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Title: Ford of \H.\M.\S. Vigilant - A Tale of the Chusan Archipelago
Author: Jeans, T. T. (Thomas Tendron)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ford of \H.\M.\S. Vigilant - A Tale of the Chusan Archipelago" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Illustration: THE SKIPPER RECEIVES THE MANDARIN]



                                  Ford
                           of H.M.S. Vigilant

                    A Tale of the Chusan Archipelago


                                   BY

                    STAFF SURGEON T. T. JEANS, R.N.

                Author of "Mr. Midshipman Glover, R.N."



                 _ILLUSTRATED BY WILLIAM RAINEY, R.I._



                        BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
                      LONDON GLASGOW DUBLIN BOMBAY
                                  1910



                               *Preface*


This story is written more or less on the same lines as my previous
story of naval adventures—_Mr. Midshipman Glover, R.M._—and describes
events subsequent to those narrated in that book.

The proof sheets have been carefully read by messmates of different
branches of the Service, and I am much indebted to them for correcting
many technical errors.

Practically all the characters are drawn from life, and the cruisers and
gunboats, British, American, and Chinese, taking part in the various
operations are actual ships under altered names.

I therefore hope that the story gives an accurate representation of life
in the Service under the war conditions described.

T. T. JEANS
Staff Surgeon, Royal Navy
H.M.S. ALBION



                                   TO

                       E. R. W., K. G., AND E. M.

                AS A SLIGHT RETURN FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE
                        WHILST WRITING THIS BOOK



                               *Contents*

CHAP.

      I. How Dick Ford went to Sea
     II. Introduces Sally Hobbs
    III. The Vigilant under Orders
     IV. The Loss of Lieutenant Travers
      V. Midshipman Ford’s First Command
     VI. The "Sally" goes into Action
    VII. Mr. Rashleigh takes Command
   VIII. The Vigilant Sails Again
     IX. Mr. Hoffman’s Secret
      X. The Vigilant under Fire
     XI. The Landing Party
    XII. Midshipman Ford on his Mettle
   XIII. Mr. Ching to the Rescue
    XIV. "Old Lest" takes a Hand
     XV. The Retreat
    XVI. Ford saves "Old Lest’s" Life
   XVII. Goodbye to the Huan Min
  XVIII. A Midnight Adventure
    XIX. The Captain Receives a Present
     XX. Home Again



                            *Illustrations*


The skipper receives the Mandarin . . . _Frontispiece_

A Fierce Tussle

"He hacked and hacked"

Close Fighting

"He was just going to fire"

"The Skipper took her up in his arms"


Plan of Creek (Hector Island)



                              *CHAPTER I*

                      *How Dick Ford went to Sea*


    Old Gurridge—Appointed to the Vigilant—Dick sends a Telegram—The
    Vigilant at Last!—"Dear Little Dicky!"—Dicky gives his Messages


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


I don’t expect that you have ever heard of Upton Overy, in North Devon,
but it is there where Captain Lester, of the Royal Navy, lives, and, at
any rate, you must have heard of him.  Everyone in the West Country
knows him by name and most of them by sight, and whenever he comes back
from sea the villagers won’t do any work, and the bellringers ring peals
and "changes" on the old church bells all day long, till you’d think
that the top stones must be shaken off.  The noise always makes my
mother’s head ache terribly.  You see, my father is the parson of Upton
Overy, and our house is so close to the church, that the noise seems to
go through and through it.

If he happened to be at home, on leave or on half-pay, the Captain
sometimes asked my father to go out shooting with him, and when I was
quite a kiddy I was so fearfully keen to go too, that once I crept away
and followed them. My father would have sent me back, had not the
Captain growled out—and he had an awfully deep growling voice—"Let the
nipper come along o’ us, Padré;" and you may be jolly well certain that
I did follow them, keeping close behind the Captain, without saying a
word, and with my eyes glued on him, just to see exactly what he did.  I
got so tired, that if I hadn’t been afraid of making a noise I should
have cried.

"Send the young ’un to sea.  He’ll do," he had said when my father, very
angry at having his day’s sport spoilt, had at last to carry me back.

That is the first I remember of Captain Lester, and is why I remember
what he said.  Afterwards he would often let me go with him, and when I
was big enough would let me hold his great mongrel dog "Blucher". The
Captain used to take this dog to sea with him, and always brought him
out shooting; but he used to get so excited that he would obey nobody,
and if let loose, always ranged ahead of the guns, and put up every bird
for miles. The result was that he was kept on the chain nearly all the
time.

Although he was so useless, the Captain would never leave him behind.
"I’ve spoilt the dog taking him to sea", he would growl; "I ain’t going
to spoil his bit of sport", and he always let him have a run "on his
own" towards the end of the day.

Sometimes his eldest girl, Nan, used to come too, and as she worshipped
her father just as much as I did, we became quite chums, and had many a
jolly day together, while we hung on to old Blucher’s chain, and he
tugged us about.

She worried very much because she was a girl and couldn’t go to sea, but
of course that wasn’t her fault—I told her so, often—and it always made
me feel what a jolly good thing it was to be a man, and that I was going
to sea.  I had made up my mind to that, and had never forgotten what the
Captain had said.  I simply longed for the sea, and used to spend every
moment I could down among the fishing boats, helping to spread the nets
out along the shore to dry, and sometimes taking a hand in mending them.
I made chums, too, of the boys in the smaller smacks, which worked close
inshore, and one of them took me out several times in his uncle’s boat.

