Blue Jackets; or, The Log of the Teaser, by George Manville Fenn.
Another very exciting nautical novel by this author, who is a master of suspense. HMS Teaser, a clipper-gunboat, is patrolling the China Seas on the lookout for pirates. At the time of the story she has proceeded up the Nyho river, and is at anchor off the city of Nyho. The teller of the story is one of three young midshipmen, Nathaniel Herrick. A most important character is Ching, the Chinese interpreter, who would love to be much more important than he is. The boys and Ching find themselves in various situations which look pretty terrifying at the time, but the author manages to slip them out of these situations just in the nick of time. One particularly well-drawn scene is where the boys beg Ching to take them to a Chinese theatre, and he decides upon something that he thinks will really interest them. Unfortunately it is a public beheading of some pirates whom the Teaser has brought to justice, but the boys do not enjoy the scene. They realise that if they tried to walk out they would most probably be beheaded themselves, so they have to sit tight.
It's a full-length novel with a great deal of suspense, so there's plenty to enjoy here. NH
BLUE JACKETS; OR, THE LOG OF THE TEASER, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
WE JOLLY SAILOR BOYS.
"Come along, boys; look sharp! Here's old Dishy coming."
"Hang old Dishipline; he's always coming when he isn't wanted. Tumble over."
We three lads, midshipmen on board HM clipper gunboat the Teaser, did "tumble over"—in other words, made our way down into the boat alongside—but not so quickly that the first lieutenant, Mr Reardon, who, from his slightly Hibernian pronunciation of the word discipline and constant references thereto had earned for himself among us the sobriquet of "Dishy," did catch sight of us, come to the gangway and look down just as Double B had given the order to shove off, and was settling the strap of the large telescope he carried over his shoulder. I ought to tell you our names, though, in order of seniority; and it will make matters more easy in this log if I add our second handles or nicknames, for it was a habit among us that if a fellow could by any possibility be furnished with an alias, that furnishing took place.
For instance, Bruce Barkins always went by the name of "Double B," when, in allusion to the Bark in his family name, he was not called the "Little Tanner," or "Tanner" alone; Harry Smith, being a swarthy, dark-haired fellow, was "Blacksmith;" and I, Nathaniel Herrick, was dubbed the first day "Poet"—I, who had never made a line in my life— and later on, as I was rather diminutive, the "Gnat."
One can't start fair upon any voyage without preparations, so I must put in another word or two to tell you that there were two logs kept on board the good ship Teaser—one by the chief officer, and in which the captain often put down his opinion. This is not that, but my own private log; and I'm afraid that if the skipper or Lieutenant Reardon had ever seen it he would have had a few words of a sort to say to me— words which I would rather not have heard.
It was a gloriously fine morning. We had been dodging about the coast on and off for a month on the look-out for piratical junks and lorchas, had found none, and were now lying at anchor in the mouth of the Nyho river, opposite the busy city of that name. Lastly, we three had leave to go ashore for the day, and were just off when the first lieutenant came and stood in the gangway, just as I have said, and the Tanner had told the coxswain to shove off.
"Stop!" cried our tyrant loudly; and the oars which were being dropped into the pea-soupy water were tossed up again and held in a row.
"Oh my!" groaned Barkins.
"Eh?" cried the first lieutenant sharply. "What say?" and he looked hard at me.
"I didn't speak, sir."
"Oh, I thought you did. Well, young gentlemen, you are going ashore for the day. Not by my wish, I can assure you."
"No, sir," said Smith, and he received a furious look.
"Was that meant for impertinence, sir?"
"I beg pardon, sir; no, sir."
"Oh, I'm very glad it was not. I was saying it was not by my wish that you are going ashore, for I think you would be all better employed in your cabin studying navigation."
"Haven't had a holiday for months, sir," said Barkins, in a tone of remonstrance.
"Well, sir, what of that? Neither have I. Do you suppose that the discipline of Her Majesty's ships is to be kept up by officers thinking of nothing else but holidays? Now, listen to me—As you are going— recollect that you are officers and gentlemen, and that it is your duty to bear yourselves so as to secure respect from the Chinese inhabitants of the town."
"Yes, sir," we said in chorus.
"You will be very careful not to get into any scrapes."
"Of course, sir."
"And you will bear in mind that you are only barbarians—"
"And foreign devils, sir."
"Thank you, Mr Smith," said the lieutenant sarcastically. "You need not take the words out of my mouth. I was going to say foreign devils—"
"I beg pardon, sir."
"—In the eyes of these self-satisfied, almond-eyed Celestials. They would only be too glad of an excuse to mob you or to declare that you had insulted them, so be careful."
"Perhaps you had better not visit their temples."
Smith kicked me.
"Or their public buildings."
Barkins trod on my toe.
"In short, I should be extremely guarded; and I think, on further consideration, I will go to the captain and suggest that you have half-a-dozen marines with you."
"Captain's ashore, sir."
"Thank you, Mr Herrick. You need not be so fond of correcting me."
I made a deprecatory gesture.
"I should have remembered directly that Captain Thwaites was ashore."
"Beg pardon, sir," said Barkins, touching his cap. "Well, Mr Barkins."
"I hope you will not send any marines with us."
"And pray why, sir?"
"We should have to be looking after them, sir, as much as they would be looking after us."
"Mr Barkins, allow me to assure you, sir, that the dishipline of the marines on board this ship is above reproach."
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir. I only thought that, after being on board the ship so long, sir, they might be tempted, sir."
"I hope that the men of Her Majesty's gunboat Teaser are above all temptations, Mr Barkins," said the lieutenant harshly. "There, upon second thoughts, I will not send a guard. You can go."
The oars dropped with a splash on either side, and away we went among the hundreds of native boats of all kinds going up and down the river, and onward toward the crowded city, with its pagodas, towers, and ornamental gateways glittering in the morning sunshine, and looking wonderfully attractive to us prisoners, out for the day.
"Don't speak aloud," I whispered to Smith, who was gathering himself up for an oration respecting the first lieutenant's tyranny.
"Because the men are listening, and one of 'em may report what you say."
"He'd better," said Smith defiantly. "I'm not afraid to speak. It was all out of his niggling meddlesomeness, so as to show off before the men." But all the same he spoke in a low voice that could only be heard by our companion who held the lines.
"There, never mind all that bother," cried Barkins. "I say, how would you like to live in one of those house-boats?"
"I call it pretty good cheek of the pigtailed humbugs to set up house-boats," cried Smith. "They imitate us in everything."
"And we don't imitate them in anything, eh?" said Barkins. "Hi! look out, old Chin-chin, or we shall run you down," he shouted to a man in a sampan.
"My! what a hat!" cried Smith. "Why, it would do for an umbrella. Port, Barkins."
"All right; I won't sink him. Pull away, my lads."
"I say," I cried, as we rowed by an enormous junk, with high poop and stern painted with scarlet and gold dragons, whose eyes served for hawseholes; "think she's a pirate?"
"No," said Barkins, giving a look up at the clumsy rig, with the huge matting-sails; "it's a tea-boat."
As she glided away from us, with her crew collected astern, to climb up and watch us, grinning and making derisive gestures, Barkins suddenly swung round the telescope, slipped the strap over his head, adjusted it to the proper focus, as marked by a line scratched with the point of a penknife, and raised it to his eye, when, to my astonishment, I saw all the Chinamen drop down out of sight.
"Yes, she's a tea-boat," said Double B decisively, "and heavily laden. I wish she had pirates on board."
"Why?" cried Smith. "They'd kill all the crew."
"And then we should kill them, make a prize of the junk, and have a lot of tin to share. Bother this glass, though! I wish I hadn't brought it."
"Why?" said Smith; "we shall have some good views from up yonder, when we get to the hills at the back of the town."
"Ain't got there yet. It's so heavy and clumsy, and the sun's going to be a scorcher."
"I'll carry it, Tanner," I said.
"You shall, my boy," he cried, as he closed it up, and rapidly slipped the strap off his shoulder again. "Catch hold. Mind, if you lose it, I value it at a hundred pounds."
"Say five while you're about it, Tanner," cried Smith. "Why, it isn't worth twopence—I mean I wouldn't give you a dollar for it. But I say, my lads, look here, what are we going to do first?" continued Smith, who was in a high state of excitement, though I was as bad. "Start off at once for a walk through the city?"
"Shouldn't we be mobbed?" I said, as I slung the heavy glass over my shoulder.
"They'd better mob us!" cried Smith. "If they give me any of their nonsense, I'll take tails instead of scalps. My! what fools they do look, with their thick-soled shoes, long blue gowns, and shaven heads!"
"That fellow in the boat is grinning at us, and thinks we look fools, I said."
"Let him!" said Barkins. "We know better."
"But what are we going to do?" I said. "I hate being in a crowd."
"Oh, they won't crowd us," said Barkins contemptuously. "Here, hi! you sir; mind where you're going. There, I thought you'd do it!"
This was to a young Chinaman, in a boat something like a Venetian gondola, which he was propelling by one oar as he stood up in the bows watching us, and was rowing one moment, the next performing a somersault in the air before plunging into the water between the port oars of our boat with a tremendous splash.
I did not say anything, thinking that it was a case of running up against a man, and then crying, "Where are you shoving to?" but leaned over the side, and caught at the first thing I saw, which happened to be the long black plaited pigtail, and, hauling upon it, the yellow, frightened face appeared, two wet hands clutched my arm, and, amidst a tremendous outburst of shouting in a highly-pitched tone, boats crowded round us, and the man was restored to his sampan, which was very little damaged by the blow inflicted by our stem.
"Give way, my lads," cried Barkins, and we rowed on towards the landing-place, followed by a furious yelling; men shaking their fists, and making signs suggestive of how they would like to serve us if they had us there.
