick had, meantime, with half a dozen followers, boarded a big junk, the crew of which made a most desperate resistance. While engaged in driving the enemy overboard, or otherwise disposing of them, the midshipmen perceived that the junk, which had all her sails set, had got free from the brig, and was driving rapidly away from her. They had very severe work, for when the pirates saw themselves free from the brig they made a stand, which nothing but the most determined courage could have overcome. Again and again the midshipmen and their followers charged them. At last the chief, with most of his officers, was killed, and the rest began to give way. The remainder finding this, and knowing that there was no chance of escape, began getting rid of their lives in the way which has been already described, the process being considerably aided by their conquerors, till the last gang of them, with terrific shrieks, went overboard together. As to the English seamen attempting to save the lives of any of them, that was impossible, for they themselves even would not allow it.
"Hillo!" cried Jack, as the last party of them disappeared, and left the deck clear of all but the dead or dying, "where are we?" Well might he ask the question, for the junk had been driving away before the wind, and had by this time got nearly a couple of miles away from the brig. "At all events, we have got an independent command," he continued, when he had ascertained the state of affairs; "and, Alick, I vote we take a cruise by ourselves, and capture some more of the enemy. You and I look like Chinamen already, and we can easily rig out our men in some of the clothes of these fellows, and so I have no doubt we shall be able to get alongside without their suspecting us."
Murray thought the notion not a bad one, and the men were delighted with it, very soon transforming themselves into fierce-looking pirates, pigtails and all, for they very rapidly cut off the latter appendages from their conquered foes.
Their next business was to throw the dead men overboard, and to bind up the wounds of those who still lived; but those who had strength tore off the bandages as fast as they were put on, and were evidently intent on quitting the world. The midshipmen did all they could to prevent them by keeping all weapons out of their reach; but one fellow got hold of a knife and stabbed himself to the heart, another blew out his brains with the pistol which he drew out of his comrade's pocket, and a third, after his wounds had been bound up, and he had a little recovered his strength, took the opportunity of scrambling overboard. If Jack and Alick would have allowed it, the seamen, on observing this, would have thrown the rest of the prisoners after them.
"What's the use of coopering up these chaps, if that's the way they goes for to behave to themselves?" exclaimed Dick Snatchblock, the boatswain's mate, as he caught another fellow by the leg who was attempting to do the same. "Keep quiet you, I say," and he dealt him a box on the ears which knocked him flat on the deck. They now made sail after three junks nearest to them. The whole fleet were scattered far and wide to every part of the compass.
"I wish that Hemming and the other fellows on board the brig knew where we were," observed Jack; "we shall be reported dead or missing."
"They will value us so much the more when we make our appearance," answered Murray. "But, Jack, look at that junk! Her crew seem to have more spirit than the rest of the scoundrels. They do not seem to be in such a hurry to run away."
"They take us for friends," observed Jack. "Perhaps we have got hold of the admiral's ship, and they probably are bound to wait for him. We shall undeceive them, I guess, pretty soon. See all the guns ready therefore and aft. We'll astonish them when they get near us."
The two junks drew closer and closer. They were well within range of each other's guns. Jack was on the point of giving the order to fire, when who should jump up on the bulwarks of the stranger but Paddy Adair. Jack jumped up also and waved his hat. He forgot that he looked like a Chinaman, and that all his crew were similarly disguised. A broadside from Paddy's junk, and a rattling fire of musketry reminded him of the fact. Happily the shot flew high, but he got the upper tip of his ear taken off. He jumped down again on the deck. "What shall we do? We've no ensign with us. How shall we let Paddy know who we are?" he exclaimed. "If he were an enemy, I shouldn't care, but to be shot by one's friends is too bad."
"Perhaps we may find a tablecloth, or some sheets, or something of that sort," suggested Murray.
Nothing of the sort was to be found; and they were expecting every moment that Adair would send another broadside into them, when Jack bethought him that perhaps a pair of white trousers would answer the purpose of a flag of truce. A pair which had been exchanged for a Chinaman's nether garments was run up at the peak, and every other flag was hauled down. This had the desired effect, for Adair did not again fire. As soon as the two junks got within hail, Jack shouted out, "Paddy, ahoy! Paddy, my boy! don't be after blowing up your friends, if you love them."
Terence jumped up again on the bulwarks, and peered eagerly at the big junk.
Jack and Alick then showed themselves, and the two vessels were soon alongside of each other. Very little time was lost in greetings, and it was quickly arranged that they would again start off to secure two or three more junks before they returned. As, however, during the time they had been approaching each other the enemy had got considerably in advance, and as the frigate at the same moment began to fire guns to recall her boats, they agreed that they ought to return. Another reason which had still more weight with them was, that they had several of their men wounded, for whom they wished to get assistance.
They at once, therefore, hauled their wind, but they had considerable difficulty in beating up toward the frigate, till they bethought them of lowering the junks' leeboard, when they found them sail wonderfully well to windward. Before dark the captured junks were assembled under the guns of the frigate and brig. The reception the midshipmen met with on board the frigate was cordial in the extreme. All rejoiced, fore and aft, that Rogers and Murray had once more turned up.
"Well, it's a mighty satisfaction to be lost, for the sake of the pleasure it affords one's friends to see one back again," observed Terence; "and, old fellows, I knew you would come back, somehow or other; I always said so; astride of a dolphin if in no other way, though Harry here and some of our friends would not believe me."
"I am very glad you were right, Paddy," said Jack. "But we haven't done with the pirate yet. The villains have carried off two ladies, and some seamen, and we must be after them."