But just skirting along the coast was not enough for me, so one night I
did a very silly thing.  Upton Overy owned six deep-sea trawlers, which
were generally away on the fishing grounds for a whole week, and one
night, I couldn’t stand it any longer, and crept out of the house, round
by the back of the church, down a cliff path to the harbour, crawled
aboard one of these trawlers, and hid myself under the nets.  I knew
that they were all going out before daylight, and that I shouldn’t be
found till we were right out of sight of land.

When they did pull me out in the morning, old Gurridge—it was his boat
I’d crept into—was rather beastly about it, and jawed at me till he was
tired.  He’d had some row with my father, and thought it a jolly good
opportunity of having a "dig" at him, and the way he’d brought me up;
but I didn’t mind what he said—not in the least—for all round me was
sea, no land whichever way I looked, and I simply felt mad with delight.

It came on to blow, too, and I don’t think that old Gurridge could have
taken me back, even if he’d wanted to—and he didn’t want to either,
because of that row with my father—and all the time he made me work,
scrubbing and cleaning, and jawing at me for being so wicked as to run
away.

Of course I got back safely, had a jolly good beating, and was sent to
bed; but, honestly, I couldn’t feel wicked, because, right down inside
me, I knew that I’d done it because the Captain wanted me to go to sea,
and, as I told you before, I simply worshipped him.  Most people
did—even the "grown-ups"—so it was no wonder that I did.

He heard about it too—my trip in the trawler, I mean—and that was one
reason, I fancy, why he gave me a nomination for the _Britannia_, and
when I had passed in, promised to look after me if I did well there.

I can’t help remembering the first time I came home in cadet’s uniform,
and rushed up to the House to show myself to Mrs. Lester and the girls.
Nan was most respectful, and she’d never been so before, and that
pleased me more than anything else.  I expect that I put on a frightful
amount of "side", and must have been a horrid little bounder.

I only saw Captain Lester twice whilst I was in the _Britannia_, and
then he commissioned the _Vigilant_ for the China station.  Of course,
what I really wanted to do was to go to his ship, but I thought that
probably he’d forgotten all about me.  He hadn’t, though; for when,
during my last term, my father had to write out to him about some church
repairs, he wrote in his reply, "Tell the young ’un he can come out to
my ship, if he passes out of the _Britannia_ well".

This news simply made me boil all over, and you may guess how hard I
worked that term, and what I felt like when the lists came out.  My
name—Dick Ford—was seventh of my term, and next below me was Jim
Rawlings, my best chum, and we both had just got enough marks to scrape
out as midshipmen straight away.

Wasn’t that splendid?  It was grand, too, to see the little white badges
sewn on the collars of our monkey jackets, and to know that we’d
finished being cadets.

The next thing to do was to get Captain Lester to apply for me; but I
funked asking Mrs. Lester, and my mother stood rather in awe of her too.
However, it turned out that the Captain and Mrs. Lester between them had
arranged it all, and one morning, after I’d gone home on Christmas
leave, there was a large blue envelope for me in the postbag.  I tore it
open, and the first thing I saw was the name _Vigilant_ scrawled in
among the print.  I yelled with delight, for there it was at last.  It
was grand, and at the end of the print was: "You are to embark on board
the P. & O. Steamship _Marmora_ by noon on the 14th January".

My mother ran up to her room directly I had read it aloud and she had
looked to make certain, and my father frowned at me and said angrily,
"You see what you’ve done?  Broken your mother’s heart," and that made
me miserable again, though I couldn’t feel miserable for long, and
rushed up to the House to show the appointment to Nan and everyone I
met.  I shall never forget that day and the next three weeks, and at
last driving off to the station, with my sea chest on top of the village
cab, really, actually—I could hardly believe it—on my way to China—and
Captain Lester.

Mrs. Lester and the girls were at the big gates, and I had to stop and
wish them goodbye.  Nan looked down her nose and pretended she wouldn’t
have given her soul to be coming too, and Mrs. Lester, before I knew
what was going to happen, actually bent down and kissed me.  My mother
was so astonished that she left off crying, but I’m almost sure that
Mrs. Lester had tears in her eyes.  Of course I knew why—because I was
off to join the Captain, and would—-with luck—see him in six or seven
weeks.

She had a big box of things for me to take out to him too, and it took a
great deal of hoisting up alongside my chest.

You can have no idea how many messages were given me for him.  Of course
everyone in the village knew I was going, and for the last fortnight, I
should think, half the village had sent "best respects to the Captain",
and news about their children or gardens or the fishing. I stuck them
all down in a notebook so as not to forget them—my mother advised me to
do this.  At the station old Puddock, the station master, gave me a pot
of cranberry jam his wife had made—she’d been cook up at the House
before she married Puddock—"with our best respects for the Cap’en,
Master Dick, and tell him we’re both fair to middling, and I got first
prize at Barnton Show for the pigs".  Out came the notebook again, and
we were off at last—my mother and I.

But the funniest thing of all happened at the next station—Bodington—for
there Ned the Poacher—he was an awful nuisance for miles round, and
spent half the year in prison—came sheepishly to the carriage and asked
me to tell the Captain that he and his pals wouldn’t be too hard on the
pheasants this year, as they knew he was coming home for next year’s
shooting.  "Tell the Cap’en they birds be mighty strong and healthy, and
there’ll be plenty of ’em next year when he comes home," and he shuffled
away. I suppose he hadn’t the face to come to me at Upton Overy itself.

I wasn’t going to put that down in the notebook, but my mother said I
had better do so.

When we went down to the docks next day and went aboard the _Marmora_,
the very first person I saw was Jim Rawlings—on his way out to join
another cruiser—and in the excitement of seeing him I hardly wished my
mother "goodbye" properly, and it was only when the _Marmora_ shoved off
and left her standing alone in the rain, on the dock wall, that I felt
what an awful brute I was, and wanted to jump across the bit of water
just to say "goodbye" once again.