"I'm sorry you knocked him over," I said.
"Who knocked him over, stupid?" cried Barkins. "Why, he ran right across our bows. Oh, never mind him! I daresay he wanted washing. I don't care. Of course, I shouldn't have liked it if he had been drowned."
Ten minutes later we were close in to the wharf, and Smith exclaimed—
"I say, why don't we get that interpreter chap to take us all round the place?"
"Don't know where he lives," said Barkins, "or it wouldn't be a bad plan."
"I know," I cried.
"How do you know?"
"He showed me when he was on board, through the little glass he wanted to sell you."
"Why, you couldn't see through that cheap thing, could you?"
"Yes, quite plain. It's just there, close to the warehouses, with a signboard out."
"So it is," cried Smith, shading his eyes; and he read aloud from a red board with gilt letters thereon—
Ching Englis' spoken Interpret Fancee shop
Just then the boat glided up against the wood piles; we sprang out on to the wharf, ordered the men back, and stood for two minutes watching them well on their return for fear of any evasions, and then found ourselves in the midst of a dense crowd of the lower-class Chinese, in their blue cotton blouses and trousers, thick white-soled shoes, and every man with his long black pigtail hanging down between his shoulders.
These men seemed to look upon us as a kind of exhibition, as they pressed upon us in a semicircle; and I was beginning to think that we should end by being thrust off into the water, when there was a burst of angry shouting, a pair of arms began to swing about, and the owner of the "fancee shop," whose acquaintance we had made on board, forced his way to our side, turned his back upon us, and uttered, a few words which had the effect of making the crowd shrink back a little.
Then turning to us, he began, in his highly-pitched inquiring tone—"You wantee Ching? You wantee eat, dlink, smoke? Ching talkee muchee Englis'. Come 'long! hip, hip, hoolay!"
A PIECE OF CHINA.
Ching flourished his arms to right and left, forming a lane for us to pass along, and we followed him for the few dozen yards between the landing-place and his place of business; but it was like passing through so much human sand, which flowed in again behind us, and as soon as we were in the shelter of the lightly-built bamboo place, crowded round the door to stare in.
But Ching had regularly taken us under his protection, and, stepping into the doorway, he delivered himself of a furious harangue, which grew louder and louder, and ended by his banging to the door and fastening it; after which he turned to us with his little black eyes twinkling, and crying—
"Allee light. Ching light man light place."
We all laughed, of course, and the Chinaman joined in. Then, growing serious directly, he looked from one to the other.
"You likee dlink?"
"No, no, not yet," cried Barkins.
"No likee dlink?" said the Chinaman wonderingly; and then in a voice full of reproof, "Sailor boy likee dlink."
"Oh yes, by and by," cried Smith.
"Ah, you wantee buy fan, shawl, ivoly? Fancee shop."
"No, no, we don't want to buy anything now," cried Barkins. "We'll pay you—"
"Allee light," cried the man, brightening up, for he had looked disappointed, and he held out both hands for the promised pay.
"Oh, come, wait a bit," I said. "We want you to take us and show us the shops."
"No, no. Shop no good. Bess shop—fancee shop, Ching."
"Oh yes; but we want to see the others too, and the streets."
"Stleet allee full dust—allee full mud. No good."
"Never mind," said Barkins; "we want to see them, and the temples and mandarins' houses."
"Pliest shut up temple. Want muchee money. Mandalin call soldier man muchee, put all in plison. No good."
"They'd better," cried Smith; "why, the captain would blow all the place down with his big guns."
"No blow Ching fancee shop down. Englis' spoken. Good fliend."
"Look here, Ching. Shut up shop, and come and take us all round the town to see everything, and we'll each give you a dollar."
"Thlee dollar?" cried the man, holding his head on one side, and raising three fingers.
"Yes," we cried, and once more his hand went out.
"What can't you trust us?" cried Smith.
"No tlust. All pay leady money. Go 'board. Fo'get."
"Oh no, we shan't," I cried. "And look here, Ching, after we've been round the town we want to go to the theatre."
"'Top flee day to go to fleatre?" he said.
"Three days! no. We must be back on board at sundown."
"No go fleatre—no time."
"Never mind the theatre, then," cried Barkins. "Now then, off we go. And I say, boys, let's have something to eat first."
"Wantee something eatee?" cried Ching, making for a canister upon a shelf.
"No, no," cried Smith, "not that. We want a good dinner. Do you know what a restaurant is?"
The Chinaman shook his head.
"Wantee good din': eat muchee soup, fis', cakee?"
"Yes, that's right; come along."
The yellow-faced man went softly to the door and listened, while we glanced round at the collection of common Chinese curios, carvings, lanterns, sunshades, stuffed birds, bits of silk, and cane baskets which filled the place, till he came back to us with a cunning look, and his eyes twinkling, as Smith said, "like two currants in a penny bun."
"Too muchee men all wait," he whispered. "No talkee talkee;" and, making a gesture to us to be very silent, he led us through the back of his shop into a smaller room, closed and fastened the door, and then led us through another into a kind of yard full of boxes and old tea-chests, surrounded by a bamboo paling.
There was a gate at the end of this, and he led us through, fastened it, and, signing to us to follow, led us in and out behind houses, where we sometimes saw a woman or two, sometimes children at play, all of whom took refuge within till we had passed.
"Big clowd outside, wait long time," said Ching, with a laugh; and directly after he led us along a narrow alley and out into a busy street, which was crowded enough, but with people going to and fro, evidently on business, and though all stopped to look, and some followed, it was not a waterside crowd of loafers, but of respectable people, moved by curiosity to watch the barbarian sailors passing along their street, but paying most heed to me with the heavy glass.
I'm getting an old man now, my lads—the old boy who is writing this log; but it all comes back as clear to my mind's eye as if it were only yesterday: the narrow, busy street, with men shuffling along carrying packages, baskets of fruit and vegetables or fish, cages too containing birds, and all in the same way slung at the ends of a stout bamboo placed across the bearer's shoulder, and swinging there as if the man were carrying curious-looking pairs of scales.
The shops were as bright and gay as paint and gilding laid on their quaint carvings could make them, while on their fronts hung curious lanterns, banners, and signs covered with Chinese characters, all of which I longed to decipher, and at which I was ready to stop and stare, till Ching bade me imperatively, "Come 'long."
"Chinaman no fond love English sailor allee same Ching. Don't know better. Come 'long."
This drew my attention to the fact that among the faces full of curiosity there were plenty which greeted us with a heavy, dull scowl, and, recalling the fact that we were only "foreign devils," according to their teachings, it seemed better to obey our guide, though we were all bitten by the same desire to stop and inspect the various shops and stores we passed.
Ching led us farther and farther away from the riverside, and past enclosures at whose gates stood truculent-looking, showily-dressed men, who carried swords hung from a kind of baldrick, and scowled at us from beneath their flat, conical lacquered hats. And I noticed that our guide always hurried us past these gateways, peeps through which were wonderfully attractive, showing as they did glimpses of gardens which looked like glorified, highly-coloured representations of our old friends the willow-pattern plates.
One in particular was so open that Smith stopped short, heedless of the presence of three fierce-looking Chinamen, with showy robes and long pendent moustachios.
"Look here, boys," he cried. "What a game! Here's the old bridge over the water, and the cannon-ball tree, and the gold-fish pond, and—"
"Come 'long," whispered Ching hurriedly; and he caught our comrade by the arm, forcing him onward as the guards scowled at us fiercely.
"Here, what are you up to?" cried Smith, resenting the interference.
"Take velly much care of Englis' offlicers. Big mandalin live there. Men sword velly sharp—cut off head."
"Bosh!" said Smith shortly; "they'd better."
"Oh no, they hadn't," cried Barkins. "We don't want to take you on board without any head."
"But they daren't hurt us," cried Smith bumptiously. "We're Englishmen, and our gunboat is in the river. I'm not afraid. Why, there'd be a war if one of these men interfered with us. Our people would land and burn up the place."
"No," said Ching quietly. "Send letter to mandalin. Why you men cut off little offlicer head?"
"Here, who are you calling little officer, Pigtail?" cried Smith indignantly.
"Mean young offlicer," cried Ching hastily. "Say, Why you men cut chop young offlicer head off? Mandalin say, Velly solly. He find out who blave was who chop young offlicer head, and give him lichi."
"You mean toco?" said Barkins.
"What's lichi?" I said.
"Tie blave up along post, and man come velly sharp sword, cut him all in 'lit pieces while he live."
"And do they do that?" I asked, in horror.
"Neve' find out blave who chop off head," said Ching, with a queer twinkle of the eyes. "No find blave, no can give him lichi."
"Sounds pleasant, Poet, don't it?" said Barkins.
"Horrid!" I cried, with a shudder.
"Moral: Don't try to peep into mandarins' gateways, Blacksmith," continued Barkins.
"Bosh! it's all gammon. I should like to see one of them try to cut my head off."
"I shouldn't," I cried, laughing; "and he wouldn't."
"No," said Ching perfectly seriously. "Velly bad have head chop off. Head velly useful."
"Very," said Barkins mockingly. "Well done, Chinese Wisdom. I say, Herrick, why is a mandarin like the Grand Panjandrum?"
"Because he plays at the game of catch, catch, can and can't catch the man who cuts off the English fellow's head," said Smith.
"Wrong!" cried Barkins. "Now you, Poet."
"Because he's got a little round button on the top."
"Good boy, go up one," cried Barkins.
"Hallo! what place is this?"
"Velly good place, eatee drinkee. All velly nicee nicee."
"Here, I say, Ching," cried Smith, "gently; any one would think we were babies. Stow some of that nicee nicee."
"Yes! Stow all along inside, like ship. Allee good. Come 'long."
