Chapter 29 | A Queer Quarrel | Blue Jackets

Chapter Twenty Nine.

“I sent a message to you, Mr Herrick,” he cried angrily, and I could then guess that he had been coming to see why I had delayed. “I have something to say to you, sir, respecting the company you keep, and the society you affect, which I am given to understand is not that which conduces to good dishipline.”

“Oh, that’s what Mr Smith thinks, sir,” I said coolly.

“Oh, indeed!” he cried sarcastically.

“Yes, sir; he said something about it to me this morning, but he does not know.”

“Indeed!” he cried, growing black as a thundercloud; “then I am to take it, sir, that you do?”

“I hope so, sir; I try to know.”

“Then you know, sir, possibly why it was that when I sent you a summons I am kept waiting?”

“Yes, sir; I was delayed a little—”

“Oh, thank you. I am glad to hear that, Mr Herrick. Perhaps you have something else of importance to communicate?”

“Yes, sir, very.”

“Thank you. I am sorry I cannot ask you to sit down.”

“Don’t name it, sir,” I said quietly, while he began to breathe very hard.

“I was down with Ching the interpreter, sir, this morning—”

“Were you really, Mr Herrick?” he said sarcastically. “Dear me, I hope he is much better?”

“Yes, sir, he’s nearly all right. I was coming to you when I met Mr Barkins, and Smith.” I couldn’t say Mr Smith, I felt so exasperated against him.

“What a curious coincidence, Mr Herrick! If I had known I might have spared myself the trouble of sending.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And pray, may I know for what reason I was to be honoured?”

“Of course, sir,” I said coolly enough, for I was enjoying the way in which he was working himself up for an explosion to fall upon my unfortunate head. “The fact is, sir—”

“Oh, it is a fact, is it?”

“Yes, sir—Ching has friends ashore.”

“And wants leave of absence? Are you his envoy?”

“Oh no, sir. One of his friends sent him an important letter this morning by the vegetable boat.”

“Eh? letter?” said Mr Reardon, beginning to grow interested.

“Yes, sir. This friend is a kind of a merchant or something; and he has news of two big junks—piratical junks—lying in this very river.”

“The dickens he has! Here, Herrick, come down to my cabin.”

He took my arm and marched me quickly to the ladder and down to his cabin. On the way I caught sight of Barkins and Smith watching us, and I gave them a nod.

“Now, my lad, sit down,” cried Mr Reardon excitedly. “Let’s hear.”

I sat down, and he walked to and fro—two steps and turn.

“There’s very little more to tell you, sir,” I said; “but there are two very large junks assuming to be merchantmen. They are anchored close by here somewhere.”

“You don’t know which two?”

“No, sir; but we shall know them by their sailing at once, and I should say by boats coming off to them with extra men directly after.”

“Yes, that’s good, Herrick—very good. But you have no other information about them?”

“Only, sir, that they are just off on a cruise, and if we could catch them—”

“We will catch them, my lad. But is that all?”

“Yes, sir, that’s all; I thought it rather big news.”

“So it is, Herrick—very big news. Just what we wanted. It’s time we made another capture. And to Ching has a friend on shore who sent this information?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not a trap, is it—to get us away?”

“Oh no, sir; Ching is as honest as the day.”

“Humph, yes,” said Mr Reardon, with his fingers to his lips. “I think he is, for he seems to have taken to us and to be working hard in our service. But he may have been deceived. He is cunning enough; but so are his countrymen, and they would glory in tricking the man who has taken up with the English. I don’t know what to say to it, Herrick.”

“But suppose we see two big junks setting sail, watch them with a boat, sir, and find that they take others on board, there could be no mistake then.”

“Oh yes, there could, my boy. We might follow these junks, seize them, and spend a long time in their capture and bringing back into port. Then we should apply to the authorities, and find that we had got into sad trouble, for we had seized two vessels which the occupants could prove were intended for peaceable pursuits. We could not contradict them possibly, and all the time the scoundrels we wanted to take had sailed off upon a piratical expedition, consequent upon our absence. Now, sir, what do you say to that?”

I shook my head.

“I think Ching ought to know best,” I said.

“Perhaps so,” he replied. “We shall see. Come on now to the captain.”

He opened the door, and I followed. I had forgotten all about Barkins and Smith for the time, but now all that had passed occurred to my mind, and I felt certain that they would be waiting somewhere to meet me and make sport of the tremendous setting-down which I had had.