There were four cadets on board, as well; going out to join different
ships.  A lieutenant was in charge of all of us, and jolly nasty he made
himself too; and we were all jolly glad when we found his ship lying at
Singapore, and he cleared out.  I’m not going to tell you all about the
voyage.  It would take too long, and there are too many exciting things
for you to hear.  For me they began there, and it was Jim who made the
discovery.  He’d got hold of a Singapore newspaper, and suddenly came
flying along the deck, whooping like a madman, and shoved it into my
hands.  You can imagine how excited I was, for among the telegrams was
this:

"Shanghai, February 22nd.  Captain Lester, H.M.S. _Vigilant_, senior
officer in the Chusan Archipelago, reports that the Chinese cruiser
_Huan Min_ has picked up Mr. Martin P. Hobbs and his daughter, adrift in
a boat, and that their steam yacht has been captured by a gang of
pirates in possession of a large steamer, and led by a European."

At the end of the telegram followed—"We understand that Captain Lester
has been ordered to take the necessary steps to recapture Mr. Hobbs’s
yacht."

My Aunt!  Wasn’t that news?  You can just fancy how I almost felt sick
all over with excitement, and how frightfully important I felt at being
the only one going to that ship, with a chance of chasing pirates.  How
I wished it was possible for Jim to come too.  We thought and thought of
any number of schemes, and then, "Let’s telegraph to Captain Lester," he
burst out; and we hunted out every penny we had in our chests, rushed
ashore, jumped into a double rickshaw, and went off like mad to the
Eastern Telegraph Office.  The _Marmora_ was lying at Tanjong Pagar
wharf, and we needn’t have gone fifty yards, if we’d known, but we drove
right into the town.

When we got there our courage began to ooze away, because I knew it was
a frightfully cheeky thing to do; but Jim bucked me up, and the
telegraph people helped us, and put the best address they could think
of.  What we sent was: "Midshipman Rawlings chum mine wants come
_Vigilant_—Ford Midshipman", and that took nearly all our money.
Neither of us cared a "rap" about that, though, so long as Captain
Lester would ask for Jim.

We were half-dead with funk at what we’d done when we got outside the
office, but Jim cheered me up by saying, "we couldn’t get hanged", and
that they wouldn’t send us home again, because of the expense, so we
drove back fairly happy, though I couldn’t sleep much that night for
wondering whether the Captain would think me frightfully impertinent.
He was terrible when he was angry.

We were a week punching up to Hong-Kong.  It seemed a month, and when we
did get there, both Jim and I were waiting at the gangway for the
officer of the guard to board her, hoping to hear from Captain Lester.
Of course there was nothing at all for us from him, and I was ordered to
go across to H.M.S. _Tyne_, store-ship, for passage to the _Vigilant_,
whilst Jim and the three cadets had to go aboard the _Tamar_, the
receiving ship, always stationed there.  Jim didn’t say anything, but
went down the gangway with his lips firmly pressed together, and I, very
miserable, went across to the _Tyne_ and wandered about her great ward
room like a lost sheep all the afternoon, getting in everyone’s way,
till I got into a corner, and wrote a long letter home.

I couldn’t keep miserable very long, though, because we unmoored
directly after dark, and at last I was really off to join the
_Vigilant_, and in the excitement forgot about Jim.  Boats had kept
coming and going, and I hadn’t taken any notice of them, and they must
have come over in the last boat, because just as we cast off someone
banged me on the back, and there was Jim Rawlings, grinning all over his
jolly ugly red face, and behind him was that ass Dicky Morton, the
junior of the three cadets, with his silly little eyes almost sticking
out of his head with excitement.

"We’re both sent to the _Vigilant_," he squeaked out.

Well, Jim coming too made me just completely happy, although it was a
bit toned down by having Dicky Morton with us too.  "He’s not a bad
little chap when you get used to him," Jim told me, but that was Jim
"all over". He was the most unselfish fellow you ever met in the world,
would have given you his last shirt if you asked him, and was always
standing by to give a leg up to silly idiots like Dicky.

He hadn’t the least idea why he’d been sent; he’d just been given an
order, signed by the Commodore, and he hadn’t heard whether Captain
Lester had telegraphed or not.  We tried to think that our telegram had
just done the trick, but then that did not explain why Dicky was here.
We didn’t worry about anything, though, for long, and simply counted the
minutes, and kept our eye on the cherub log all the time.  You can
imagine what we felt like when we ran into a fog, three days out, and
had to crawl along at about five knots, rolling about in a swell on our
starboard bow.  Our navigator was much too wily a bird to try and make
the Chusan group of islands from the south in that kind of weather, and
that meant another twelve hours steaming; but at last the fog blew away,
the sun came out long enough for him to take a sight, and away we went
again.

The fifth day out from Hong-Kong we made the islands—you can bet your
boots we were on deck—dodged in between several of them, and then the
harbour of Tinghai suddenly opened out, and far away, under a hill, we
could just see a white spot.  "That’s your ship, the _Vigilant_," a
signalman told us as he hoisted the _Tyne’s_ number. We got nearer and
nearer; she got bigger and bigger. Presently the signalman hauled down
the pendants, and we knew that the _Vigilant_ had seen us, and I
wondered whether Captain Lester would be frightfully angry or not. I was
really in a funk at meeting him, chiefly because of that telegram.

We anchored quite close to her, over to us bobbed a steamboat with a big
"V" on her bows—our steamboat—my steamboat some day perhaps—and we were
presently bundled in and taken across, the midshipman of the boat
winking at us patronizingly.