"We shouldn't lose time either," observed Murray. "We should tell the captain, and get him to send off an expedition at once to search for them."
All agreed to this; so Jack and Alick instantly went to the captain's cabin and made their report. On hearing it, Captain Grant, without loss of time, organised an expedition, which was placed, as had been the former one, under the command of the indefatigable Lieutenant Cherry. Captain Willock volunteered his services, as did his men, and Terence got leave to accompany it with Jack and Alick.
The wounded men were in the meantime removed from the brig; she was furnished with a supply of powder, and fresh hands were sent to her from the frigate. Captain Hemming was then ordered to cruise in whatever direction the boats might go, to render assistance if necessary. He and his officers were glad of the opportunity, that they might inflict a further punishment on the pirates, should they fall in with them. The question now arose as to the direction in which they should proceed. Captain Willock suggested that they were not likely to be very far off, and, as he knew the haunts of the pirates, he undertook to act as pilot.
In spite of the attempts of the pirates to destroy themselves, several had been secured alive and unwounded. Two of the most intelligent, and who seemed most willing to be communicative, were selected to accompany the expedition, and they were made to understand by signs that if they assisted in discovering the prisoners, they should be handsomely rewarded. Their little pig-eyes glittered when they saw the gold held out to them, and there appeared to be little doubt that they would try to earn it. One fellow, however, made a clutch at it at once, and intimated that he should like to receive the reward first and do the work afterwards.
"Catch a weasel asleep, old fellow," said Paddy, who stood by, making a significant gesture, which the Chinaman seemed to understand fully, for his eyes twinkled more than ever, and he laughed heartily, as if he thought his proposal a very good joke.
Jack and Alick, having washed off the stains of gunpowder and blood with which they were pretty well covered, and reassumed their proper uniforms, declared themselves ready to proceed. They laughed at the notion of wanting rest.
"Let us get back the old lady, and the young lady, and the other prisoners, and then we will turn in and take a spell of twenty-four hours at least," exclaimed Jack as he jumped into his boat.
The American master went with Mr Cherry, as did also the interpreter belonging to the frigate, as without him they could not hope to do much. The three midshipmen had each the command of a boat. They all kept close together, steering to the south-east, for which point the wind was favourable. Light hazy blue hillocks, indicating islands, lay away to the south-east. The brig, having caught up the boats, took them in tow and stood towards the islands, till she got close enough in to be visible from the shore. She then cast them off, and they stood in alone. It was quite dark before the boats reached the land. They pulled noiselessly along till they reached a sheltered bay, into which they ran, and brought up under a high, rocky point, where they might lay concealed till the return of daylight should enable them to proceed on their expedition. They had passed several such nights, since they had come into the China seas, and many more on the coast of Africa, so that there was nothing very particular to interest them. One officer at a time and two men in each boat were directed to keep watch while the rest went to sleep. It was Jack's middle watch. It is not surprising, considering all the fatigues he had gone through, that he should be very drowsy. Still, he did his utmost to keep awake. He kept pinching himself and rubbing his nose, and then he lit a cigar and tried to smoke; but, in spite of it, he was conscious that more than once he indulged in a loud snore. His head nodded, too, just like that of a person who unfortunately falls asleep in church. He had kept the prisoner who had been committed to his side. The man appeared to be fast asleep. Jack, in spite of his drowsiness, became conscious that something was moving close to them. There was a splash. He started up. The prisoner was not in his place. At a little distance off a round object popped out of the water. In an instant Jack, giving a loud shout, was overboard and darting away in chase of the man. The shout he gave and the noise of his plunge woke up the people in the other boats, only in time, though, to see the other Chinaman swimming away in the direction taken by his countryman. On this all the boats slipped their cables and made chase, though there appeared a great probability that in the darkness the pirates would effect their escape.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE.
A swim in the dark through waters where sharks abound, and in chase of an enemy who may very likely be armed with a sharp creese, is far from an agreeable amusement.
Away swam the pirate, and after him swam Jack. "If he has a knife, it won't be pleasant," he said to himself. "However, I must be cautious as I get up to him. Ah! there he is. Now, old fellow, what have you got to say for yourself?"
Jack was within about a couple of yards of the Chinese. The man turned his head to look over his shoulder. Jack darted on. At that moment Jack saw an object in the pirate's hand, gleaming from the bright light of a star hitherto obscured. It was a creese. The man turned round to meet him and plunge it into his body; but at the moment he did so Jack dived down, and coming up on the other side of him, caught him by the legs with one hand, while with the other he grasped the arm which held the weapon. His great difficulty was to prevent the pirate from changing the creese from his right-hand to his left. While thus desperately struggling, Jack observed two dark heads close to him, with the most fierce and malignant countenances. The men were probably armed with creeses. Jack expected every moment to feel the sharp blades running into him, when the shouts of his friends alarmed his foes, and they darted away in the hopes of securing their own safety.
Terence and Alick, meantime, naturally felt very anxious for Jack's safety. They shouted loudly his name.
"All right," he sang out; "I have got a fellow, but he is as slippery as an eel, and very hard to hold. Lend a hand here, do."
The tone of his voice showed that he was struggling hard with his prisoner. His friends dashed after him with their boats, but his own boat, of which Needham was coxswain, had already got up to him, and were hauling him and the Chinese on board.
"Look after the other two fellows. They are away there," he shouted, never for a moment losing his presence of mind.
