Chapter 43 | Our Refuge | Blue Jackets

Chapter Forty Three.

“Oh deah me!” said Ching in his most squeaky tones, “I velly hungly. You like nicee bleakfast, Mis’ Hellick?”

“Don’t speak to me as if I were a baby, Ching,” I cried angrily.

“No; speak like to offlicer, Mr Hellick. You likee bleakfast—something good eat?”

“I hadn’t thought of it before, Ching,” I said, feeling rather ashamed of my angry tone; “but I am faint, and I suppose that is through being hungry.”

“Yes; Ching go down among locks and sand, see if he find something eat.”

“No, no,” I cried excitedly; “it would be madness.”

“Eh? you tinkee Ching mad?” he said, with a smile.

“Oh no; but you would meet some of the pirates.”

“No; allee gone ’long shore. Not come back long time.”

“But it is too risky. Perhaps some of the wretches are waiting.”

“No; allee velly wicked—velly bad men. Feel ’flaid stop all alone. ’Flaid see men again headee chop off. Pilate allee keep together. No come long time; Ching go find something good eat.”

“But if they come on the cliffs and look back, they might see you.”

“Yes; might see Ching flom velly long way topside lock chop. Then think—”

“Think, yes, of course.”

“Not allee same you think. See Ching? Yes; see John Chinaman in blue flock allee torn, long tow-chang; that’s all.”

I did not grasp his meaning for a moment.

“Oh, I see,” I cried at last; “you mean that if they did see you, they would think it was one of their own crew?”

“Yes; think one of own clew. But Ching not pilate.”

“Of course. Then there would be no risk. You shall go, but we must find some place where we can hide.”

“Mis’ Hellick help soon makee velly nicee place.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Couldn’t we climb up on the cliff like you did?”

“Yes, Mr Hellick climb, but no cally jolly sailor boy, Tom Jeck, allee way.”

“No; we must make a place here if we cannot find one.”

He walked up to the face of the cliff, but there was no spot at all likely to answer the purpose till he had gone about fifty yards, when he turned and signalled to me.

I crept close up to the cliff, and then stooped down, after a timid look in the direction taken by the pirates, and found Ching standing by a piece of the rock which had split away from above, fallen clear, and then its top had leaned back against the rock face, leaving a narrow rift between its base and the cliff, through which we could see the light dimly, some twelve or fourteen yards away, but it was only a faint gleam showing that the far end was nearly closed.

“Velly nice beautiful place; ought to come here last night.”

“Yes, capital. We can hide here; and once inside, if we had arms, we could keep the wretches at a distance.”

“Don’tee want fight now,” said Ching, quietly. “No swold, no shoot gun, no jolly sailor boy. Wantee eat and dlink.”

“Yes; let’s get poor Jecks here at once.”

“You go fetch him; tly to walkee now: Ching go fetch eat, dlink.”

He hurried off toward the ridge, while I went back to my wounded man, who seemed to be lying asleep, but he opened his eyes as I approached.

“We’ve found a place,” I said. “Do you think you can limp a little way?”

He tried to rise, and fell back with a moan, but upon my placing my arm under his, he made a fresh effort, and stood upright, taking step for step with mine, till I had him right up to the narrow opening of our shelter, into which he slowly crawled, and then spoke for the first time, but in a hoarse voice I did not know—


“I’ll try,” I said; “don’t stir from there till I come back.”

Creeping along close under the cliff, I soon reached the ridge, and was about to mount, but dropped down and hid, for I saw something move in the direction taken by the pirates.

A minute’s investigation, however, showed it to be some bird on the strand, and I began to climb, reached the top, took a careful observation in both directions, and then up at the cliff, and,—lastly, looked out for Ching.

I soon espied him running out after a retiring billow, then running in again, and continuing this several times as if he were a boy at play. Finally, however, I saw him go splashing in after a wave, and then come hurrying back dragging something, which he drew right ashore.

There he stopped, panting, and looking back, caught sight of me, and signalled to me to come.

I hurried down, reached him amongst the piles of broken timber and rubbish, and found that he had secured a wooden box, one end of which had been battered upon the rocks, laying bare the bright glistening tin with which it was lined; and I realised directly that he had found what for us was a treasure, if we could tear open the tin, for the case bore the brand of a well-known firm of English biscuit-makers, and doubtless it was part of the loot taken from some unfortunate British merchantman.

“You helpee me cally?” he said.

For answer I took hold of one end of the case, and we bore it right up, through the thick sand, close under the cliff, where we placed it behind a big stone.

“You gottee big stlong knife?” cried Ching.

I took out a big-bladed knife, opened it, and found no difficulty in thrusting it through the soft tin and cutting a long gash. Then I cut another, parallel, and joined two of the ends, making a lid, which, upon being raised, showed that the biscuits were perfectly unharmed by the salt water.

“Fillee allee pockets,” cried Ching; and I proceeded to do so, while twice as many as I could stow away disappeared under his garments.

“Now,” I said, “we must find water and get back.”

“Waitee minute; p’laps pilate come back; no have bliskit.”

He dropped down upon his knees, and began tearing away the sand from behind the stone, after which he dragged the case into the hole, and tossed the sand over it at a tremendous rate, ending by completely covering it and looking up at me with a smile of satisfaction.

“Now for water,” I said eagerly.

“Yes, Ching find water;” and we tramped back, the loose dry sand falling in and obliterating our footprints.

Ching led the way to a pile of tangled wreck-wood, and took out a jar covered with bamboo basket-work, and having a cross handle—a vessel that would probably hold about half a pailful.