"Have you caught the pirates?" we all asked him.

"Not yet.  You bet! but we’re in for some fun.  You’re lucky beggars, I
can tell you.  They’re only expecting one mid.  Where the dickens d’you
other two come from?"

The first bit made us fearfully excited, but the last part made me
miserable again; for it made it quite certain that Captain Lester had
not asked for Jim Rawlings, and I knew he would be angry with us both if
he had received that telegram already, or if he ever did get it.  We
were alongside in a jiffy, I climbed up the ladder, and, in my
excitement at being at last on board the _Vigilant_, I forgot to salute
the quarterdeck, and so did Dicky, and the officer of the watch "jumped"
on us both and sent us both down below with a flea in our ears.  I got
red all over with shame, and it hurt me more because Dicky and I were in
the same box; it wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been Jim.  The
Captain was ashore—I was jolly glad of that—and the Commander was
asleep, and didn’t want to be disturbed, so we were left to ourselves,
and saw our chests lowered into the gunroom flat, jammed together into a
dark corner, and then we sat down on them for company, swung our legs,
and felt miserable.

We weren’t left alone for long, though, and soon we were hauled into the
gunroom, where the Sub-lieutenant—a huge, great fellow—made us stand in
a row in front of him, and asked us silly questions, to make all the
others laugh.  Jim and I got through this all right, but Dicky made a
perfect little ass of himself—we were frightfully ashamed of
him—squeaking out all sorts of things about his family and his sisters,
and everyone roared with laughter.

"What do they call you at home?" the Sub asked him.

"Dicky, sir," the idiot bleated.

"Don’t they ever call you ’dear little Dicky’?" the Sub said coaxingly.
He was enjoying himself immensely, and I could almost feel Jim grind his
teeth with anger when Dicky smiled feebly, and answered, "Sometimes,
sir."

There were shouts of "dear little Dicky" all round the room, and the ass
never saw what an idiot he had made of himself.  He was always called
"dear little Dicky" afterwards, by the Sub’s orders, though there was no
need for orders to make them all do that.

It was a horribly bad beginning.

They hadn’t any news of the pirates either to cheer us up.  They had had
one look for them, but had found nothing, and were now waiting for fresh
orders.

Just before it got dark someone sung out that the Captain was coming
back with the Fleet Paymaster.  I hadn’t the courage to go up on deck to
let him see me, but just peeped out of a gunroom scuttle as he came
alongside.

He was so broad and big, that he seemed to fill the galley’s stern
sheets.  He was wearing the same stained old shooting-suit he always
wore at Upton Overy—I never could remember seeing him in any
other—Blucher, thinner than ever, was squatting between his knees, and
the Fleet Paymaster, with white beard and a still older shooting-suit,
was sitting next to him.  He threw away the stump of a cigar, helped
Blucher scramble on to the ladder, gave a gruff order to the coxswain,
and followed Blucher.  He looked so stern, and I felt so afraid of him,
that I popped my head in again lest he should see me, and waited, hot
and cold, expecting him to send for me.  I wasn’t so silly as to think
that he would want to see _me_, but I knew that he would want to hear
all about Mrs. Lester and the girls.

Jim knew how frightened I was, and promised that directly I was sent
for, he and Dicky would bring along the packing-case which Mrs. Lester
had sent, and put it outside his cabin door, so that I could get at it
very quickly.

And then I remembered that pot of cranberry jam, and hunted for it in my
chest.  I couldn’t find it anywhere. Jim asked what I was looking for,
and he helped too. Suddenly he stopped, his face quite white.

"Was it a white jar with the top covered with brown paper?"

"Yes, it was," I told him, and knew that something awful was going to
happen.

"I emptied it," he groaned; "ate the whole lot, half-way from Aden."

I went cold all over, and just then the sentry sang out that the Captain
wanted me, and I shuffled aft, knocked at the door, heard the Captain’s
growl "Come in!" could hardly turn the handle for fright, went in, and
stood before him absolutely speechless.

He was reading a letter—we’d brought a mail with us in the _Tyne_—and
didn’t look up for a moment or two, and just in that time, jolly old
Blucher stretched himself, came over, smelt me, got up on his hind legs
and licked my face before I could prevent him.  I could have hugged him,
because that did the trick, and made me forget all about the jam and the
telegram—for the moment.

"Hello, Dick!  Got here at last?" and the Captain looked up, and held
out his great red hand.  "How’s the Missus and the girls?  Where’s that
box of things she tells me she gave you?"

"Outside, sir," I squeaked—like Dicky—and simply rushed out.  Jim and
Dicky had just brought it along, and I dragged it in.

"Umph!  Don’t spoil my carpet.  Where’s Willum? Willum!" the Captain
shouted, "come and open this box."  "Willum"—I never knew his
surname—was his valet, and between us we soon had the box open, the
Captain all the time asking me questions.

"I had a number of messages for you, sir, from people in Upton Overy.
I’ve got them all—nearly all of them—down in my notebook."

"Where is it?" he growled.  "Read ’em out."

But I’d left it down in my chest purposely, so that I could get a
"breather", and when I ran down to get it, Jim was waiting for me.

"Anything about the telegram or the jam?" he asked anxiously.

"Not yet; things are going all right so far;" and I raced back and began
reading the messages, till I came to the station master’s, and then I
got red and spluttered a bit and didn’t read it, but went on to Ned the
Poacher’s about the pheasants.

"Like his darned cheek!" the Captain roared, purple in the face.  "I’ll
shoot him the first time I catch him! He knows that, and keeps clear
when I’m about.  What’s become of his wife and kids?"