I was not wrong: they were talking together amidships, just where they could command the companion-way, and as soon as we appeared I saw Smith’s features expand into a malicious grin, while Barkins remained perfectly stolid.

As we passed to the ladder Smith looked after us wonderingly, and I saw him turn and whisper something, which I felt sure was—

“Taking him to the skipper.”

For the captain was not in his cabin, but walking up and down the quarter-deck with his hands clasped behind him, and the telescope which had made Mr Reardon so angry under his left arm.

As we reached the deck he was going aft, so we followed him, and timed our pace so that when he turned we had only a step or two to take to be facing him.

“Yes, Mr Reardon,” he said in response to our salute, “anything fresh?”

“Yes, sir, something very fresh. Will you listen to what Mr Herrick has to say?”

“Certainly,” he replied, and he made room for me on his right Mr Reardon placed himself on my right, and as I narrated all I had said before as nearly as I could, they marched me up and down between them, from the binnacle to the end of the quarter-deck, turned and marched me back again.

As we approached the rail I could see Barkins and Smith watching us with all their eyes, and as we came in sight again they were still watching intently, evidently in the full belief that I was being, as we should have called it, wigged tremendously. And certainly they had some excuse for this idea, for I had been summoned by the first lieutenant, taken into his cabin, talked to, and then marched off to the captain. It almost looked like being dismissed from the ship in their eyes, and now I could see them scanning my features with intense interest for sight of my breaking down.

The captain heard me out, and then listened to Mr Reardon’s objections.

“Yes,” he said quietly at last, “that’s very true, Mr Reardon, but we must not let an opportunity slip. I was intending to sail to-morrow for the north; now we will sail which way the junks lead. That will do for the present, Mr Herrick, and I thank you for your diligence in Her Majesty’s service.”

I touched my cap and went to the ladder, and as I descended there were my two messmates coming towards me.

Trying to make my face as mobile as possible, I stretched it here and there into wrinkles, and was walking straight along the deck looking the image of despair, when they stopped me.

“Serve you right!” said Smith exultantly. “There, be off below, and don’t let the men all see what a setting-down you have had.”

I gave each of them a piteous look, turned as they had suggested, and hurried down to our cabin to have a good laugh all to myself.

To my surprise, though, they followed me, Barkins to seat himself on the table, and Smith to lean up against the door.

“Well, Skeeter,” said the latter, “you’ve had it pretty hot. Serve you right for being sarcy; you’ll behave better next time.”

“I hope so,” I said meekly.

“Dishy gave you his lecture, then, and walked you off to the skipper, eh?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, it’s of no use for you to be grumpy. You’ve had your lesson, and now you’ve got to behave yourself.”


“And I am very glad to see you are so humble. Aren’t you, Tanner?”

“Yes,” said Barkins gruffly.

“You see it won’t do for a little gnat of a fellow to think he is going to do what he likes on board one of Her Majesty’s ships. It was quite time you were taken down a few pegs—wasn’t it, Tanner?”

“I suppose so,” said Barkins.

“Then I don’t see that it’s any use for us to jump upon him, and show bad blood.”

“No, not a bit,” cried Barkins, with more animation. “We won’t.”

“No, I said we wouldn’t; so look here, youngster: we’re going to forgive you, if you promise to behave better and do as you’re bid. This isn’t school, you know, where a boy can set himself up against his elders, but the Queen’s service, where every one has his place, and has to keep it too—mind that. There, that’s all I’ve got to say.”

“And very nicely said too,” I replied.

He looked at me sharply, but my face was like marble, and he concluded that I had spoken seriously, for he turned to Barkins—

“There, Tanner, I’ve done; now it’s your turn.”

“What for?”

“To give him a few words.”

“Oh, I don’t think I want to say anything,” said Barkins slowly. “I’m sorry the poor little beggar got into such a row.”

“It’ll do him good.”

“I hope so,” said Barkins slowly and reluctantly, and there was rather a mournful look in his eyes as he spoke.

“You’d better give him a few words of advice,” said Smith in an off-hand tone.

“Oh no, he’s had enough jawing. I shan’t say anything.”

“Thank you, Tanner,” I said.

“Oh, all right,” he cried, and he held out his hand and shook mine, brightening up the next moment, and looking as pleased as if he had just got a great trouble off his mind.

“You needn’t be in such a jolly hurry to forgive him,” said Smith in a remonstrant tone; “he has been a cheeky little beggar, and deserved all he got.”