Alick's boat darted after one, Terence's after the other. It was not likely that the men could have got very far; but a black head at midnight on the world of waters is not very discernible. Murray, as his boat pulled on, kept his eyes about him on either side. He caught sight of a head. "There he is," he cried, leaning forward and making a clutch at the pirate. A creese flashed up as he did so, and he got a cut in his arm which was intended for a more vital part. The next instant the man had disappeared; but as his object was to escape, and not to get drowned, he had to come up again to breathe. As he did so, he got his creese ready to give another plunge with it; but the seamen were not quite so green as he supposed, and this time they were ready with the boat's stretchers, and, as he lifted up his arm, he got a blow which sent his formidable weapon to the bottom, and wellnigh broke his arm. This prevented him from diving, and the next instant he was, in spite of his struggles, hauled into the boat, and he found himself lashed with his hands behind him to the after-thwart. There was another prisoner to be accounted for. Terence told his crew not to make a noise as they went in chase. The man was the strongest of the three prisoners. He had taken a circuit, hoping thus to escape unobserved to the shore. It occurred to Terence that this was what very likely one of them would do, and thus before long he caught sight of the man's head, as he swam rapidly through the water. "The fellow swims beautifully," thought Terence, "I'll let him enjoy himself a little longer." The noise made on board the other boats deceived the Chinaman. He fancied that he was not pursued. "We must catch him now," thought Terence, after an interval, and he made a sign to his men to give way, when a loud shriek was heard, the pirate's arms were seen to rise up above his head, and then down he went, like a shot, beneath the waves. Terence shuddered. "Jack shark has caught him," observed one of the crew, and as they pulled over the spot they could see the water still bubbling and agitated, as if some violent struggle was going on beneath its surface. Then all was quiet. The monster had dragged off his prey to be devoured at his leisure.
"I'm heartily glad it was not Jack Rogers," said Terence, as on pulling back he recounted what had occurred.
"Thank you," answered Jack. "It was certainly a terrific risk I ran; but as the fellow had escaped through my negligence, I was determined to catch him at all costs."
How the pirates had managed to conceal their creeses was a wonder which no one could solve, though the seamen declared that they believed they had kept them hid away inside their throats, for they could not have had them anywhere else. After all the noise that had been made there was little hope of concealment, so Mr Cherry ordered the squadron of boats to pull out of the bay and to proceed farther along the shore to the eastward.
Scarcely had they got round the rocky point which had concealed them than they saw right before them a dozen or more dark objects, which, after watching for some time, they made out to be as many large row-boats. They hoped that they were not perceived; so Mr Cherry ordered them to pull back under the shadow of the cliff. On came the boats. It was pretty certain that they were pirates, and that by some means having discovered they were there, their purpose was to surprise them. The guns in the bows of the boats were loaded, as were the muskets which each man had by his side, and the oars were kept out, so that at a moment's notice they might give way after the enemy. As Paddy remarked, "They looked like four huge centipedes ready to dart out on their prey."
The row-boats must have been too far off at the time of the chase of the three prisoners to have heard the shouting, so they probably hoped to catch the British asleep. Mr Cherry was in doubt whether he should attack them unless they were aggressors. They might, after all, be only harmless traders. They glided on pretty rapidly. Soon they had rounded the point, and were making for the spot where the boats had been, when those on board them discovered the Englishmen. They stopped, and then came dashing on towards the point.
"They are enemies," cried Mr Cherry; "give it to them, my lads." A sharp fire of grape, accompanied by musketry from the four boats, right into the bows of the junks, had the effect of arresting their progress. They could not tell how many more boats there might be behind those they saw.
"Reload your pieces, my lads, as fast as you can—quick!" shouted Mr Cherry. It was done before the pirates had recovered from their confusion, and when they once more advanced, a second dose was ready for them. This was given with such good effect that they pulled round to escape. The commanding officer, observing this, ordered his boats to advance. On they dashed, the men loading and firing as they could, till they reached the junks. Then, each boat selecting an antagonist, the seamen leaped on board, and with their cutlasses very soon drove the crew overboard. None of the pirates would yield, and not a prisoner was taken. As some time was expended in this engagement, the remainder of the junks escaped. Where they had gone it was difficult to say in the darkness; but Jack Rogers told Mr Cherry that he thought he had seen them steering for the bay.
Into the bay, therefore, the boats proceeded, and pulled round and round it. In vain they searched, however, and at last Mr Cherry ordered them to bring up and wait till daylight. As soon as it was dawn it was "Up anchor and out oars," and away they pulled again. They had not gone far before they discovered the boats run up on the beach deserted by the crews. Paddy Adair and Jack were for dashing in at once; but the more prudent lieutenant called them back. He first ordered that all the guns should be loaded and pointed towards some suspicious-looking bushes on a height above the beach, and then directed Terence to pull rapidly in towards the boats, and to set them on fire. The other boats advanced more slowly, two at a short distance to the right and two to the left of him.
Paddy was very much inclined to think all this precaution superfluous. "What's the use of it, when we have only a set of ignorant niggers to deal with?" he observed to Jack, as he pulled on. "Give way, lads." He reached the beach—a light was struck. There was an abundance of dry driftwood thrown up by gales on the shore. Some of it was speedily collected, and they had succeeded in setting one boat in a blaze when, from the suspicious bushes, there came a rattling shower of bullets, and directly afterwards some fifty savages, with creeses in their hands, dashed out towards them.