I told him, and then—I knew it must come out sooner or later—blurted
out, "and Puddock, the station master, asked me, sir, to tell you that
they were both ’fair to middling’, and ’his pigs have won first prize
this year at Barnton’.  Mrs. Puddock, sir, sent you a pot of cranberry
jam, but—but——"

"Where is it, Dick?  She’s made me a pot every year since I went to the
_Britannia_.  Bring it out."

Well, there was nothing else to be done.  I simply quaked with fear and
stuttered out: "Jim ate it, sir—I mean we both ate it," and then, before
he could say anything, I explained that Jim Rawlings had thought it was
mine, and that it would be a good joke to eat it without my knowing.

I suppose I looked so terrified that he hadn’t the heart to be angry.
He gurgled and growled and got red in the face, and I waited to see
whether it was going to be with amusement or anger, and oh! I was so
thankful, it was only amusement.

He sent me away then.  "You’ll shake down all right; glad to have you in
my ship;" and though I longed to ask him whether there was any chance of
going for those pirates, I hadn’t the pluck to do so, and bolted like a
rabbit.

[Illustration: H.M.S. "Vigilant"]



                              *CHAPTER II*

                        *Introduces Sally Hobbs*


    News of the Pirates—Mr. Hobbs Tells his Story—The Chinese
    Captain—The Pirates—Three Cheers for Miss Hobbs!—The Skipper
    gets the Telegram


           _Written by Commander Truscott, H.M.S. Vigilant_.


As I have been asked to assist in writing an account of the events which
happened during the last few months of the commission of our dear old
tub the _Vigilant_, I had better explain to you how they first arose.

We had been up to Shanghai, to be handy in case a serious effervescence
of native feeling against Europeans should bubble over, and get out of
the control of the local authorities.  As it happened, the agitation
fizzled out without our being required, and I think I can honestly say,
to our great disappointment.

From there we steamed down to Tinghai Harbour in Chusan, the largest of
the islands of the Chusan Archipelago, and anchored close to Joss House
Hill and the tumble-down ramparts of the new town of Tinghai.  All the
islands of the archipelago simply abound with game. There are pheasants
in every valley, and millions of duck, geese, curlew, snipe, and even
wild swan are to be found on the marshes, paddy fields, and vast
stretches of mud. It was for this reason that Captain Lester had
obtained permission to come here, and he had chosen Tinghai because its
harbour is the safest in the archipelago, as well as the most important,
being the centre for a vast trade carried on with Ningpo and Shanghai on
the mainland. Close inshore are always clustered a great number of fine
merchant junks, loading and unloading, and anchored off the town is
generally a small fleet of war junks.  These are supposed to cruise
round the islands and keep down piracy—as a matter of fact they don’t.
As an additional protection to the town and shipping, two little open
batteries are built at each end of the harbour, mounting fairly modern
breech-loading guns.

Half a mile inland, and only connected to the modern town by a rough
causeway through the paddy fields, is the ancient town of Tinghai.  It
is surrounded by a deep moat and lofty mud walls, which are pierced by
four gloomy archways.  These are flanked by towers, closed in by heavy,
iron-bound gates, and only approached over drawbridges whose rusty
chains are probably not equal to the task of hauling them up.

It looks gloomy enough from the outside, but it is still more so inside,
and the sullen, scarcely concealed hostility of the inhabitants of its
dark, horrid-smelling streets makes one exceedingly glad to get out
again into the daylight, with no more indignity than being spat at or
hustled.

The natives of the seaport town have grown accustomed to white men, and
if they do not exactly welcome them, they tolerate them amiably enough.
Indeed, a missionary and his wife—Macpherson by name—have lived here for
years, and are always dinning into our ears the number of converts they
have made.

You can imagine that everyone who could get away shooting did so, and
one evening I came back to the ship after a long day’s tramping through
paddy fields after snipe.  I had been using my new hammerless gun for
the first time, I remember, and hadn’t quite got into the "hang" of it,
and kept on forgetting to push up the "safety" catch.  Snipe don’t give
you much time for fooleries of that sort, so I hadn’t been very
successful.

I noticed that a Chinese cruiser was anchored close to the _Vigilant_,
but paid no special attention to her, because she often came in.  It was
getting dark, and I was in a hurry to get aboard, have a hot bath, and
change for dinner.  The skipper of the _Ringdove_, one of our gunboats,
had been shooting with me; I put him aboard his own packet, and then
pulled alongside the _Vigilant_, where Lawrence, our navigator, met me
at the gangway very excited, and I saw at once that there was something
the matter.  He followed me into my cabin, and whilst I changed into
uniform, told me what had happened.

The Chinese cruiser—the _Huan Min_ she was—an old wooden corvette
belonging to the Peiyang squadron, had been making one of her regular
cruises among the islands, and yesterday morning she had picked up two
Americans—an old man named Hobbs and his daughter—adrift in a boat.
They had reported that they and their steam yacht, the _Sally Hobbs_,
had been captured by pirates, and that somehow they themselves had
managed to escape. Turning out of her course to search for the yacht,
the _Huan Min_ had run into a fog, and presently found herself "right on
top" of a tramp steamer and the yacht herself.  Both had made off
inshore as quickly as possible, and the Chinese Captain, following them,
had rammed the poor old _Huan Min’s_ nose firmly into the mud.  He had
scarcely commenced to go full speed astern, when she came under a heavy
fire, either from the tramp steamer or the shore, a fire to which she
was unable to reply with effect.  She was hulled several times, and had
had some men killed and wounded before the rising tide enabled her to
back off into deep water and get out of range.  She had come along to
Tinghai as fast as she could, and Lawrence told me that the two
Americans were already aboard the _Vigilant_, and that Captain Lester
was furious at having to look after them.

