Chapter 4 | Double Allowance | Blue Jackets

Chapter Four.

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.