Two of the Englishmen had fallen, and Terence and the rest rushed to their arms to defend themselves as best they could, though they could not help looking round to see if the other boats were coming to their assistance, when from either side so hot a fire was opened, with grape and bullets, on the pirates, that before they reached the boats they wished to defend, numbers were tumbled over, and the rest turned and fled back into the cover. Before he could allow the boats to advance, Mr Cherry had all the firearms again loaded. Meantime Terence continued to set the boats on fire, and performed the work without molestation.
The lieutenant then led the flotilla to a spot where there were no trees or rocks to shelter an enemy, and leaving three men in each boat, he landed with the rest and advanced to the top of a neighbouring hill. There were no habitations in sight, and as it was agreed that it would be worse than useless to follow the pirates, the party again embarked.
The wounds of the poor fellows who had been hit were bound up, and all possible attention was paid to them. Notwithstanding this, soon after the boats again shoved off, one of them died. It was impossible to keep the body on board, and as landing was dangerous, a shot was fastened to the feet, and with scant ceremony it was launched into the sea.
"Has Bill gone?" asked the other wounded man, with a faint voice, "I wish as how he'd waited a bit before he slipped his cable, so that we could have borne each other company; maybe, if I clap on more canvas, I shall get up with him. Howsomdever, I shan't be long after him, and that's a comfort."
For several hours the boats proceeded on, looking into every bay and creek for signs of inhabitants, from whom they might obtain information. At last some huts were seen, and the expedition pulled on for the shore. Mr Cherry and about five-and-twenty men landed, and, the ground being open, marched up towards the huts, carrying the two prisoners with them. One of them was then made to understand that he must go and make inquiries as to whether they knew what had become of the two ladies and the other people the pirates had carried off. The man nodded his head and showed that he fully comprehended what he was to do. While they were speaking, some thirty or forty natives appeared at a short distance off. "Understand," added the interpreter, "you may go as far as that tree, so that you may talk to those people, but if you go a foot farther, you will be shot. Remember that we are not joking." The pirate went on, first very slowly, then rather quicker, then faster and faster. The natives shouted, and he cried out something in return. He evidently had friends among them. He reached the tree, he stopped a moment, then he looked back; the marines, looking very grim with their muskets presented, stood ready to fire. He talked on, then he looked again; the desire to escape overcame all his fears. He sprang forward, but, as he did so, half a dozen bullets were lodged in his body. No sooner did he fall, than numbers of natives rushed out from all directions, and began to fire on the English. Giving the marines time to reload, Mr Cherry called his men to charge, and dashing forward with bayonets and cutlasses, they speedily put the enemy to flight. A considerable quantity of European goods of various descriptions was found in the houses; as this proved without doubt that the inhabitants were either pirates or in league with them, the habitations, and such goods as could not be carried off, were committed to the flames. The fields, gardens, and plantations of every description were likewise ruthlessly destroyed.
"It is a cruel necessity," observed Mr Cherry to his subordinates, "but it must be done. The only way that I can see of putting a stop to piracy is to teach the pirates that their trade will not longer answer." Murray was the only one of the party who was not entirely of the lieutenant's opinion. That evening, when they had returned to the boats, he addressed Jack Rogers. "I wonder now, whether it might not answer to catch some of these wild fellows, to show them the beauties and advantages of Christianity and civilisation, and then send them back among their countrymen as a sort of missionaries. Offer to trade with them, and prove to them that honest commerce will be more profitable to them than dishonest piracy. I think this plan would answer our purpose better than burning down their houses and cornfields." Jack was not quite certain which plan he thought the best.
"Ours is the shortest and most simple, at all events," he observed.
"I think not, because our present work can never end," answered Alick. "As soon as we disappear, piracy will again appear; whereas if we teach the people the advantages of commerce, they will not only no longer rob themselves, but it will be their interest to aid in putting down piracy everywhere else."
"Well, Alick, I do believe you are right, as you always are," said Jack. "But, I say, I hope we shall find poor Madame Dubois and Mademoiselle Cecile before long. What a state of fright the poor old lady will be in all this time!" While they were talking, their boats being close alongside each other, Terence was attending to the wounded man in his boat. The poor man grew weaker and weaker.
"I shall not see another sunrise," he remarked. "Bill won't have a day's start of me; so, maybe, after all, he and I will steer the same course alongside each other." He continued talking in the same style to the last, showing clearly that he had his senses perfectly, but that he was painfully ignorant of the truths of religion. Adair thought that he ought to set him right, but did not know how to begin, and, if he had begun, he felt that he should not know how to go on. The seaman's voice grew fainter and fainter, the pale light of of dawn began to appear. Suddenly he lifted himself up, exclaiming with a strong voice, "Yes, Bill, all right; I'm casting off the turns. Good-bye, shipmates. I'm after you, Bill." Then he fell back, and was dead. Scarcely was the body cold before it, too, was lowered into the water, and as the sun rose Mr Cherry gave the order to weigh and continue the voyage. A pleasant breeze sprang up off the land, which carried them along at a good speed. At noon they turned to dine, still continuing under weigh. A lofty headland was before them. No sooner did they round it, than a deep and beautiful bay opened on them, with rocks and high but not precipitous banks. In the very head of it there appeared a large junk anchored close in with the shore.
"That's her!" exclaimed Jack, and Alick, and Captain Willock in the same voice. "It's the very junk which carried off the ladies."