"He’s had rather a bad day’s shooting, sir, and is in a bad temper."

This was Lawrence’s story, and excited enough he was about it and the
chances of our having a "show". "Strangely enough too, sir," he said,
"the First Lieutenant of that ship is an old chum of mine—a man named
Ching.  He was doing a year’s training in the old _Inflexible_ when I
was a Mid in her.  A jolly chap he was—we all liked him—and he’s coming
over after dinner to have a yarn, if he can get away."

I had to dine with the Captain that night—he positively refused to
entertain the two Americans by himself—and I learnt from the old father,
Mr. Martin P. Hobbs—I had seen his name in the papers—he was a wealthy
railway magnate—the details of their extraordinary escape. This is what
he told me, and you can take it for what it’s worth; but he was such a
weird, cunning little object, that I, somehow or other, found myself
doubting his story. He and his daughter Sally, who was as pretty as
paint, although her hair had been clumsily cut off, and who was now
trying to twist the dear old bully of a Captain round her little finger,
had been wandering about the Northern Treaty Ports, and at Shanghai had
met some Boston people who were, what he called, doing a "splash".
They’d been somewhere up country with a caravan of their own—somewhere
where no one else had ever been—and in order to go one better, nothing
would content Miss Hobbs but that her father should buy a small steam
yacht, which happened to be for sale, and start away for a thousand-mile
trip up the Yangtse.  The skipper of the yacht—they’d named it the
_Sally Hobbs_—seems to have been a dare-devil sort of scoundrel,
according to Hobbs, and instead of taking them up to Hankow, got them to
alter their plans, and brought them down among the islands.

One night they had anchored close to an island, and woke up to find the
yacht in possession of a crowd of Chinamen, simply swarming all over the
decks.  They were forced down below and locked in their cabins, and
there they stayed for a whole day, while the yacht steamed away.  Some
time during the next night Hobbs was roughly gagged and bound, a long,
blue, Chinese coat pulled over him, and he was made to get into a boat
alongside.  He found his daughter lying in the sternsheets, gagged and
covered with another blue native coat. He heard a scuffle on deck, but
it was too dark to see anything distinctly.  He thought he heard the
voice of the old Scotch engineer of the yacht, and then someone cast off
the boat and they drifted quickly away in the darkness.

In the morning they had been seen by the _Huan Min_, taken on board,
were in great danger whilst she was trying to fight the pirates, and
were afterwards brought along here.

That was his story, and as I said before, it did not convince me.  If
the whole scheme had been arranged, and he implied that the skipper of
the yacht was the arch villain, how on earth had he allowed Hobbs to
escape so easily? He must have known of his enormous wealth, and would
surely have kept close guard on him to extort a ransom later on.

However, there was his daughter, and no doubt her hair had been roughly
cropped off, and from what I know about women, especially pretty ones,
they wouldn’t lose their hair if they could possibly help it, and when I
looked across at her, the very picture of innocence, and heard her tell
the Skipper how they’d shorn it off, putting her hands through the
irregular bits left, her lips quivering, and her eyes filling with
tears, I was bound to believe that there was some truth in it.

It was amusing to watch the change in the Skipper’s manner.  He had sat
down to dinner with a scowl on his face that would have melted the paint
off the bulkhead, and snarled whenever he spoke; but now he was telling
her all about his wife and daughters, and she was holding up her wrists
to show him where they had been bound and bruised, and had completely
mollified him.

Presently Hobbs ventured to ask him if he would try and recapture the
yacht, and then the Skipper flared up again and roared at him, "that
American citizens should get their own ships to do their own dirty
work".  The Skipper’s language was never too refined, but the little man
wasn’t to be browbeaten.  "Guess the _Sally Hobbs_ was flying your own
red ensign, Captain," he answered defiantly.

"Darn my rags!  Why didn’t you say so before?" shouted the Skipper, and
got purple in the face.  "Those pirates dare touch anything under our
flag?  I’ll go after ’em to-morrow."

"I rather fancy she was," put in Miss Hobbs.  "Poppa and I were in such
a hurry, we’d only time to paint _Sally Hobbs_ on the stern and the
lifebuoys, and didn’t reckon it counted, altering the registration."

Well, that put matters in a new light, and I felt pleased at the
prospect of our taking a hand in the game.

I happened to think of Lawrence finding his chum on board the _Huan
Min_, and told the Captain about the strange coincidence.  "He’s
probably on board now, sir; he was coming over after dinner, if he
possibly could."

"Umph!  I’d like to see him.  He would probably be useful," growled the
Skipper, and sent "Willum" for him.

He came in presently, a fine-looking fellow in his black silk tunic with
gold dragons round the sleeves, tall and upright, with a determined,
prize-fighting jaw, which took the Skipper’s fancy directly.

He sat down, couldn’t keep his eyes off Miss Hobbs, and told us the
story which you know already.  He was very bitter about everything: his
guns were worn out, his ammunition rotten, and his shells wouldn’t
burst, and, he added, wincing, that they had not had sufficient medical
stores for their wounded.

The Skipper, who, I could see, was much attracted by him—it was his
square jaw that did it—offered to send carpenters over to help repair
damages next morning (our doctors had already taken charge of the
wounded), and promised that he would take the _Vigilant_ down to
investigate the island.

I waited only long enough for the Skipper to make out his orders for
raising steam in the morning, and slipped away to bed.

Next day we sent Hobbs and his daughter ashore—they were to stay with
the Macphersons at the Mission House—and steamed down to the island, off
which the _Huan Min_ had received such a hammering.