For we had reached a showy-looking open-sided building, standing a little way back in a well-kept garden, with rockeries and tiny fish-ponds, clipped trees and paved walks, while the large open house displayed tables and neat-looking waiters going to and fro, attending upon well-dressed Chinamen, whose occupation was so much in accordance with our desires, that we entered at once, and Ching led the way to a table; one of the waiters coming up smiling as soon as we were seated.
"Now then," cried Barkins, who was full of memories of hard biscuit and tough salt beef, "what are we going to have to eat?"
"I don't know," I said, looking round uneasily. "What have they got?"
"Here, let's make Ching order the dinner," cried Smith. "Look here, old chap. We can have a good dinner for a dollar apiece, can't we?"
"Velly good dinner, dollar piecee," he replied.
"That's right," said Barkins; "we don't have a chance every day to spend a dollar upon our dinner. Go it, Ching. Tell the waiter fellow, and order for yourself too. But I say, boys, we must have birds'-nest soup."
"Of course," we chorussed, though Smith and I agreed afterwards that we rather shrank from trying the delicacy.
Ching lost no time in giving the orders, and in a very few minutes the man bustled up with saucers and basins, and we began tasting this and tasting that as well as we could with the implements furnished to us for the purpose, to wit chopsticks, each watching the apparently wonderful skill with which Ching transferred his food from the tiny saucers placed before him, and imitating his actions with more or less success— generally less.
We had some sweet stuff, and some bits of cucumber cut up small, and some thick sticky soap-like stuff, which rather put me in mind of melted blancmange with salt and pepper instead of sugar, and when this was ended came saucers of mincemeat.
"'Tain't bad," whispered Barkins, as we ate delicately. "Peg away, lads. We're pretty safe so long as we eat what Pigtail does."
I did not feel so sure; but I was hungry, and as the food did not seem to be, as Barkins said, bad, I kept on, though I could not help wondering what we were eating.
"I say, Ching," said Smith suddenly, "when's the birds'-nest soup coming? Oughtn't we to have had that first?"
"Eat um all up lit' bit go," replied Ching.
"What, that sticky stuff?" I cried.
"Yes. No have velly bess flesh birds'-ness for dolla'; but all velly good. Nicee nicee, velly nicee."
"Don't!" cried Smith excitedly.
"Let him be, Blacksmith," said Barkins; "it's only his way. Ah, here's something else!"
I looked at the little saucers placed before us, in which, neatly divided, were little appetising-looking brown heaps, covered with rich gravy, and smelling uncommonly nice.
"What's this?" said Barkins, turning his over with the chopsticks.
"Velly good," said Ching, smiling, and making a beginning.
"Yes; don't smell bad," said Smith. "I know: it's quails. There's lots of quail in China. 'Licious!"
I had a little bit of the white meat and brown gravy, which I had separated from a tiny bone with the chopsticks, and was congratulating myself on my cleverness, when it dropped back into my saucer, for Ching, with his mouth full, said quietly—
"No, not lit' bird—lat."
"What's lat?" said Barkins suspiciously.
"No lat," said Ching smiling; "lat."
"Well, I said lat. What is lat?"
Smith put down his chopsticks. I had already laid down mine.
"What's the matter?" said Barkins, who kept on suspiciously turning over the contents of his saucer.
"He means rat," whispered Smith in an awful tone.
"What!" cried Barkins, pushing himself back with a comical look of disgust upon his face.
"Yes, lat," said Ching. "Velly good fat lat."
Our faces were a study. At least I know that my companions' were; and we were perfectly silent while our guide kept on making a sound with his mouth as he supped up the rich gravy.
"Here, hold hard a minute," said Smith. "I mean you, Ching."
"Yes?" said the Chinaman, with a pleasant smile; and he crossed his chopsticks, and looked at our brother middy inquiringly.
"What was that we were eating a little while ago?"
"Clucumber; velly good."
"No, no; before that."
"Birds'-ness soup; velly cost much. Not all birds'-ness. Some shark-fis' fin."
"I don't mean that, I tell you," cried Smith in an exasperated tone of voice. "I mean that other brown meat cut up small into the brown sauce. It was rabbit, wasn't it?"
"Oh no," said Ching decisively; "no labbit. Lit' mince-up pup-dog. Nicee nicee."
Smith turned green, and his eyes rolled so that he actually squinted; while Barkins uttered a low sound-like gasp. As for me, I felt as I remember feeling after partaking meekly of what one of my aunts used to call prune tea—a decoction made by boiling so many French plums along with half an ounce of senna leaves.
"Oh gracious!" murmured Barkins; while Smith uttered a low groan.
"You both likee more?" said Ching blandly.
"No!" they cried so unanimously that it was like one voice; and in spite of my own disgust and unpleasant sensations I felt as if I must laugh at them.
"Oh, mawkish morsels!" muttered Barkins.
"You feel you have 'nuff?" said Ching, smiling. "Oh no. Loas' suck-pig come soon. You eat velly much more."
"Not if I know it," whispered Smith to me. "I don't believe it'll be pig."
"What then?" I whispered back.
"Well, kid's nice."
"Get out! I meant baby."
"It's too late to say don't," groaned Smith. "We've done it."
"Hold up, old chap," I whispered. "Everybody's looking at you."
"Let 'em," he groaned. "Oh, I do feel so ill!"
"Nonsense! Look at Tanner."
He turned his wild eyes upon Barkins, whose aspect was ludicrous enough to make him forget his own sensations, and he smiled a peculiarly saddened, pensive smile; for our messmate was leaning towards Ching.
"Don't eat any more of that," he said faintly.
"Eat um all up; velly good."
"Can one get a drop of brandy here?"
"Dlop blandy? No. Velly nicee 'lack."
"No, no 'lack! lice spilit."
"'Rack!" I said—"arrack?"
"Yes, allack," said Ching, nodding.
"Let's have some—a glass each," said Barkins; "and look sharp."
Ching summoned one of the smiling waiters, and the order was given. Then for the first time he noticed that we had not finished the contents of our little saucers.
"No eat lat?" he cried.
I shook my head.
"We're not quite well," said Smith.
"Been out in the sun too much," added Barkins.
"Ah, sun too much bad! Lit' dlop spilit make quite well. No eat lat?"
"No, no!" we cried in chorus.
"Velly good," said our guide; and in alarm lest such a delicacy should be wasted, he drew first one and then the other saucer over to his side, and finished their contents.
Long before this, though, the attendant had brought us three tiny glasses of white spirit, which we tossed off eagerly, with the result that the qualmish sensations passed away; but no recommendations on the part of our guide could induce us to touch anything that followed, saving sundry preparations of rice and fruit, which were excellent.
The dinner over, Ching took us about the garden to inspect the lilies in pots, the gold and silver fish, fat and wonderfully shaped, which glided about in the tanks and ponds, and then led us into a kind of arbour, where, beneath a kind of wooden eave, an instrument was hanging from a peg. It was not a banjo, for it was too long; and it was not a guitar, for it was too thin, and had not enough strings; but it was something of the kind, and evidently kept there for the use of musically-disposed visitors.
"You likee music?" said Ching.
"Oh yes," I replied dubiously, as I sat using the telescope, gazing right away over the lower part of the town at the winding river, with its crowds of craft.
"Why, he isn't going to play, is he?" whispered Smith. "We don't want to hear that. Let's go out in the town."
"Don't be in such a hurry," replied Barkins. "The sun's too hot. I say, our dinner wasn't such a very great success, was it?"
Smith shook his head, and just then Ching began to tune the instrument, screwing the pegs up and down, and producing the most lugubrious sounds, which somehow made me begin to think of home, and how strange it was to be sitting there in a place which seemed like part of a picture, listening to the Chinese guide.
I had forgotten the unpleasantry of the dinner in the beauty of the scene, for there were abundance of flowers, the sky was of a vivid blue, and the sun shone down brilliantly, and made the distant water of the river sparkle.
Close by there were the Chinese people coming and going in their strange costume; a busy hum came through the open windows; and I believe that in a few minutes I should have been asleep, if Ching had not awakened me by his vigorous onslaught upon the instrument, one of whose pegs refused to stay in exactly the right place as he kept on tuning.
Then a little more screwing up.
Peng, peng, pang—pong.
Ching stopped, nursed the instrument upon his knee as if it were a baby, pulled out the offending peg as if it were a tooth, moistened the hole, replaced the peg, and began again—screw, screw, screw.
Just a quarter of a tone out still, and he tried again diligently, while my eyes half closed, and the Tanner and Blacksmith both nodded in the heat.
Right at last; and Ching threw himself back so that his mouth would open to the widest extent, struck a chord on the three strings, and burst forth with celestial accompaniment into what was in all probability a passionate serenade, full of allusions to nightingales, moonbeams, dew-wet roses, lattice-windows, and beautiful moon-faced maidens, but which sounded to me like—
"Ti ope I ow wow, Ti ope I ow yow, Ti ope I ow tow, Ti ope I ligh."
The words, I say, sounded like that: the music it would be impossible to give, for the whole blended together into so lamentable a howl, that both Barkins and Smith started up into wakefulness from a deep sleep, and the former looked wildly round, as confused and wondering he exclaimed—
As for Smith, he seemed to be still half-asleep, and he sat up, staring blankly at the performer, who kept on howling—I can call it nothing else—in the most doleful of minor keys.
"I say," whispered Barkins, "did you set him to do that?"
I shook my head.
"Because—oh, just look! here are all the people coming out to see what's the matter."
He was right as to the people coming, for in twos and threes, as they finished the refreshment of which they had been partaking, first one path was filled and then another, the people coming slowly up and stopping to listen, while Barkins stared at them in blank astonishment.
"Here Nat—Poet," he whispered, "look at 'em."
"I am looking," I said. "Isn't it just like a picture?"