"If it's not her, it's as like as one pea is to another," observed the American skipper. She appeared to be full of men, and numbers came scrambling up from below. It was evident that the boats were unexpected visitors. A few shots were fired at the boats. On this Mr Cherry ordered the sails to be lowered, and the oars being got out, away they dashed towards the junk, getting ready to fire as they approached. Scarcely had one discharge been given, than the pirates were seen to be making their escape from the junk. Some were lowering themselves into the boats which hung alongside, and others were leaping into the water to swim on shore. The nearer the British drew, the more violent were the attempts the pirates made to escape. By the time the boats had got within fifty yards or so of the junk, the greater number had made their escape, and most of them were seen climbing up the hill, or hiding themselves among the rocks. At that moment half a dozen people were seen on the deck, and it appeared to Mr Cherry that they were about to discharge some of their guns before they made their escape. He was just giving the order to fire, when Jack shouted out, "Stop in, stop! They are not pirates. They are Madame Dubois and Miss Cecile, though they are dressed up like Chinamen; and Hudson and Hoddidoddi, and the rest."
The crews of Adair's and Murray's boats were, however, in so great a hurry that they fired before Mr Cherry could countermand his order, and then on they dashed. Jack was dreadfully afraid that the ladies might be hurt, and this made him also eager to get alongside to ascertain. This anxiety was, however, speedily relieved, by the appearance of Miss Cecile on the upper deck of the junk, waving a petticoat, which she had made do duty as a flag of truce. The whole party were soon alongside. Jack was the first on deck. He very nearly burst out laughing when he caught sight of poor Madame Dubois rigged out in a Chinaman's costume, with her hair twisted into a pigtail, and a little round Chinese hat on her head. Miss Cecile had on the same sort of dress, which Jack did not think particularly became her; indeed, she appeared to him to be very different to what she had before seemed when she was instructing him in French. All this time the pirates were scrambling away up the rocks as fast as they could go. So great had been the panic that they had not even taken their arms with them, so that they could not interfere with the proceedings of the conquerors. Mr Cherry did not think it worth while to follow them; indeed, as they appeared to have treated the prisoners well he did not think that he should do right to inflict on them any further punishment than the loss of their vessel and booty. The junk's huge wooden anchor was therefore hove up to her bows, and the boats, taking her in tow, carried her off in triumph out of the bay. Before leaving, however, Mr Cherry told the interpreter to impress on the minds of the two pirate prisoners that, if they returned to their old habits, they would be caught, and if caught they would be hung, but that if they took to any honest calling they would be protected and favoured by the British.
"Go and tell your countrymen this, and don't forget it yourselves," added the interpreter. The men were then landed, and off they scampered to join their friends; but whether or not they benefited by the advice given them, it is impossible to say. Jack, with Mr Cherry and a few of the men, went on board the junk, when Jack inquired of Miss Cecile how it was she and her mamma had come to assume the attire in which he found them clothed.
"Oh, it was all Mr Hudson," answered the young lady. "He say we must, to run away. But poor mamma, she does look very funny, ha! ha! ha!"
"Your respectable relation has certainly a very curious appearance," answered Jack, not particularly well pleased with Miss Cecile's tone. "It strikes me indeed, young lady, that the sooner she changes her dress, the less ridiculous she will appear."
Miss Cecile, however, did not seem to care much about this point, and continued laughing as heartily as before. Hudson afterwards explained that, having found a chest of Chinese clothes in the cabin in which they were shut up, they had dressed themselves in them, in the hopes that thus disguised they should be the better able to make their escape.
Before night the Blenny hove in sight, and taking the boats on board and the junk in tow, the expedition returned to Hong Kong, where they found the frigate at anchor. Jack and Alick here bade the companions of their late adventure good-bye. Jack was a little sentimental when parting with Miss Cecile, but he very speedily recovered his usual state of feeling when he heard that she was about to be married to Mr Joe Hudson, the mate of the American brig.
While the Dugong and Blenny lay at Hong Kong, Captain Hemming was asked to take a poor young gentleman on board, who had suffered from the climate, and was very ill. A trip to sea might give him some chance of recovery. Hemming, in the kindness of his heart, at once consented, without asking who he was, and promised him a berth in his cabin. Scarcely had the stranger been lifted up on deck, than Jack recognised in his features, though pale and sunken, those of his old schoolfellow, Bully Pigeon. He was placed in the shade under an awning on deck. He had not been there long before he sent a boy to call Jack.
"Ah! Rogers," he said, in a faint voice, "I dare say you scarcely like to speak to me; but I am not as bad as I was. I have been thinking a good deal lately, and a friend has talked to me and read to me, and I have seen my folly. I believe in the religion I once laughed at, and I see that, had I before believed in it, I should have been a thousandfold more happy than I was. I have thrown life away, for I shall soon die; but I am not miserable as I was lately, for I know that I shall be forgiven."
The next day the frigate and brig sailed for the north. They had cruised for about a fortnight, when a steamer overtook them, and gave them notice that war had broken out once more between England and China, and that there would be plenty of work cut out for them before long.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
The frigate and the brig which had the honour of conveying the three midshipmen between them, with the south-west monsoon blowing gently aft, proceeded northward among the numberless islands which stud the China seas, looking for the admiral and the rest of the fleet. They were surprised, as they sailed along the mainland, to observe the great number of towns and villages on the shores and vast tracts of country under cultivation. Several times they fell in with small squadrons of large government war-junks, with heavy guns, gaudy flags, flaunting vainly like peacocks' tails, and stout mandarins sitting on their decks. Some tried to escape, and succeeded, but others were caught, and the stout mandarins either were or pretended to be very much astonished that their vessels were lawful prizes to the squadron of Her Britannic Majesty. They received very little commiseration, for it was well-known that they were in league with the pirates who infested those seas, and that when any grand piratical expedition was about to take place, they invariably kept out of the way. Sometimes they passed among whole fleets of tiny fishing-boats, to be counted by thousands, like shoals of fishes, themselves engaged in procuring food for the teeming multitudes on shore, and giving an idea of the vast numbers of the finny tribes which inhabit those seas. Frequently, too, there glided by one of those roguish, rakish, wicked-looking craft—an opium clipper, fleet as the sporting dolphin, and armed to the teeth, for she has foes on every side; the pirates long to make her their prey, and the mandarin junks ought to do so, but dare not.