Though we spent the whole day examining not only the coast line, but the
interior itself, not a trace could be found of the existence of any
pirates or any battery.  In fact, the island appeared to be uninhabited,
and we steamed back somewhat out of patience with ourselves.

The next day the Taotai from the old town of Tinghai came on board in
great state, amidst the firing of three gun salutes from the war junks
and the _Huan Min_. The Captain of that ship came with him, and Ching
also, to act as interpreter.  I don’t quite know what their idea was,
but they imagined that the Skipper could do anything, and they implored
him to do something.  The poor, feeble old Taotai seemed to be at his
wits’ end, and must have stayed a couple of hours on board, pouring his
woes into the Skipper’s extremely unsympathetic ears.  It appeared that
he was responsible for the maintenance of order throughout the
archipelago, and that piracy had lately been increasing to an alarming
extent.  From island after island memorials and petitions had been
pouring in for the last six months, and the old man quite broke down
when he told us how impossible it was to do anything, and how he dare
not report the whole state of affairs to his Viceroy on the mainland.

"Why not?" growled the Skipper, glaring at him.

"He’d probably be dismissed, sir, or lose his head," Ching answered.

"And a good thing too.  Umph!" the Captain muttered. "Tell the old chap
that I’m sending a gunboat up to Shanghai to-morrow or the next day, and
will report everything to the Admiral, and must wait his orders. It’s no
use me looking for that yacht by myself—might as well look for a needle
in a haystack.  Umph!"

What annoyed him was that the Taotai wouldn’t send out his war junks.
We didn’t know the real reason for some weeks, but the old Taotai almost
cried when he said that if the _Huan Min_ could be beaten off by them,
the feeble junks wouldn’t stand a chance.  There was a good deal of
sense in that.

Of course, instances of piracy are always cropping up among these
islands—we had been long enough in Chinese waters to know that—and we
knew, too, that unless they became very numerous in the same locality,
the authorities did not take much notice of them.  You see it was only
in times of bad trade, when perhaps the fishing had been a failure, or
when the crops had been destroyed by one of the typhoons which used to
devastate the islands lying in its track, that the inhabitants,
practically threatened with starvation, would take to piracy as a means
of tiding over the bad time.

Just imagine the temptation of seeing some lumbering great junk becalmed
off your village, or stuck fast in the mud, if everyone was hungry and
desperate, and imagine what an easy thing it was to man all your boats,
surround her, and capture her.  The chances were that she was full up
with foodstuffs, beans, or rice or fish, and there was little to fear
from the authorities, far away in Tinghai. They would never hear of it
either, if you knocked the crew on the head.  That is practically what
would happen, and one lucky capture would set a village "up", till next
harvest enabled them to carry on their peaceable pursuits.

Sometimes, of course, it happened that their appetites would be so
whetted with their success, that they would lay in wait for every
favourable opportunity, and every crawling junk which passed.  Sooner or
later it would be known that it was dangerous to take that channel, and
sooner or later, if the trouble continued, a war junk or two, or perhaps
one of the Peiyang corvettes, would be sent there to burn the village
and hang a few of the inhabitants.

That is what you may call the ordinary course of events, and so long as
someone did get hanged and some village was burnt, all went smoothly,
and very little notice was taken of it.

But now, according to the old Taotai and Ching, it was a very different
pair of shoes.  There was organized piracy now; pirate junks cruised in
twos and threes, cutting out junks anchored in front of their own
villages, appearing from where no one knew, disappearing as
mysteriously, but scattering death and ruin wherever they did appear.

A whole fleet of merchant junks, crowded together for safety, had
recently been attacked by half a dozen pirate junks, and but one had
escaped, throwing her cargo overboard, and flying before the wind to
bear the news.

Not only were they evidently organized, but they also must have had
spies in the principal centres, because, not two months ago, a war junk
carrying the monthly salt tax to the mainland had been surrounded by
pirates and forced to surrender, in sight of land.  She had put up a
good fight, and was well armed—for a war junk—and not the least notice
had been taken of several merchantmen sailing with her for protection.
This outrage was the real reason why the _Huan Min_ had been sent down.

Merchant junks always do carry four or five small muzzle-loading
carronades, and these pop-guns had, up to now, been generally sufficient
to scare away any sea robbers. Now, however, these gentry had got
possession of such powerful weapons, that antiquated smooth bores were
out-ranged entirely.

For months junks hardly dare quit an anchorage, unless they sailed in
company with others, and if a strange lateen mat sail was sighted, would
huddle together, and be only too glad to escape by disabling one of
their own number, and leaving her a prey to their pursuer.  You can
understand the fright of these poor wretches, as they beat or drifted
through the narrow channels, burning joss-sticks on their high poops, to
implore the protection of one of their sea gods, and scuttling down
below in abject fear when a pirate junk swooped down on them like a
hawk, showing no mercy and giving no quarter, if any resistance was
offered.

It was then, in this plight, that the Taotai had implored Captain Lester
to give him assistance, and you can imagine that he was only too eager
to take the matter up, especially as the capture of the _Sally Hobbs_
under our flag gave him the excuse and opportunity he needed.

But he could do nothing till he had communicated with the Admiral and
asked for more gunboats.  This is what he did immediately, sending
despatches up to Shanghai by the _Ringdove_.

After that we had to be content to await events, and we had to wait for
nearly three weeks, as something went wrong with the mails.