"It's like an old firescreen," he said; "but I don't mean that. Look! Hang me if the beggars don't seem to like it. Can't you stop him?"
"No, of course not."
"But how long will it be before he has run down?"
"I don't know," I whispered. "But look, aren't those like some of the men we saw by the gates?"
I drew his attention to about half-a-dozen fierce-looking men in showy coats and lacquered hats, who came up to the garden, stared hard at us, and then walked in. Each of them, I noticed, wore a sword, and a kind of dagger stuck in his belt, and this made me at once recall their offensive looks and contemptuous manner towards us, and think of how far we were away from the ship, and unarmed, save for the ornamental dirks which hung from our belts, weapons that would have been, even if we had known how to use them, almost like short laths against the Chinamen's heavy, broad-bladed, and probably sharp swords.
"I say, Gnat," whispered Barkins, "those must be the chaps we saw at the mandarin's gate. Never mind; we'll ask them to have something as soon as old Ching has finished his howling."
But that did not seem likely to be for some time, and I began to think, as I sat there noticing how the men were gradually closing in upon us, that our position was not very safe, right away from the landing-place, and that we had done wrong in stopping so long where we were. I knew that the Chinese were obsequious and humble enough so long as they were face to face with a stronger power, but if they had the upper hand, cruel and merciless to any one not of their own nation, and that it was wiser to give them a wide berth.
Then I began to think that the captain had been too ready to believe in our prestige in giving us leave to go, and that we should have been wiser if we had stayed on board. Finally, I had just come to the conclusion that we ought to stop Ching in his howling or singing, which grew more and more vehement as he saw that his audience was increasing, when Smith jogged my elbow.
"I say," he whispered, "let's get away from here."
"Why?" I said, to get to know what he thought.
"Because I'm afraid those chaps with the swords mean mischief."
"I say, lads," said Barkins, leaning towards us, "aren't those chaps crowding us up rather? What do they mean? Here, I'm senior, and the skipper said I was to take care of you youngsters. We'll go back to the wharf at once."
"What's the good?" said Smith. "The boat won't be there to fetch us off till sundown."
"Never mind, let's get away from here," said Barkins decisively; "we don't want to get in a row with the Chinese, and that's what they want."
"But they're quiet enough," I said, growing nervous all the while.
"Yes, they're quiet enough now," whispered Barkins; "but you look at that big fellow with the yellow belt, he keeps on making faces at us."
"Let him; that will not hurt us."
"I know that, little stupid," he cried, "but what follows may. Look at him now."
I looked up quickly, and saw the man turn away from looking at us, and say something to his fierce-looking companions, who glanced towards us and laughed.
"There," said Barkins, "I'm not going to be laughed at by those jolly old pigtailed heathens. Here, Ching, old chap, we want to go."
As he spoke he gave our guide a sharp nudge, which made him turn round and stare.
"Do you hear? We want to go!"
"Ti—ope—I—ow!" howled Ching, beginning again.
"Yes, we want to go," I said anxiously.
"Ti—ope—I—ow!" he howled again, but as he gave forth his peculiar sounds he suddenly struck—purposely—a false, jarring note, lowered the instrument, seized one of the pegs as if in a passion, and began talking to me in a low, earnest voice, to the accompaniment of the string he tuned.
"Ching see now,"—peng, peng, peng—"bad men with swords,"—pang, peng—"look velly closs,"—pang, pong—"wantee fightee,"—pang, pang—"you no wantee fightee,"—pung, pung.
"No," I whispered anxiously; "let's go at once."
"No takee notice,"—pang, peng, peng. "All flee, walkee walkee round one sidee house,"—pang, pong—"Ching go long other sidee,"—peng, peng. "No make, hully—walkee velly slow over lit' blidge,"—ping, ping, ping, ping, pang, pang.
The little bridge was just behind us, and I grasped all he said—that we were to go slowly over the bridge and walk round the back of the house, while he would go round the front and meet us on the other side.
Bang, jangle, pang, pang, ping, ping, peng, peng, went the instrument, as Ching strummed away with all his might.
"Wait, Ching come show way," he whispered. And as I saw that the mandarin's men were coming nearer and evidently meant mischief, Ching raised his instrument again, and, after a preliminary flourish, began once more, to the delight of the crowd. My messmates and I slowly left our places and walked round the summer-house towards the little bridge over one of the gold-fish tanks, moving as deliberately as we could, while Ching's voice rang out, "Ti—ope—I—ow!" as if nothing were the matter.
The little crowd was between us and the mandarin's retainers, but it was hard work to appear cool and unconcerned. Above all, it took almost a superhuman effort to keep from looking back.
Smith could not resist the desire, and gave a sharp glance round.
"They're coming after us," he whispered. "We shall have to cut and run."
"No, no," said Barkins hoarsely. "They'd overtake us directly. They'd come down like a pack of wolves. We must be cool, lads, and be ready to turn and draw at the last. The beggars are awful cowards after all."
We went on over the bridge, and, in spite of my dread, I made believe to look down at the gold-fish, pointing below at them, but seizing the opportunity to look out for danger.
It was a quick glance, and it showed me that the crowd from the eating-house were taking no notice of us, but listening to Ching, who had left his seat, and, singing with all his might, was walking along one of the paths towards the front of the low building, while we were slowly making for the back, with the result of crowding the mandarin's men back a little, for the whole of the company moved with our guide, carefully making room for him to play, and thus unconsciously they hampered the movements of our enemies.
The distance was not great, of course—fifty yards altogether, perhaps, along winding and doubling walks, for the Chinese are ingenious over making the most of a small garden, but it was long enough to keep us in an intense state of excitement, as from time to time we caught sight of the men following us.
Then we saw that they had stopped to watch which way we went, and directly after we knew that they were only waiting for us to be behind the house to go back and hurry round and meet us.
At last we had passed to the end of the maze-like walk, and were sheltered by the house from the little crowd and our enemies, with the result that all felt relieved.
"I say," said Smith, "isn't this only a scare?"
"Don't know," said Barkins. "P'raps so; but I shan't be sorry to get on board again. They think nothing of cutting a fellow to pieces."
"Let's make haste, then," I said; and, nothing loth, the others hurried on past the back of the house, where the kitchen seemed to be, and plenty of servants were hurrying to and fro, too busy to take any heed of us. Then we turned the corner, and found that we were opposite to a gateway opening upon a very narrow lane, which evidently went along by the backs of the neighbouring houses, parallel with the main street, which was, however, not such a great deal wider than this.
"Here's a way for us to go down, at all events," said Barkins, after we had listened for a few moments for Ching's song, and the wiry notes of his instrument.
"Yes, let's cut down at once," said Smith.
"Where to?" I said excitedly. "We can't find our way without Ching."
"No; and those beggars would hunt us down there at once," said Barkins. "Won't do. I say, though, why don't they give us better tools than these to wear?"
"Hark!" I said; "listen!"
We listened, but there was nothing but the murmur of voices in the house, and not a soul to be seen on our side, till all at once I caught sight of something moving among the shrubs, and made out that it was the gay coat of one of the men from whom we sought to escape.
"Come on!" said Smith excitedly, and he threw open the gate leading into the narrow lane, so that in another moment we should have been in full retreat, had not a door behind us in the side of the house been opened, and Ching appeared.
He did not speak, but made a sign for us to enter, and we were hardly inside and the door thrust to—all but a chink big enough for our guide to use for reconnoitring—when we heard the soft pat-pat of the men's boots, then the rustle of their garments, and the tap given by one of their swords as they passed through the gateway and ran down the narrow lane.
"All gone along, catchee you," whispered Ching. "Come 'long other way."
He stepped out, made us follow, and then carefully closed the door.
"Now, come 'long this way," he said, with his eyes twinkling. "No walkee fast. Allee boy lun after."
We saw the wisdom of his proceedings, and followed him, as he took us by the way our enemies had come, straight out into the main street, down it a little way, and then up a turning, which he followed till we came to another important street parallel to the one by which we had come, and began to follow it downward toward the waterside.
"Muchee flighten?" he said.
"Oh, I don't know," growled Barkins, who had the deepest voice of the three. "It was startling. Did they mean mischief?"
"Mean chop chop. Allee bad wick' men. No catchee now. Ching velly much flighten."
He did not look so, but chatted away with open, smiling face, as he pointed first on one side then on the other to some striking-looking shop or building, though he never paused for a moment, but kept on at a good rate without showing a sign of hurry or excitement.
"How are we to get on board when we get to the river?" I said, as we went on. "There'll be no boat till sundown."
"Ching get one piecee boat low all aboard ship."
"Can't you keep us in your place till our boat comes?"
The man shook his head. "Mandalin boy come burn um down, makee all lun out. So velly hot. No stay. Get boat, low away."
"How far is it, do you think?" asked Smith.
"I don't know," said Barkins. "We seemed to be walking for hours in the hot sun coming up. How far is it, Ching?"
"Velly long way. No look at garden now."
He pointed to one of the handsome gateways about which a party of armed retainers were hanging, and, whispering to us not to take any notice, he walked us steadily along.
But we were not to get by the place without notice, for the loungers saw us coming, and strode out in a swaggering way—three big sturdy fellows in blue and scarlet, and pretty well blocked the way as they stood scowling at us.
"Look out," whispered Barkins, "ready with your toasting-forks, and then if it comes to it we must run."
"You'll stick by us, Gnat," whispered Smith in a hasty whisper.
"I'll try," I said.
"Keep velly close," whispered Ching. "No takee notice. No talkee closs. Ching speakee."
He said something in Chinese to the men, and led us in single file between the two most fierce-looking, our prompt action taking them somewhat by surprise, and, as we gave them no excuse for taking offence, they only turned to gaze after us.