For several hours the frigate and the brig lay becalmed close together. Alick and Terence went to pay Jack a visit. While they were on board the surgeon sent to tell Jack that Pigeon was very much worse, and desired to see him. Jack hurried into the cabin where he lay; when he heard that his other two old schoolfellows were on board, he begged to see them also. They saw that the stamp of death was already on his countenance.
"I am glad you are come," he said in a very faint voice, trying to lift himself up. "I wish to tell you that I have at last discovered that I have lived a life of folly. I thought myself very clever and very wise, but I now know that I was an arrant fool. I have often said things which might have done you a great deal of harm, but my earnest prayer is that you did not listen to them. What I wish you to do is to point to me, and to guide all your friends or acquaintances against the horrible doctrines which I took up. They only brought me pain and suffering from the first, and wellnigh destroyed my soul at the last; indeed, I feel that it is only through God's grace and mercy that I have been preserved."
The three friends endeavoured to assure the poor dying man that his pernicious doctrines had in no way made any permanent impression on them, though Terence owned that he had often thought over what he had said, and that it had for some time raised all sorts of painful doubts in his mind which he could not get rid of. Their assurance seemed alone to bring him any satisfaction. The interview was short, for he was very weak, and that evening he died. His schoolfellows felt somewhat graver than usual for a short time; but as he had never gained their love they could not pretend to regret him.
Shortly after this they fell in with the admiral, and the whole fleet sailed to the southward. Once more they were off Hong Kong. It was ascertained that large numbers of Chinese war-junks were collected, keeping out of the way, as they fancied, of the outer barbarians, in the various creeks and channels which run into the Canton river. These channels were narrow and shallow in some places, and guarded with forts and booms, and natural as well as artificial bars. Nevertheless the admiral determined to proceed up them with such part of his force most fitted for the work.
The ships of war had congregated in the Blenheim passage of the Canton river. The steamers, which had gone up to explore, had reported that there was a high hill with a strong fort on the top of it on the left of the channel, and other forts on the opposite side, and that above these forts there were no less than seventy large war-junks. The Chinese evidently believed that their hill fort could not be taken. Had they read the history of the battles of the English, they might have had some unpleasant misgivings on the subject.
It was pitch dark as the various boats of the flotilla collected round the steamer on board which the admiral had hoisted his flag. The screw steamers towed up the boats. The three midshipmen managed to keep close to each other. In silence they glided over the smooth water, some small lights on buoys showing the passage up. It was hoped that they might surprise the enemy, but first a rocket on one side and then one on the other, answered by the fleet behind, showed that they were wide awake.
"The dawn is breaking, we shall soon be in the thick of it," observed Jack. Soon after this, just through the grey twilight, a bright flash burst forth high up the hill, followed by a report, and a shot pitched into the water right ahead of the steamer, and sent its spray flying over her. With unabated speed on she went, and now flash after flash burst forth from the hill, and the shot came hissing and bounding on every side round the steamer: still no one was hit. The steamer was making directly for the fort; suddenly she came to a full stop; she had run on a bar formed by the Chinese for the defence of the positions. The boats ran in one upon another; but the oars were got out, and they were soon clear. The order was then given to land, and storm the fort. A steep side of the hill was left unprotected. The simple Chinese were under the impression that no human being could clamber up it. On went the marines and bluejackets in beautiful style, about to show the Chinamen a thing or two. They reached the foot of the hill. Up they climbed, as if it was no impediment whatever; but the Chinamen did their best to stop them. It was no child's work; jingall balls and round shot came crashing down on the assailants, and stink-pots and three-pronged spears; and heads and arms and legs were shot off, and many a tall fellow bit the dust. Post-captains and commanders and lieutenants went ahead of their men, and the midshipmen followed quickly after.
"This puts me in mind of old days on the coast of Syria," observed Murray to Rogers as he thought; but getting no answer, he looked round, and to his dismay discovered that Jack was not by his side.
"He is hit," thought Alick, and it went to his heart that he could not go back to help him; but duty pointed the way to the top of the hill, while the glance over his shoulder had shown him his old schoolfellow rolling down it. Terence, who was a little to the right, also saw what had occurred.
"Oh, we must go and help him," he cried out; but at that instant up jumped Jack again, and began to scramble up the hill with such energy that he was very soon abreast of his friends.
"I am all to rights," he shouted out. "I put my foot on a rolling stone, and over I went."
Terrific was the noise, the shouting and shrieking, loud above all which arose the British hurrahs, as they clashed up the steep ascent. The Chinese happily could not sufficiently depress their guns, or a shower of grape would have made sad havoc in the ranks of the assailants. Now the marines and bluejackets were near the top. A huge Chinaman stood there, pointing his matchlock at Jack. Murray fired his pistol at him, but missed him. The matchlock hung fire, so he dashed it at Alick's head, and then hurled at them a couple of heavy shot. Terence was springing on, when the Chinaman seized a long spear, and was hurling it at him with an accuracy which might have been fatal, when Jack leaped to his friend's aid, and with his pistol shot their enemy dead. The rest of the defenders of the fort, seeing the death of their brave, grinned horribly, and, whisking round their tails, walked leisurely down the opposite side of the hill. More than one volley from the marines was required to make them run. They were braves selected for this post of honour and of danger. Perhaps they had suspicions that their heads might be cut off when they got back to their friends. The English flag was hoisted on the fort, and some of the guns turned down on the fleet of junks below, with whom not very injurious shots were exchanged. The marines occupied it, while the greater part of the bluejackets descended to their boats, the three midshipmen being among the number.