“But it isn’t nice to be wigged, all the same,” said Barkins sharply.

“No, but it don’t matter if you deserved it. Now then, Gnat, tell us what Dishy said.”

“What about?” I asked innocently.

“What about? Why, your associating with Ching so much.”

“Oh, that!” I cried.

“Oh, that!” he said, mocking my way of speaking. “Why, what did you think I meant?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“Nothing at all.”

“What! no lies now.”

“Who’s telling lies? He didn’t say a word about it. We had something of more consequence to talk about.”

“Now, Tanner, hark at that. Did you ever hear such a miserable cheeky little beggar in your life? It’s of no use; we must give him a regular good towelling.”

“Better tell us what the luff said, Gnat,” growled Barkins, in so strange an accession of gruffness that I began to laugh.

“Why, what’s the matter with you?” I said. “Don’t gruff and grow hoarse like that.”

“Can’t help it; got a cold, I s’pose,” he cried. “But I say, stop it now; we want to be friends. Tell us what the luff said.”

“Precious little,” I replied. “I did all the speaking till we went up on the quarter-deck.”

“Don’t listen to him,” cried Smith, growing wroth with me. “I never saw such cheek. One tries to be friends with him, but it’s of no use; directly you open your mouth he jumps down your throat.”

“Then you shouldn’t have such a big mouth, Smithy,” I said sharply, and then the storm burst.

Tanner roared with laughter, for the width of Smith’s mouth had often been food for our mirth; and, as Barkins afterwards said, my remark came out so pat.

“Look here,” cried Smith, “I’m not going to stand this sort of thing. You may be fool enough to put up with it, but I won’t.”

“If you call me a fool I’ll punch your head, Smithy,” growled Barkins.

“No, you won’t,” was the retort; “and that’s the way you take sides against me, and encourage the miserable little beggar in his impudent ways? Now then, you Herrick, you’ve got to go down on your knees and beg my pardon, and then tell me everything the skipper and the first luff said.”

“When?” I asked coolly.

“When? Why, now, directly,” cried Smith fiercely. “Now then, no nonsense,” he cried, seizing me by the collar; but I wrested myself away, and in the slight struggle sent him staggering against Barkins.

“Now then, keep off me, please,” growled Barkins.

“Keep off yourself; why don’t you get out of the way?”

“How was I to know that a blundering idiot was coming up against me?”

“It’ll tell you when I’ve done with the Gnat,” said Smith angrily; for I had unintentionally hurt his arm. “Now you, Skeeter.”

“Let him alone,” said Barkins gruffly.

“When I’ve done with him,” said Smith; “you could have had first go at him if you had liked.”

“I don’t want to hit the little fellow, I’m not overbearing like you are. Let him alone, I say.”

“I shall let him alone when I choose,” retorted Smith fiercely. “I’m not going to let our junior ride roughshod over me, if you’re fool enough to.”

“I shall be fool enough to kick you out of the cabin if you touch him,” cried Barkins angrily. “I won’t have him bullied; and it was a mean sneaking thing to go telling tales as you did to old Dishy.”

“Look here,” cried Smith, “if any one is a sneak it’s you, for harking back and taking the miserable little beggar’s side.”

“Never mind about that; you let him alone.”

“Oh, I say, Tanner,” I said, “don’t quarrel with him about me. What he said did no harm. Mr Reardon was as friendly as could be.”

“That’s a cracker,” cried Smith sharply.

At that moment a marine came to the door.

“First lieutenant wants to see Mr Herrick directly.”

“Yes; where is he?” I said, smiling—purposely, of course.

“With the cap’n, sir, on the quarter-deck.”

“All right; I’ll be there directly.”

The man saluted and marched off, while I followed to the door, where I turned, thrust in my head, and said banteringly—

“Now be good boys and don’t fight while I’m gone.”


A book off the table, flung by Smith, struck the door which I was holding half open, for I saw the missile coming, and dodged it. Then I popped my head in again.

“Don’t take any notice of him, Tanner,” I cried; “he’s bilious. Thankye for sticking up for me. Can I say a word for you to the captain?”

“Here, get up,” cried Smith, with a snarl. “Touch your hat to him. He’s promoted; and they’ll send poor old Brooke a step lower. All hail, Lieutenant Skeeter!”

“All right!” I cried, and I hurried away, leaving Barkins looking as if he could not believe his ears.

The next minute I was facing the captain and Mr Reardon.