There were plenty of people in the street ready to stand and look at us, and we met with no interruption from them, but I could not help seeing the anxiety in Ching's face, and how from time to time he wiped his streaming brow. But as soon as he saw either of us looking at him he smiled as if there was nothing the matter whatever.
"No velly long now," he said. "Lot bad men to-day. You come walkee walkee 'gain?"
"It's not very tempting, Ching," I said. "Why can't they leave us alone?"
He tightened his lips and shook his head. Then, looking sharply before him, he hurried us along a little more.
"Wish got ten—twenty—piecee soldier man 'longside," he whispered to me, and the next minute he grasped my arm with a spasmodic snatch.
"What's the matter?" I said.
He did not speak, but looked sharply to right and left for a means of escape. For, in spite of the cleverness of our guide, the mandarin's men had been as cunning. They had either divined or been told that we had made for the other street, and had contrived to reach the connecting lane along which we should have to pass. Here they had planted themselves, and just as we were breathing more freely, in the belief that before long we should reach the shore of the great river, we caught sight of them in company with about a dozen more.
We were all on the point of halting, as we saw them about fifty yards in front, but Ching spoke out sharply—
"No stoppee," he said firmly. "Lun away, all come catchee and choppee off head. Go 'long stlaight and flighten 'em. Englis' sailor foleign debil, 'flaid o' nobody."
"There's something in that," said Barkins. "Right. Show a bold front, lads. Let's go straight by them, and if they attack, then out with your swords and let's make a fight for it."
I heard Smith say, "All right," and my heart was beating very fast as I said the same.
Frightened? Of course I was. I don't believe the boy ever lived who would not feel frightened at having to face death. For it was death we had to face then, and in the ugliest shape. But Smith's words sent a thrill through us.
"I say, lads," he said, "we've got to fight this time. If we begged for our lives they'd only serve us worse; so let 'em have it, and recollect that, if they kill us, the old Teasers'll come and burn their town about their ears."
"'Fraid, Ching?" I whispered; for he and I were in front.
"No 'flaid now," he whispered back. "Plenty flighten by and by."
He smiled as he spoke, and led us straight on to where the four mandarin's men and the rough-looking fellows with them blocked the road, and if for a moment we had shown any hesitation, I believe they would have rushed at us like wolves. But Ching kept his head up as if proud of acting as guide to three British officers, and when we got close up he nodded smilingly at the men in the mandarin's colours, and then, as if astounded at the little crowd standing fast, he burst out into a furious passion, shouting at them in a wild gabble of words, with the effect of making them give way at once, so that we passed through.
Then I heard him draw a panting breath, and saw that he was ghastly.
"Walkee walkee," he whispered. "Not velly fast. 'Top I say lun, and lun fast alleegether."
At that moment there was a loud shouting behind, then a yell, and, turning my head, I saw that the mandarin's men had their great blades out, and were leading the men after us, shouting to excite themselves and the little mob.
"Now lun!" cried Ching. "I showee way."
"No!" shouted Barkins. "Draw swords and retreat slowly."
We whipped out our weapons and turned to face the enemy, knowing full well that they would sweep over us at the first rush, while a feeling of rage ran through me, as in my despairing fit I determined to make the big fellow opposite to me feel one dig of English steel before he cut me down.
Then they were upon us with a rush, and I saw Ching dart in front and cleverly snatch one of the clumsy swords from the nearest man. The next moment he had whirled it up with both hands, when—
There was the report of a heavy gun, whose concussion made the wooden houses on each side jar and quiver as it literally ran up the narrow street, and, to our astonishment, we saw the little mob turn on the instant and begin to run, showing us, instead of their fierce savage faces, so many black pigtails; the mandarin's men, though, last.
"Hooray!" we yelled after them, and they ran the faster.
"Now, velly quick," panted Ching. "Come back again soon."
We uttered another shout, and hurried along the lane to the principal street, turned at right angles, and began to hurry along pretty rapidly now, Ching marching beside us with the big sword over his shoulder.
But the scare was only temporary, the tremendous report was not repeated, and before a minute had elapsed, our guide, who kept glancing back, cried—
"Now, lun velly fast. Come along catchee catchee, and no big gun go shoot this time."
He was quite right, and we took to our heels, with the yelling mob close at hand, and so many people in front, that we felt certain of being run down long before we could reach the waterside.
"And no chance for us when we do," muttered Barkins from close behind me. "Oh, if a couple of dozen of our lads were only here! Why didn't they send 'em?" he panted, "instead of firing as a signal for us to go back on board."
CUTTING IT CLOSE.
My messmate uttered these words close to my ears in a despairing tone as we dashed on, and now I saw Ching strike to his right, while I made a cut or two at my left, as men started from the sides and tried to trip us up.
I was growing faint with the heat down in that narrow, breathless street, my clothes stuck to me, and Barkins' heavy telescope banged heavily against my side, making me feel ready to unfasten the strap and let it fall. But I kept on for another fifty yards or so with our enemies yelling in the rear, and the waterside seeming to grow no nearer.
"Keep together, lads," cried Barkins excitedly. "It can't be far now. We'll seize the first boat we come to, and the tide will soon take us out of their reach."
But these words came in a broken, spasmodic way, for, poor fellow, he was as out of breath as any of us.
"Hoolay! Velly lit' way now," cried Ching; and then he finished with a howl of rage, for half-a-dozen armed men suddenly appeared from a gateway below us, and we saw at a glance that they were about to take sides with the rest.
"Lun—lun," yelled Ching, and, flourishing his sword, he led us right at the newcomers, who, startled and astounded by our apparent boldness, gave way, and we panted on, utterly exhausted, for another fifty yards, till Ching suddenly stopped in an angle of the street formed by a projecting house.
"No lun. No, no!" he panted. "Fight—kill."
Following his example, we faced round, and our bold front checked the miserable gang of wretches, who stopped short a dozen yards from us, their numbers swelled by the new party, and waited yelling and howling behind the swordsmen, who stood drawing up their sleeves, and brandishing their heavy weapons, working themselves up for the final rush, in which I knew we should be hacked to pieces.
"Good-bye, old chap," whispered Barkins in a piteous tone, his voice coming in sobs of exhaustion. "Give point when they come on: don't strike. Try and kill one of the cowardly beggars before they finish us."
"Yes," I gasped.
"Chuck that spyglass down," cried Smith; "it's in your way."
Gladly enough I swung the great telescope round, slipped the strap over my head, and as I did so I saw a sudden movement in the crowd.
In an instant the experience we had had upon the river flashed across my brain. I recalled how the crew of the great tea-boat had dropped away from her high stern when Barkins had used the glass, and for the first time I grasped why this had been.
My next actions were in a mad fit of desperate mischief more than anything else. For, recalling that I had a few flaming fusees in my jacket pocket, I snatched out the box, secured one; then, taking off the cap, which hung by a strap, I pulled the brass and leather telescope out to its full extent, presented the large end at the mob, uttered as savage a yell as I could and struck a fusee, which went off with a crack, and flashed and sparkled with plenty of blaze.
The effect was instantaneous. Mistaking the big glass, which had been a burden to me all day, for some terrible new form of gun, the swordsmen uttered a wild yell of horror, and turned and fled, driving the unarmed mob before them, all adding their savage cries of dread.
"Hoor-rah," shouted Barkins. "Now, boys, a Yankee tiger. Waggle the glass well, Gnat. All together. Hurrah—rah—rah—rah—rah!"
We produced as good an imitation of the American cheer as we could, and Ching supplemented it with a hideous crack-voiced yell, while I raised and lowered the glass and struck another match.
As we looked up the street we could see part of the mob still running hard, but the swordsmen had taken refuge to right and left, in doorways, angles, and in side shops, and were peering round at us, watching every movement.
"No' laugh!" said Ching anxiously. "Big fool. Think um bleech-loader. Now, come 'long, walkee walkee blackward. I go first."
It was good advice, and we began our retreat, having the street to ourselves for the first minute. My messmates supported me on either side, and we walked backward with military precision.
"Well done, gun carriage," panted Barkins to me. "I say, Blacksmith, who says the old glass isn't worth a hundred pounds now?"
"Worth a thousand," cried Smith excitedly. "But look out, they're coming out of their holes again."
I made the object-glass end describe a circle in the air as we slowly backed, and the swordsmen darted away to the shelters they had quitted to follow us as they saw us in retreat. But as there was no report, and they saw us escaping, they began to shout one to the other, and ran to and fro, zig-zagging down the street after us, each man darting across to a fresh place of shelter. And as the retreat went on, and no report with a rush of bullets tore up the street, the men gained courage; the mob high up began to gather again. Then there was distant yelling and shouting, and the danger seemed to thicken.
"Is it much farther, Ching?" cried Barkins.
"Yes, velly long way," he replied. "No' got no levolvers?"
"No, I wish I had."
"Fine levolver bull-dog in fancee shop, and plenty cahtlidge. Walkee fast."
We were walking backwards as fast as we could, and the danger increased. In place of running right across now from shelter to shelter, the big swordsmen stopped from time to time on their way to flourish their weapons, yell, indulge in a kind of war-dance, and shout out words we did not understand.
"What do they say, Ching?" asked Smith.
"Say chop all in lit' small piece dilectly."
"Look here," cried Barkins, as the demonstrations increased, and the wretches now began to gather on each side of the street as if threatening a rush, "let's stop and have a shot at 'em."
"No, no," cried Ching, "won't go off blang."
"Never mind, we'll pretend it will. Halt!"
We stopped, so did our enemies, and, in imitation of the big gun practice on board ship, Barkins shouted out order after order, ending with, Fire!
Smith held the flaming fusees now, and at the word struck one with a loud crackle, just as we were beginning to doubt the efficacy of our ruse, for the enemy were watching us keenly; and, though some of them moved uneasily and threatened to run for shelter, the greater part stood firm.
