Chapter 23 | Saved | Blue Jackets

Chapter Twenty Three.

“Look sharp, sir,” I said, after going forward, and in a few words explaining our position.

“Right, my lad. Get your men together in the stern of your boat, and keep up the fire, while we make fast and try and tow you off. Hi! quick there!” he roared; and a cheer told us that another boat was close at hand.

But my work was cut out, the men placed well under cover, and we waited listening for the first sounds of the returning enemy, while from time to time Mr Brooke’s clear, short orders came out of the darkness behind us, and we knew that he had sent a party into the fixed boat to rock it from side to side. Then came a cheer, as the water rolled hissing and whispering among the reeds; there was the simultaneous plash of oars, and a creaking sound.

Then another sound from the bank of the creek, which I knew well enough.

“Say when, sir,” whispered Tom Jecks. “They’re a-coming on.” To our astonishment, for the enemy had crept forward so silently that we had hardly heard a sound, there was a hideous yell, and a crashing volley, the bullets hissing over our heads again, and once more the gong-beating began.

“Fire!” I said.

“Yes, fire, my lads, steady—where you see the flashes of their matchlocks.”

The voice came from close to my ear.

“Mr Reardon!” I cried in astonishment.

“Yes, Herrick; that bullet quite stunned me for a minute or two. I’m better now. But hasn’t it grown dark rather suddenly?”

“Yes, sir,” I said; for I felt in my excitement as if it would be impossible to enter into explanations then.

“But we’re in motion.”


Every one took up that cheer; for the combined efforts of the men who rowed the laden craft, and the tugging of two boats’ crews of men straining with all their might at their stout ashen blades, had the required effect. We were indeed in motion, and going steadily down the stream.

“Ahoy, there: Mr Reardon!”

“Answer him, Herrick,” said Mr Reardon; and I hailed again.

“Can you keep them off with your fire?”

“Say, yes.”

“Yes; all right,” I cried.

“Then we’ll tow you out as fast as we can.”

“Thank Heaven,” I heard Mr Reardon whisper, as he crouched there, listening to the yelling, gong-beating, and firing, and with our men replying from time to time whenever there seemed a chance.

And now the bullets from the matchlocks began to patter upon the bales; for the banks were growing lower and lower, and the trees more open, but not a man was hit; and after another quarter of an hour’s sharp replying we heard fresh cheering, the overshadowing trees on the banks suddenly began to grow distant. Then it became lighter still, with the stars twinkling over head and the lights of the Teaser apparently close at hand.

But the enemy, enraged at our escape, now crowded down to the bank and began to fire rapidly, while the men replied till the crack crack and ping ping of the rifles was silenced,—the men stopping as if by mutual consent. For there was a flash from the side of the Teaser right in front of us, a shell whistled over our heads and crashed in among the trees where the petty firing of the matchlocks was kept up. Then—crash! the shell sent shrieking amongst them exploded, and all was still but the steady beating of our oars.

“Are you much hurt, sir?” I said to Mr Reardon; but Ching took the inquiry to himself.

“Velly stiff; velly hungly,” he said.

“I wasn’t speaking to you,” I cried angrily; for my temper seemed to have suddenly grown painfully acid, and a titter rose from among the men.

“No, Mr Herrick, scarcely at all. The bullet struck my cap-band, just above my temple, and glanced off. I can think more clearly now. How many men are hurt in this boat?”

There was no reply; and as we at the same moment glided alongside, the question seemed to be echoed from the Teaser’s side high above our heads.

Still no reply, and the captain said sharply—

“Who is below there, Mr Reardon—Mr Brooke?”

“Ay, ay, sir,” cried the latter.

“How many men did you find they had lost?”

“None, sir.”

“Brought all off safely?”

“Yes, sir.”

A tremendous cheer arose from the deck.

“I felt too giddy to speak just then, Herrick,” said Mr Reardon. “Not one man injured except myself. It is marvellous, my lad. But there; we had plenty of poor fellows wounded aboard.”

Ten minutes later two of the boats were swinging at the davits, and our two were being towed astern, as the head of the Teaser once more swung round, and we went down with the tide. We anchored off the mouth of the muddy river till morning, to which time was put off the hoisting on deck of the rest of the loot, the account of whose amount and probable value did more, they said, toward helping on the wounded than any of Dr Price’s ministrations.

But he had serious work with two of the wounded men, who tried very hard, as he put it, to go out of hand; but he wouldn’t let them. Two of the pirates did die, though, and were cast overboard, sewn up decently in hammocks, and with shot at their heels.

Seven days later we came to an anchor again off Tsin-Tsin, by which time Mr Reardon’s right eye and temple were horribly discoloured, but in other respects he was quite well, and was present at what he called our second gaol delivery, for he came on deck to see the prisoners, wounded and sound, handed over to the Chinese authorities; but there was no such display of pomp as on the first occasion, one row-boat only coming alongside, with a very business-like officer, who superintended the chaining of the pirates, and bundled them down.

“Just as if they had been so many sacks,” Barkins said; and he was very apt in his comparison.

I only said one word in allusion to the Chinese soldiery and their officers. That word was—