Chapter 1 | We Jolly Sailor Boys | Blue Jackets

Chapter One.

“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.”

“Certainly, sir.”

“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.

“Why not?”

“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—


    Englis’ spoken


    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!”