On screwed the steamers, and on dashed the boats. They were soon up with the seventy junks, which began firing away, most furiously, round shot and grape and langrage; the latter, scraps of old iron, they were fond of using, and terrible are the wounds caused by it. The steamers and the boats returned the compliment. Faster and more furious grew the fire from the twelve guns on board each of those seventy big junks; but one, larger than the rest, lay across the channel: the midshipmen dashed at her; a terrific fire of grape saluted them, but they were already close under the guns when they went off, and the shower of missiles passed over their heads. As the Chinamen were looking out, expecting to see their mangled limbs and the fragments of their boats scattered far and wide, the jolly tars, unharmed, were climbing up the side of the junk, and a few pokes with their cutlasses soon sent every mandarin and seaman leaping overboard. Scarcely had the victors time to look about them, than the prize was found to be on fire, fore and aft. "To the boats! to the boats!" was the cry. The seamen had barely time to obey the order and to shove off than up went the junk into the air with a loud roar, and very soon afterwards down came her fragments rattling around the boats, very nearly swamping them, and wounding several poor fellows among their crews. As the boats emerged from the smoke, the rest of the junks were seen in full flight in different directions, but a great number were overtaken, and as the British got alongside the crews deserted them. In many of them the flames immediately burst forth, and one after the other as they drifted on the shore, they blew up. Some were deserted by their crews before they had time to set them on fire. Several, however, escaped, and vanished up some of the unknown creeks to the left. Meantime, the steamers grounded, and at length the boats alone, with the gallant commodore leading, dashed away up the river in hot chase of the fugitives.
Numbers of junks were passed, deserted or stranded. For four miles they pulled on till they reached a fort on an island in the middle of the stream. There was a passage on each side, but so narrow that two boats could not pass abreast. Above it appeared a fleet of junks. Again the shot came rattling furiously among them. Several boats were struck. Many fine fellows, officers and men, were killed. The commodore's boat sank under him, and barely had he time with his crew to leap out of her, than away she drifted with the body of his coxswain, who had been killed, and a favourite dog who would come with him towards the enemy. Several times was the passage attempted, till at length the boats retreated. Their gongs began to sound, and trumpets to bray forth notes of victory; but the Chinese braves were rather premature in their rejoicings. The boats' crews went to dinner, and while thus pleasantly engaged, notice was given that the enemy's junks were getting afloat. The crews sprang to their oars. "On, lads, on!" shouted their gallant leader. Fierce was the fire they had to pass through, more men were killed, and another boat sank. Still enough remained with which to follow the enemy. The narrow passage was passed, and away in hot pursuit after the still flying junks, manned by a hundred rowers, they go. The junks move swiftly, but the shot and shell go faster. One after the other the junks were deserted, but five were still seen ahead. "We must have them all, lads," shouted the commodore. On they went. Suddenly they found themselves with the junks ahead in the centre of a large town with a vast population. "We must get the junks," again shouted the commodore. The crews cheered in response to his appeal. Their shot find out the junks, and they follow. The wise Chinamen leap overboard and swim on to shore. There were plenty of spectators, many thousands looking out of windows, and doors, and balconies, and thinking that those outer barbarians had become rather bold and impudent. But there was a general in the city, and for his military credit he turned out his army to annihilate the invaders. Seeing this, the commodore landed his marines, whose steady fire on the braves sent them to the right about, and made them march back again in double-quick time. The five junks were then taken in tow, and, very much to the enlightenment of the minds of the citizens, were carried away in triumph down the river. Altogether, upwards of eighty war-junks were destroyed or captured, though for each junk thus disposed of the British lost a man killed or wounded.
The three friends met again in the evening. Greatly to their mutual satisfaction none of them had been hit.
"We have had a pretty sharp day's work," exclaimed Jack; "but there's one thing I hope we shall get for it—our promotions."
"And good luck to the wish," cried Adair, who had just filled a glass with wine. "It's little else I have got to look to to keep me in food and clothing. The last letter I got from my dear friends at home gave me the pleasant information that all the family estates have been knocked down, and that it would be rather worse than useless for me to draw any bills in future on my agents. What the knocking down means, I don't quite know; but the matter of the not drawing bills sufficiently elucidates the subject to my mind."
"Oh, that is a trifle," answered Rogers and Murray in a breath. "We are over well supplied, and so you can't want, you know; and then the chances are that, before long, we pick up a good store of prize-money."
"I know, I know, my dear fellows; I never should doubt you," said Adair, warmly; "but—Well, I'll come on you when I am hard up. But perhaps I shall be settled for some other way."
"If it is a pleasant and satisfactory way, I hope so," observed Murray, pretending not to understand him.
The conversation very soon came to an end by Paddy himself falling asleep, an example which the rest of the party, looking out for a soft plank, were not slow in following. After this the three midshipmen and their men returned to their ships, which sailed away on a cruise to the northward.