But at the loud crackle and flash of the fusee, and Smith's gesture to lay it close to the eye-piece, they turned and fled yelling once more into the houses on either side, from which now came an addition to the noise, in the shrill howls and shrieks of women, who were evidently resenting the invasion of all these men.
"Now, walkee far," cried Ching. "No good no mo'. Allee fun lun out. No be big fool any longer."
We felt that he was right, and retreated as fast as we could, but still backward, mine being the duty to keep the mouth of our sham cannon to bear upon them as well as the blundering backward through the mudholes of the dirty street would allow.
That street seemed to be endless to us in our excitement, and the feeling that our guide must be taking us wrong began to grow upon me, for I made no allowances for the long distance we had gone over in the morning, while now it grew more and more plain, by the actions of our pursuers, that they were to be cheated no more. The dummy had done its duty, and I felt that I might just as well throw it away and leave myself free, as expect the glass to scare the enemy away again.
"We shall have to make a rush for it," said Barkins at last; "but it is hard now we have got so near to safety. Shall I try the telescope again, Ching?"
"No, no good," said our guide gloomily. "Hi, quick all along here."
He made a dash for the front of a house, which seemed to offer some little refuge for us in the shape of a low fencing, behind which we could protect ourselves; for all at once there was a new development of the attack, the mob having grown during the last few minutes more daring, and now began to throw mud and stones.
Ching's sudden dash had its effect upon them, for when he ran they set up a howl of triumph, and as we dashed after our guide they suddenly altered their tactics, ceased stone-throwing, and, led by the swordsmen, charged down upon us furiously.
"It's all over," groaned Smith, as we leaped over the low fence and faced round.
And so it seemed to be, for the next minute we were stopping and dodging the blows aimed at us. It was all one wild confusion to me, in which I saw through a mist the gleaming eyes and savage faces of the mob. Then, above their howlings, and just as I was staggering back from a heavy blow which I received from a great sword, which was swept round with two hands and caught me with a loud jar on the side, I heard a familiar cheer, and saw the man who had struck me go down backwards, driven over as it were by a broad-bladed spear. As I struggled to my knees, I saw the savage mob in full flight, chased by a dozen blue-jackets, who halted and ran back to where we were, in obedience to a shrill whistle. Then—it was all more misty to me—two strong arms were passed under mine; I saw Smith treated in the same way; and, pursued by the crowd howling like demons, we were trotted at the double down the street to the wharf, which was after all close at hand, and swung down into the boat.
"Push off!" shouted a familiar voice, and the wharf and the crowd began to grow distant, but stones flew after us till the officer in command fired shot after shot from his revolver over the heads of the crowd, which then took to flight.
"What are we to do with the prisoner, sir—chuck him overboard?"
"Prisoner?" cried the officer in charge of the boat.
"Yes, sir, we got him, sword and all. He's the chap as come aboard yesterday."
"Yes," I panted as I sat up, breathing painfully, "it's Ching. He's our friend."
"Yes, flend, evelibody fiend," cried Ching. "Wantee go shore. Fancee shop."
"Go ashore?" said the officer.
"Yes, walkee shore."
"But if I set you ashore amongst that howling mob, they'll cut you to pieces."
"Ching 'flaid so. Allee bad man. Wantee kill young offlicer."
"And he fought for us, Mr Brown, like a brick," said Barkins.
"Then we must take him aboard for the present."
"Yes, go 'board, please," said Ching plaintively. "Not my sword—b'long mandalin man."
"Let's see where you're wounded," said the officer, as the men rowed steadily back towards the Teaser.
"I—I don't think I'm wounded," I panted, "but it hurts me rather to breathe."
"Why, I saw one of the brutes cut you down with his big sword," cried Smith.
"Yes," I said, "I felt it, but, but—yes, of course: it hit me here."
"Oh, murder!" cried Smith. "Look here, Tanner. Your glass has got it and no mistake."
It had "got it" and no mistake, for the blow from the keen sword had struck it at a sharp angle, and cut three parts of the way through the thick metal tube, which had been driven with tremendous force against my ribs.
"Oh, Gnat!" cried Barkins, as he saw the mischief, "it's quite spoilt. What a jolly shame!"
"But it saved his life," said Smith, giving him a meaning nod. "I wouldn't have given much for his chance, if he hadn't had that telescope under his arm. I say, Mr Brown, why was the gun fired?"
"To bring you all on board. Captain's got some information. Look, we've weighed anchor, and we're off directly—somewhere."
"But what about Ching?" I said to Barkins.
"Ching! Well, he'll be safe on board and unsafe ashore. I don't suppose we shall be away above a day. I say, Ching, you'll have to stop."
"Me don't mind. Velly hungly once more. Wantee pipe and go sleepee. Velly tire. Too much fightee."
We glided alongside of the gunboat the next minute, where Mr Reardon was waiting for us impatiently.
"Come, young gentlemen," he cried, "you've kept us waiting two hours. Up with you. Good gracious, what a state you're in! Nice addition to a well-dishiplined ship! and—here, what's the meaning of this?" he cried, as the boat rose to the davits. "Who is this Chinese boy?"
"Velly glad get 'board," said the man, smiling at the important officer. "All along big fight. Me Ching."
No time was lost in getting out of the mouth of the river, and as soon as the bustle and excitement of the start was over, we three were sent for to the cabin to relate our adventures to the captain, the first lieutenant being present to put in a word now and then.
"The brutes!" the captain kept on muttering from time to time, and Mr Reardon nodded and tightened his lips.
"Well, young gentlemen," he said, when Barkins, who as eldest had been spokesman, finished his recital, "I can do nothing. If you had all three been brutally murdered, of course the Government could have made representations to the authorities, and your families would have secured compensation."
We glanced at one another.
"But as, unfortunately—I mean fortunately—you have neither of you got a scratch, I can do nothing."
"But they were so awfully savage with us, sir," said Smith.
"Yes, Mr Smith, so I suppose. It is their nature; but we cannot punish an unknown mob. We must try and administer the castigation vicariously."
"Please, sir, I don't understand you," said Smith. "Do you mean—"
"Set a vicar to talk to them, Mr Smith? No, I do not. I mean, as we have very good information about three or four piratical junks being in the straits between here and Amoy, we must come down heavily upon them, and administer the punishment there."
Mr Reardon nodded, and rubbed his hands.
"This scrape of yours, though, will be a most severe lesson to me," continued the captain. "It was very weak and easy of me to give you all leave for a run ashore. I ought to have referred you to Mr Reardon. But you may take it for granted that I shall not err again in this way. You can return on deck."
"Oh, what a jolly shame!" grumbled Barkins. "And there was old Reardon chuckling over it, and looking as pleased as Punch. Who'd be a middy? It's like being in a floating prison."
But it was a very pleasant floating prison all the same, I could not help thinking, as we gradually got farther out from the land, over which the sun was sinking fast, and lighting up the mountain-tops with gold, while the valleys rapidly grew dark. Every one on the clean white deck was full of eager excitement, and the look-out most thoroughly on the qui vive. For the news that we were going up northward in search of some piratical junks sent a thrill through every breast. It meant work, the showing that we were doing some good on the China station, and possibly prize-money, perhaps promotion for some on board, though of course not for us.
We had been upon the station several months, but it had not been our good fortune to capture any of the piratical scoundrels about whose doings the merchants—Chinese as well as European—were loud in complaint. And with justice, for several cruel massacres of crews had taken place before the ships had been scuttled and burned; besides, quite a dozen had sailed from port never to be heard of more; while the only consolation Captain Thwaites had for his trips here and there, and pursuit of enemies who disappeared like Flying Dutchmen, was that the presence of our gunboat upon the coast no doubt acted as a preventative, for we were told that there used to be three times as many acts of piracy before we came.
And now, as we glided along full sail before a pleasant breeze, with the topgallant sails ruddy in the evening light, there seemed at last some prospect of real business, for it had leaked out that unless Captain Thwaites' information was very delusive, the Chinamen had quite a rendezvous on one of the most out-of-the-way islands off Formosa, from whence they issued, looking like ordinary trading-boats, and that it was due to this nest alone that so much mischief had been done.
A good meal down below, without dog or rat, as Barkins put it, had, in addition to a comfortable wash and change, made us forget a good deal of our weariness; and, as we were still off duty, we three loitered about the deck, picking up all the information we could regarding the way in which the news had been brought, in exchange for accounts of our own adventures, to insure credence in which Barkins carried about the nearly-divided telescope which had stood us in such good stead.
It was rapidly growing dark, when, close under the bulwarks, and in very near neighbourhood to one of our big bow guns, we came upon what looked in the gloom like a heap of clothes.
"What's that?" I said.
"Chine-he, sir," said one of the sailors. "We give him a good tuck-out below, and he come up then for a snooze. Hi, John! The gents want to speak to you."
There was a quick movement, and a partly bald head appeared from beneath two loose sleeves, which had been folded over it like the wings of a flying fox, and Ching's familiar squeaky voice said—
"You wantee me. Go shore?"
"No, no; not to-night," cried Smith. "We shall set you ashore when we come back."
"You go velly far—allee way Gleat Blitain?"
"No, not this time, Ching," cried Barkins, as we all laughed.
"No go allee way London? Ching wantee go London, see Queen Victolia and Plince o' Wales."
"Some other time, Ching," I said. "But I say, how about the fancy shop?"
"Allee light. Ching go back."
"And how are you after our fight to-day?"
"Velly angly. Allee muchee quite 'shame of mandalin men. Big lascal, evely one."
"So they are," said Barkins. "But I say, Ching, are you a good sailor?"
The Chinaman shook his head.
"Ching velly good man, keep fancee shop. Ching not sailor."
"He means, can you go to sea without being sick?" I said, laughing.