“Ching find—float flom junk,” he said; and then, with a knowing smile, he led the way to where the ridge joined the cliff; and, unable to contain myself when, he stopped and pointed down triumphantly, I fell upon my knees, and placed my lips to a tiny pool of clear cool water, which came down from a rift about forty feet above my head in the limestone rock, and, as I drank the most delicious draught I ever had in my life, the water from above splashed down coolly and pleasantly upon the back of my head.

“Ching hear can go tlickle, tlickle,” he said, stooping in turn to get a deep draught before filling the vessel, and then leading the way back over the ridge, and out of the hot sunshine into the place where our poor companion lay upon his back, muttering hurriedly words of which we could not catch the import.

This was a fresh difficulty, for he could not be roused into sitting up to drink; and at last, in despair, I scooped up some water in my hand, and let it trickle upon his half-parted lips.

The effect was instantaneous; they moved eagerly, and, ceasing his muttering, he swallowed more and more of the water, till he must have drunk nearly a pint, and now sank into a more easy position fast asleep, and breathing easily.

“Ha!” I exclaimed. But I said no more, Ching’s hand was placed over my lips, and he held me back, staring hard all the time towards the tall narrow outlet of our shelter.

For the moment I thought that this was some cowardly attack—one is so prone to think evil of people rather than good; but he stooped down, placed his lips to my ear, and whispered the one word—


Then a loud burst of talking came upon us, sounding as it doubled by striking and echoing from the rocks. My blood ran cold once more, for I thought that my exclamation had been heard, and that the enemy was talking about and watching the opening of our shelter.

Then the noise grew louder, and some dispute seemed to be on the way, while, what was worse, the sounds did not pass on, showing that the crew of the junk, for I felt that it must be they, had returned and stopped just in front of where we crouched.

Where we were was dark enough to keep any one from seeing us if he looked in from the bright sunshine; but I knew that, sooner or later, if the men stayed where they were, some one was sure to come prying about, and would see the place. How long, then, would it be ere we were discovered, and had to meet our terrible fate after all?

“You thinkee get out other way?” said Ching at last, with his lips to my ear.

“I think not,” I whispered back.

“Mustn’t look out this way,” he whispered again. “You go light to end and look see if pilate going stop.”

I was so eager to get an observation of the enemy, that I hurriedly crept along the narrow passage. I say hurriedly, but my progress was very slow, for I had to worm my way over fallen stones, some of which were loose, and I was in constant dread of making a sound which might betray us.

But I got to the end in safety, and had to mount up over a large narrow wedge-like piece which filled up the end; the opening, dim and partly stopped with some kind of growth outside, being quite ten feet from the sandy bottom.

And all this while the murmur of voices from outside came indistinctly, till I was at the top of the wedge, when the talking grew suddenly louder.

I hesitated for a few moments, and then, feeling sure that I was safe, I placed my face to the opening, parted the tough plant a little, and then a little more, so as not to attract attention; and at last, with a bright yellow daisy-like growth all about my face, I peered out, to see that the enemy had quietly settled down there to smoke, not thirty yards from our hiding-place, while some were settling themselves to sleep, and again others to eat biscuits similar to those we had found.

They evidently meant to stay, and if our wounded companion began his delirious mutterings again, I knew that, although a fellow-countryman might be spared, my career was at an end.

I crept down cautiously, and told Ching all I had seen; whereupon he nodded his head sagely, and placed his lips to my ear.

“Plenty big stone,” he whispered. “Plenty sand; velly quiet; ’top up hole.”

I shrank from making any movement, but, softly and silently, Ching crept nearly to the opening by which we had entered, and began moving the fragments embedded in sand, which formed the flooring of our narrow refuge, turning over peat shaley pieces, and laying them naturally between us and the light, and, after planting each heavy piece, scooping up the dry sand with both hands, and pouring it over the stone. Then another piece and another followed, awkward bits so heavy that he could hardly lift them; and, gaining courage, I let to as well, pulling blocks from out of the sand where I knelt, and passing them to him.

He nodded his satisfaction, and we both worked on slowly and silently, building up till the erection became a breast-work, rapidly growing narrower as it rose higher; the sand poured in, filling up the interstices and trickling down on the other side, thus giving our rugged wall the appearance of being a natural heap, over which the dried sand had been swept in by the storm.

I was in agony as we worked on, expecting moment by moment to hear a stone fall, or a loud clap of one against another; but Ching worked in perfect silence, while the busy chattering of the men without kept on, and then by slow degrees grew more smothered as our wall arose; while as it progressed our shelter grew more gloomy.

There was plenty of material to have made a wall ten times the size, whereas, roughly speaking, ours was only about four feet in length from the fallen rock to the base of the cliff, and sloped inward till, at breast height, it was not more than two feet, and from there rapidly diminished till Ching ceased, and breathing hard, and wet with perspiration, he whispered to me—

“No leach no higher; can’tee find now.”

It was so dark that we could only just see each other’s faces, but in a short time we became so accustomed to the gloom, that we could watch the changes in Tom Jecks’ countenance as he lay sleeping, by the faint rays which stole in over the top of our cavern, and through the tuft of herbage which grew high up at the other end. But the heat was terrible in so confined a space, and, exhausted as I was with lifting stones and scooping up sand, there were moments when everything appeared dreamy and strange, and I suppose I must have been a little delirious.

I was sitting panting with the heat, resting my head against the rock, listening to the breathing of Tom Jecks, and wondering why it was that something hot and black and intangible should be always coming down and pressing on my brain, when I started into wakefulness, or rather out of my stupor, for Ching touched me, and I found that he had crept past Tom Jecks to where I had made my seat, and had his lips close to my ear.

“Hoolay!” he whispered. “Flee cheahs! Pilate all go away! Go up see.”