The Dugong one day had sent two of her boats, under charge of Murray and Adair, up a river to obtain fresh provisions. Their comprador, or Chinese purchaser, who acted also as interpreter, having landed to make arrangements, the boats proceeded higher up the river on an exploring expedition. At length they reached a pretty, peaceful-looking village, and were induced by its tempting appearance to go on shore. They strolled about for some time, looking into the houses, the natives treating them with perfect civility. At last Murray suggested that it was time to return.
"A few minutes more. See, there is a curious pagoda, let us go and visit it."
The pagoda was explored; and the priests of Buddha were seen burning paper matches before the altar.
"We have had a pleasant trip. These Chinamen are really good sort of fellows," observed Terence; but scarcely had he spoken, than they discovered a strong body of soldiers drawn up between them and their boats. Not a word was said; but as they advanced the troops opened fire with their jingalls and darted their pronged spears at them.
"We must cut our way through the villains," cried Murray. "If we let them press on us we are done for."
"I'm with you," exclaimed Adair. "Charge, lads."
With loud shouts the British seamen dashed on; but the Chinese outnumbered them as twenty to one, besides being all armed with jingalls, matchlocks, or spears. Even Murray more than once thought that it was all up with them. He was slightly wounded, a ball had gone through both of Adair's legs, and he was bleeding much, while four of their men were killed, and two others so desperately hurt that they were unable to walk without the aid of their companions. Every moment they were growing weaker and weaker. Adair, too, was suffering dreadfully from his wounds. "I can stand it no longer," he exclaimed, at last sinking on the ground. "Go on, Alick. Leave me to my fate. If you attempt to stop you will be cut to pieces. See, there are more of the fellows gathering round us."
"Leave you, Terence? I hope not," cried Murray. "Come on, lads; we'll soon put the villains to flight."
Lifting up their wounded companions, the seamen made another dash at the enemy. The treatment which the dead bodies of their comrades met with showed them that they had death alone to expect, unless they gained the victory. The moment the bodies were left the Chinese rushed forward, and cutting off their heads, stuck them on the ends of their spears, shouting in triumph.
There is something particularly dreadful in seeing the head of a comrade, who but a few short moments before was full of life, thus exposed. Poor Adair looked up. "Will my head be soon thus placed?" he said to himself. There seemed too much probability of it. Another man was so desperately wounded that he could not walk. The party, thus reduced in strength, could no longer push on towards the boats. When they halted, the Chinamen became more daring. Back to back they stood, forming a hollow square, like brave men, with their wounded comrades in the centre, resolved to sell their lives dearly if they could not drive back their assailants. Murray was again wounded. He felt himself fainting through the loss of blood. Another man sank to the ground, and several more were hit. Still, loading and firing as fast as they could, they kept the enemy at bay. Yet even Murray believed that it was only a matter of time, and that every one of them would soon be numbered among the dead. Still, by voice and example, he endeavoured to keep up the courage of the men with him. At last he had to tell one of them to hold him up, for he could scarcely see the enemy crowding round them. It was a bad sign, the courage of some of the seamen began to waver, and they looked wistfully towards the boats, as if they would make a rush at them. Great was their dismay to see a body of Chinese hurry down to the bank and begin to fire at the men in them. Their only chance of escape appeared destroyed. At that moment a shout was heard, followed by a rapid fire of musketry; and then came the sound of a big gun, and the peculiar rattle and crash of grape. The Chinese attacking the boats wavered and fled, followed by those between the English and the river; and a party of bluejackets and marines, headed by Jack Rogers, was seen hurrying up from the water. There was no time to be lost. The Chinese might recover from their panic; so lifting Adair and Murray on their shoulders, with the other wounded people, his men carried them to the boats. The Chinamen looked with astonishment at What had occurred, and then, recovering their senses, rushed down again towards the boats; but, though they were too late to get back their prey, they got more than they expected; for Jack Rogers, ordering the boats once more to pull round so as to present their bows to the enemy, a rattling fire of grape was thrown among them, which once more very rapidly sent them to the rightabout.
Considering the number of wounded, Jack very wisely pulled down the river as fast as he could go. He meantime had the hurts of the wounded men bound up. Murray soon recovered, but Adair continued so weak that his friends became very anxious for his safety. Jack told Murray that the Blenny had come in directly after the expedition had started—that he had been sent up to obtain provisions at the village where they had landed the comprador, and that from that personage he had received so alarming an account of the disposition of the natives higher up, that he had hurried on in case they might be attacked. Jack was heartily glad when he got his wounded friends on board the frigate. The doctor looked grave when he saw Adair. Murray, he said, was in no danger. No one could have been better nursed than was poor Terence, and he at length gave signs that he was recovering his strength, and the doctor looked brighter when he spoke of him.
Some weeks had passed, when the frigate and brigs were standing in for the land, a steamer hove in sight, and a signal was made that she had the mail-bags on board. It was the first day Terence had been able to sit up in the midshipmen's berth. Jack had come on board to see him. A long, official-looking letter was handed to each of them, "On Her Majesty's Service." One was addressed to Lieutenant Jack Rogers, another to Lieutenant Alick Murray, and a third to Lieutenant Terence Adair. There was a general shout, and warm congratulations were showered on them. I ought to have said that, when last in England, they had all passed their examination for navigation, having before that passed for seamanship. They were in reality, what were then called master's mates, a rank to which the more satisfactory title of sub-lieutenants has been given. They were appointed to different ships on the station; when in their new rank they performed a number of very gallant acts, which may some day be chronicled for the benefit of my friends. However, as they now belong to a higher rank, I must bring to a termination the adventures of my old schoolfellows, the Three Midshipmen.