He gave us a comical look.
"Don'tee know. Velly nicee now. Big offlicer say jolly sailor take gleat care Ching, and give hammock go to sleep. You got banjo, music— git-tar?"
"One of the chaps has got one," said Smith. "Why?"
"You fetchee for Ching. I play, sing—'ti-ope-I-ow' for captain and jolly sailor. Makee Ching velly happy, and no makee sea-sick like coolie in big boat."
"Not to-night, Ching," said Barkins decisively. "Come along, lads. I'm afraid," he continued, as we strolled right forward, "that some of us would soon be pretty sick of it if he did begin that precious howling. But I say, we ought to look after him well, poor old chap; it's precious rough on him to be taken out to sea like this."
"Yes," I said; "and he behaved like a trump to us to-day."
"That he did," assented Smith, as all three rested our arms on the rail, and looked at the twinkling distant lights of the shore.
"You give Ching flee dollar," said a voice close behind us, and we started round, to find that the object of our conversation had come up silently in his thick, softly-soled boots, in which his tight black trouser bottoms were tucked.
"Three dollars!" cried Smith; "what for?"
"Say all give Ching dollar show way."
"So we did," cried Barkins. "I'd forgotten all about it."
"So had I."
"But you got us nearly killed," protested Smith.
"That was all in the bargain," cried Barkins. "Well, I say he came out well, and I shall give him two dollars, though I am getting precious short."
"Flee dollar," said Ching firmly. Then, shaking his head, he counted upon his fingers, "One, two, flee."
"It's all right, Ching," I said. "Two dollars apiece. Come on, Blacksmith." I took out my two dollars. "Come, Tanner."
"No, no," cried Ching; "tanner tickpence; two dollar tickpence won't do. Flee dollar."
"It's all right," I said, and I held out my hand for my messmates' contributions, afterward placing the six dollars in the Chinaman's hand.
His long-nailed fingers closed over the double amount, and he looked from one to the other as if he did not comprehend. Then he unwillingly divided the sum.
"No light," he said. "Flee dollar."
"The other for the fight," I said, feeling pleased to have met a Chinaman who was not dishonest and grasping.
"You wantee 'nother fight morrow?" he said, looking at me sharply. "Don't know. Not aflaid."
"No, no; you don't understand," I cried, laughing. "We give you six dollars instead of three."
Ching nodded, and the silver money disappeared up his sleeve. Then his body writhed a little, and the arm and hand appeared again in the loose sleeve.
"Sailor boy 'teal Ching dollar?"
"Oh no," I said confidently.
"No pullee tail?"
"Ah, that I can't answer for," I said. "Twist it up tightly."
"To be sure," said Barkins. "It don't do to put temptation in the poor fellows' way. I'm afraid," he continued, "that if I saw that hanging out of a hammock I should be obliged to have a tug."
Ching nodded, and stole away again into the darkness, for night had fallen now, and we were beginning to feel the waves dancing under us.
An hour later I was in my cot fast asleep, and dreaming of fierce-looking Chinamen in showy-patterned coats making cuts at me with big swords, which were too blunt to cut, but which gave me plenty of pain, and this continued more or less all night. In the morning I knew the reason why, my left side was severely bruised, and for the next few days I could not move about without a reminder of the terrible cut the mandarin's retainer had made at me with his sword.
CHING HAS IDEAS.
Week had passed, during which we had cruised here and there, in the hope of falling in with the pirates. Once in the right waters, it did not much signify which course we took, for we were as likely to come across them sailing north as south. So our coal was saved, and we kept steadily along under canvas.
But fortune seemed to be still against us, and though we boarded junk after junk, there was not one of which the slightest suspicion could be entertained; and their masters, as soon as they realised what our mission was, were only too eager to afford us every information they could.
Unfortunately, they could give us none of any value. They could only tell us about divers acts of horrible cruelty committed here and there within the past few months, but could not point out where the pirates were likely to be found.
Ching, in spite of some rough weather, had never been obliged to leave the deck, and had proved to be so valuable an acquisition, that he was informed that he would have a certain rate of pay as interpreter while he stayed on board; and as soon as he was made aware of this, he strutted up to me and told me the news.
"Captain makee interpleter and have lot dollar. Muchee better keepee fancee shop."
This was after, at my suggestion to Mr Reardon, he had been sent out in one of the boats to board a big junk, and from that time it became a matter of course that when a boat was piped away, Ching's pigtail was seen flying out nearly horizontally in his eagerness to be first in the stern-sheets.
But it was always the same. The boat came back with Ching looking disappointed, and his yellow forehead ploughed with parallel lines.
"Ching know," he said to me one evening mysteriously.
"Know what?" I said.
"Plenty pilate boat hide away in island. No come while big ship Teasler here."
"Oh, wait a bit," I said; "we shall catch them yet."
"No, catchee," he said despondently. "Pilate velly cunning. See Queen Victolia ship say big gun go bang. 'Top away."
"But where do you think they hide?"
"Evelywhere," he said. "Plentee liver, plenty cleek, plenty hide away."
"Then we shall never catch them?" I said.
"Ching wantee catchee, wantee plenty money; but pilate won't come. Pilate 'flaid."
"And I suppose, as soon as we go away, they'll come out and attack the first merchantman that comes along the coast."
"Yes," said Ching coolly; "cut allee boy float, settee fire junk, burnee ship."
"Then what's to be done?" I said. "It's very disappointing."
"Ching go back fancee shop; no catchee pilate, no plize-money."
"Oh, but we shall drop upon them some day."
"No dlop upon pilate. Ching not captain. Ching catchee."
"How?" I said.
"Take big ship back to liver. Put big gun, put jolly sailor 'board two big junk, and go sail 'bout. Pilate come thinkee catchee plenty silk, plenty tea. Come aboard junk. Jolly sailor chop head off, and no more pilate."
"That sounds well, Ching," I said; "but I don't think we could do that."
"No catchee pilate?" he said. "Ching velly tire. No good, velly hungry; wantee go back fancee shop."
I thought a good deal about what the Chinaman had said, for it was weary, dispiriting work this overhauling every vessel we saw that seemed likely to be our enemy. It was dangerous work, too, for the narrow sea was foul with reefs; but our information had been that it was in the neighbourhood of the many islands off Formosa that the piratical junks had their nest, and the risk had to be run for the sake of the possible capture to be made.
"Ching says he wants to get back to the fancee shop," sad Smith one morning. "So do I, for I'm sick of this dreary work. Why, I'd rather have another of our days ashore."
"Not you," I said. "But I say, look here, I haven't spoke about it before, but Ching says—hi, Tanner, come here!"
"That he doesn't," cried Smith.
"Hallo! what is it?" said Barkins, whom I had hailed, and he came over from the port side of the deck.
"I was going to tell Blacksmith what Ching says. You may as well hear too."
"Don't want to. I know."
"What! has he been saying to you—"
"No, not again."
"What did he say?"
"Ti-ope-I-ow!" cried Barkins, imitating the Chinaman's high falsetto, and then striking imaginary strings of a guitar-like instrument. "Peng—peng-peng."
"I say, don't fool," I cried angrily.
"Gnat!" said Barkins sharply, "you're a miserably-impudent little scrub of a skeeter, and presume upon your size to say insolent things to your elders."
"No, I don't," I said shortly.
"Yes, you do, sir. You called me a fool just now."
"If you contradict me, I'll punch your miserable little head, sir. No, I won't, I'll make Blacksmith do it; his fists are a size smaller than mine."
"Be quiet, Tanner!" cried Smith; "he knows something. Now, then, Gnat: what does Ching say?"
"That we shall never catch the pirates, because they won't come out when the gunboat is here."
"Well, there's something in that. Tell Mr Reardon."
"Is it worth while? He says we ought to arm a couple of junks, and wait for the pirates to come out and attack us."
"Ching's Christian name ought to be Solomon," said Smith.
"Thanky wisdom teeth," said Barkins sarcastically. "I say, Gnat, he's quite right. They'd be fools if they did come out to be sunk. I daresay they're watching us all the time somewhere or other from one of the little fishing-boats we see put out."
"Well, young gentlemen," said a sharp voice behind us; "this is contrary to dishipline. You can find something better to do than gossiping."
"Beg pardon, sir, we are not gossiping," said Barkins. "We were discussing the point."
"Oh, indeed," said the first lieutenant sarcastically; "then have the goodness to—"
Barkins saw breakers ahead, and hastened to say—
"The Chinaman says, sir—"
"Don't tell me what the Chinaman says, sir!" cried the lieutenant fiercely.
"But it was about the pirates, sir."
"Eh? What?" cried our superior officer, suddenly changing his tone. "Has he some idea?"
"Yes, sir. No, sir."
"Mr Barkins! What do you mean, sir?"
"He thinks we shall never catch them, sir," stammered my messmate, who could see punishment writ large in the lieutenant's face.
"Confound the Chinaman, sir!" roared the lieutenant. "So do I; so does Captain Thwaites."
He spoke so loudly that this gentleman heard him from where he was slowly marching up and down, talking to the marine officer, and he turned and came towards us.
"In trouble, young gentlemen?" he said quietly. "Pray what does Captain Thwaites?" he added, turning to the chief officer.
"I beg your pardon, sir. I was a little exasperated. These young gentlemen, upon my reproving them for idling, have hatched up a cock-and-bull story—at least Mr Barkins has."
"I beg pardon, sir; it was not a—not a—not a—"
"Cock-and-bull story, Mr Herrick," said the captain, smiling at my confusion, for I had rushed into the gap. "Then pray what was it?"
I told him all that Ching had said, and the captain nodded his head again and again as I went on.
"Yes," he said at last, "I'm afraid he is right, Reardon. It is worth thinking about. What do you say to my sending you and Mr Brooke in a couple of junks?"
They walked off together, and we heard no more.
"Oh, how I should like to punch old Dishy's head!" said Barkins between his teeth.
"Don't take any notice," said Smith; "it's only because he can't get a chance to sink a pirate. I don't believe there's one anywhere about the blessed coast."
"Sail ho!" cried the man at the mast-head, and all was excitement on the instant, for after all the strange sail might prove to be a pirate.
"Away on the weather bow, sir, under the land!" cried the man in answer to hails from the deck; and then, before glasses could be adjusted and brought to bear, he shouted—
"She's ashore, sir—a barque—fore—topmast gone, and—she's afire."
The Teaser's course was altered directly, and, helped by a favouring breeze, we ran down rapidly towards the wreck, which proved to be sending up a thin column of smoke, and soon after this was visible from the deck.
MY FIRST HORROR.
I was in a great state of excitement, and stood watching the vessel through my spyglass, longing for the distance to be got over and what promised to be a mystery examined. For a wreck was possible and a fire at sea equally so, but a ship ashore and burning seemed to be such an anomaly that the officers all looked as if they felt that we were on the high road to something exciting at last.
In fact, we had been so long on the station for the purpose of checking piracy, but doing nothing save overhaul inoffensive junks, that we were all heartily sick of our task. For it was not, as Smith said, as if we were always in some port where we could study the manners and customs of the Chinese, but for ever knocking about wild-goose chasing and never getting a goose.
"Plenty on board," cried Barkins. "I say, Gnat, isn't he a humbug? Ha, ha! Study the manners and customs! Stuffing himself with Chinese sweets and hankering after puppy-pie, like the bargees on the Thames."
"Oh, does he?" cried Smith. "Who ate the fricassee of rats?"
"Oh, bother all that!" I said. "Here, Blacksmith, lend me your glass a minute; it's stronger than mine."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Barkins. "His! The wapping whacker! Why, it's a miserable slopshop second-hand thing. You should have had mine. That was something like, before you spoiled it."
"Here you are," said Smith, lending me his glass. "It's worth a dozen of his old blunderbuss."
I took the glass and had a good long inspection of the large barque, which lay heeled over on the outlying reef of one of the many islands, and could distinctly see the fine curl of smoke rising up from the deck somewhere about the forecastle.
"Make out any one on board, Mr Herrick?" said a sharp voice behind me, and I started round, to find that my companions had gone forward, and the first lieutenant was behind me with his spyglass under his arm and his face very eager and stern.
"No, sir; not a soul."
"No more can I," my lad. "Your eyes are younger and sharper than mine. Look again. Do the bulwarks seem shattered?"
I took a long look.
"No, sir," I said. "Everything seems quite right except the fore-topmast, which has snapped off, and is hanging in a tangle down to the deck."
"But the fire?"
"That only looks, sir, as if they'd got a stove in the forecastle, and had just lit the fire with plenty of smoky coal."
"Hah! That's all I can make out. We've come to something at last, Mr Herrick."
"Think so, sir?" I said respectfully.
"Sure of it, my lad;" and he walked off to join the captain, while just then Ching came up softly and pointed forward.
"Big ship," he said. "Pilate; all afire."
"Hallo, Gnat, what does the first luff say?" asked Barkins, who joined us then.
"Thinks it's a vessel cast ashore by the pirates."
"Maybe. I should say it's one got on the reef from bad seamanship."
"And want of a Tanner on board to set them right," said Smith.
"Skipper's coming," whispered Barkins; and we separated.
For the next hour all was eager watchfulness on board, as we approached very slowly, shortening sail, and with two men in the chains heaving the lead on account of the hidden reefs and shoals off some of the islands. But, as we approached, nothing more could be made out till the man aloft hailed the deck, and announced that he could read the name on the stern, Dunstaffnage, Glasgow. Another hour passed, during which the island, a couple of miles beyond, was swept by glass after glass, and tree and hill examined, but there was no sign of signal on tree or hill. All was bare, chilly, and repellent there, and we felt that the crew of the vessel could not have taken refuge ashore.
At last the crew of a boat was piped away, and, as I was gazing longingly at the men getting in under the command of Mr Brooke, a quiet, gentlemanly fellow, our junior lieutenant, Mr Reardon said, as he caught my eye—
I did not wait for a second order, you may be sure, but sprang in, and as the Teaser was thrown up in the wind with her sails flapping, it being deemed unsafe to go any nearer to the barque, the little wheels chirrupped, and down we went, to sit the next moment lightly upon a good-sized wave which rose up as if to receive us; the falls were cast off, the oars dropped, and the next minute we glided away towards the stranded vessel.
"Quite a treat to get a bit of an adventure, eh Herrick?" said Mr Brooke.
"Yes, sir. Been slow enough lately."
"Oh, you need not grumble, my lad. You did have one good adventure. By the way, how are your sore ribs?"
"My ribs, sir? Oh, I had forgotten all about them. But do you think this is the work of pirates, or that the ship has run ashore?"
"I'm not sure, my lad, but we shall soon know."
We sat watching the fine well-built barque, as the men pulled lustily at their oars, making the water flash and the distance grow shorter. Then all at once my companion said shortly—
"Where, where?" I said eagerly, and my hand went to my dirk.
Mr Brooke laughed, and I saw all the men showing their teeth.
"No, no, my lad," he said. "I meant this was the work of pirates."
"How do you know, sir?"
"Look at those ropes and sheets hanging loose. They have been cut. The barque has not been in a storm either. She has just gone on to the rocks and the fore-topmast evidently snapped with the shock."
"And the smoke? Is that from the forecastle?"
He shook his head, and stood up in the boat, after handing me the lines, while he remained scanning the vessel attentively.
"Hail her, Jones," he said to the bowman; and the man jumped up, put his hands to his mouth, and roared out, "Ship ahoy!"
This again and again, but all was silent; and a curious feeling of awe crept over me as I gazed at the barque lying there on the reef as if it were dead, while the column of smoke, which now looked much bigger, twisted and writhed as it rolled over and over up from just abaft the broken foremast.
"Steady," cried the lieutenant; "the water's getting shoal. Keep a good look-out forward, Jones."
For all at once the water in front of us, from being smooth and oily, suddenly became agitated, and I saw that we had startled and were driving before us a shoal of good-sized fish, some of which, in their eagerness to escape, sprang out of the water and fell back with a splash.
"Plenty yet, sir," said the man in the bows, standing up now with the boat-hook. "Good fathom under us."
"Right. Steady, my lads."
We were only about a hundred yards from the barque now, and the water deepened again, showing that we had been crossing a reef; but the bottom was still visible, as I glanced once over the side, but only for a moment, for there was a peculiar saddening attraction about the silent ship, and I don't know how it was, but I felt as if I was going to see something dreadful.
Under the lieutenant's directions, I steered the boat so that we glided round to the other side, passing under the stern, and then ran alongside, with the bulwarks hanging over towards us, and made out that the vessel had evidently been in fairly deep water close by, and had been run on to the rocks where two reefs met and closed-in a deep channel.
How are we going to get on board? I asked myself, as I looked upward; but I was soon made aware of that, for right forward there was a quantity of the top-hamper of the broken mast with a couple of the square sails awash, so that there was no difficulty about scrambling up.
"I don't think there is any one on board, Herrick," said Mr Brooke, "but sailors should always be on the qui vive. Stay in the boat, if you like."
"I don't like, sir," I said, as soon as he had given orders to four men to follow us, and the next minute we were climbing up to stand upon the deck.
"No doubt about it," said Mr Brooke through his teeth. "She has been plundered, and then left to drift ashore or to burn."
For there from the forehold curled up the pillar of smoke we had seen, and a dull crackling noise came up, telling that, though slowly, the fire was steadily burning.
We could not see much below for the smoke, and Mr Brooke led the way forward to the forecastle hatch, which lay open.
"Below! Any one there?" cried my officer, but all was silent as the grave.
One of the men looked at him eagerly.
"Yes, jump down."
The man lowered himself down into the dark forecastle, and made a quick inspection.
"Any one there?"
"No, sir. Place clear and the men's kits all gone."
We went aft, to find the hatches all off and thrown about anyhow, while the cargo had been completely cleared out, save one chest of tea which had been broken and the contents had scattered.
"No mistake about it, Herrick," said Mr Brooke; and he went on to the after-hatch, which was also open and the lading gone.
The next minute we were at the companion-way, and Mr Brooke hailed again, but all was still. Just then the man peering over my shoulder sniffed sharply like some animal.
The sound sent a shudder through me, and Mr Brooke turned to the man sharply—
"Why did you do that?"
"Beg pardon, sir," stammered the man; "I thought that—as if—there was—"
He did not finish.
"Come on," said Mr Brooke sternly, while I shuddered again, and involuntarily my nostrils dilated as I inhaled the air, thinking the while of a butchered captain and officers lying about, but there was not the faintest odour, and I followed my officer, and then for a moment a horrible sickening sensation attacked me, and I shuddered.
But it all passed off, and, myself again directly, I was gazing with the others at the many signs which told us as plainly as if it had been written, that the crew of the unfortunate barque had barricaded themselves in here and made a desperate resistance, for her broken doors lay splintered and full of the marks made by axes and heavy swords. The seats were broken; and bulkheads, cabin windows, and floor were horribly stained here and there with blood, now quite dry and black, but which, after it had been shed, had been smeared about and trampled over; and this in one place was horribly evident, for close up to the side, quite plain, there was the imprint of a bare foot—marked in blood—a great wide-toed foot, that could never have worn a shoe.
"Rather horrid for you, Herrick," said Mr Brooke in a low voice, as if the traces of death made him solemn; "but you must be a man now. Look, my lad, what the devils—the savage devils—have done with our poor Scotch brothers!"