During this time the _Tyne_ storeship arrived with a lot of gear for us,
as well as three youngsters.  Only one of them—Ford—had originally been
appointed to this ship, and I was much annoyed at two more being sent,
because our gunroom was already overcrowded, and I’m always having
trouble there, Langham, the Sub, having peculiar ideas of running the
"show" with which I don’t always agree.  Hobbs and his daughter seemed
to have taken up their quarters permanently at the Mission House, and
one day, before we eventually sailed, came off to tea with me—they’d
asked themselves, and I could not well refuse—and brought with them a
German named Hoffman, one of the finest specimens of a man I have ever
seen.  He caught the Skipper’s eye immediately, and the two were soon
engaged in trying various feats of strength, at which, as far as I can
remember, the German generally won, very much to the Captain’s
annoyance.  Little Miss Hobbs bothered me till I let her go down into
the gunroom to have all the "dear little midshipmen", as she called
them, introduced to her.  She made herself so popular there, that they
sang "For she’s a jolly good fellow", which made her fly back, in
double-quick time, with tears in her eyes, to my cabin, where her father
was smoking my cigars, and spitting, most accurately (and frequently),
into my fireplace.

Hobbs told me that Hoffman was the original owner of the _Sally Hobbs_,
had heard of her capture from some of the _Ringdove_ fellows at the
Shanghai Club, and had come across country to Ningpo, and from there to
Tinghai in a junk.  Mighty keen, too, he was to get hold of her, because
her rascally skipper, who had pretended to be his agent, had naturally
never paid over the purchase money.

He rather foolishly asked Captain Lester whether he could be of any
assistance to him in his search for her; but this made the Skipper flare
up and say that he hadn’t orders to do anything, and "if he did get
them", he growled, "it was time enough when ’Old Lest’", as he always
called himself, "had proved himself a blooming fool".  I softened the
Skipper’s fierceness as much as I could, for Hoffman was evidently hard
"hit" by his money loss, and, as he had lived all his life in China, I
thought that he very possibly would be of some assistance when we really
did come to business.

Well, at last, after we’d almost thought the Admiral had forgotten us,
the _Ringdove_ did arrive, and little Rashleigh, her Lieutenant
Commander, came on board, purple in the face because he would wear his
sword belt too tight, waved some official letters at me, and went down
aft.

It was not many minutes before I was sent for, heard the Skipper roaring
to Rashleigh to "throw away that cabbage stalk he was smoking", and to
Willum, "bring those eighteen-penny Havanas of mine", so knew, before I
saw him, that the news was good, and found him rubbing his hands
together and grunting with pleasure.  "We’ve got to go for ’em,
Truscott, got to go for ’em.  The Admiral’s sending me a couple more
gunboats, as well as the _Ringdove_, and I’m to have a free hand.  We’ve
got to get back that yacht, and Old Lest will give ’em a lesson not to
meddle with the British flag.  Umph!"

As he went over his correspondence I saw him read a telegram and turn
round furiously.  "Dash my wig, Truscott, look here, here’s
impertinence!  What the dickens is the Service coming to?" and he handed
it to me.

I couldn’t help laughing.  It read, "Midshipman Rawlings chum mine wants
come _Vigilant_—Ford Midshipman," and was sent from Singapore.

"Well, he’s managed to get here somehow or other, sir."

"Both of ’em, drat ’em! and brought that useless rubbish Morton with ’em
too!  Umph!"

The Skipper was really angry, but I managed to smooth things down.

"Pretty plucky thing to do, sir, and both Ford and Rawlings are not
half-bad boys.  They don’t know much, of course, but will do well."

"Umph!" he grunted.  "Plucky, do you call it?  I don’t.  I’ll see them
both presently."

It was lucky for them that the Admiral’s letters had brought such good
news.  As a matter of fact, we fully expected that they would, and in
the meantime the Skipper had obtained a vast amount of information from
the Taotai ashore, and had already roughly drawn out his scheme for
dealing with the pirates.

"If you want a good day’s rabbiting," he said, "stop the holes, stop ’em
up, Truscott."

His main idea was that the pirates must have, somewhere in the
archipelago, a base from which they operated, where they repaired and
revictualled their ships, and where they warehoused their captured goods
before selling them.  The authorities on the mainland had assured him
that no such dépôt existed on the mainland, so he only had the
archipelago to trouble about, and now he determined, first of all, to
examine every island.  The archipelago is roughly divided into five
great groups, and his scheme was to examine each group, one at a time.
The three gunboats and the _Huan Min_, which had been placed under his
orders by the Viceroy, were to do the exploring work, and he was going
to steam slowly, backwards and forwards to leeward, in order to catch
anything that tried to escape. You must understand that junks can hardly
beat to wind’ard, and would fly "down" wind.

His orders to Rashleigh and to the skippers of the other two gunboats,
the _Sparrow_ and _Goldfinch_, which arrived a day or two later,
were—"You fellows, go in and turn out the game, umph!  and Old Lest’ll
bag it when it comes down to him;" and his orders were the same, though
not in those words, to the Captain of the _Huan Min_.

Once the last gunboat had arrived, he did not lose any time, but weighed
anchor the very next morning, and with the clumsy old black corvette and
the three little white gunboats puffing after him, steered for the
north.

He chose to examine the northerly group first, because the winds, at
that season of the year, always had a good deal of "northerly" in them,
and, as I said before, junks beat to wind’ard so slowly that they would
never think of trying to escape in that way.

[Illustration: A Ting Hai War Junk (from a photograph)]



                             *CHAPTER III*

                      *The Vigilant under Orders*


    "Seven Bell" Tea Time—Sally Hobbs is Entertained—Mr.
    Rashleigh—The Pirates Raid a Monastery—A Fire on Shore—"A"
    Company Lands—"A" Company Doubles—A Fierce Tussle—Mr. Travers is
    Missing—The Return


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


Jim Rawlings and I managed to hold our end "up" all right in the
gunroom, and hadn’t been aboard a week before the Sub begun to leave us
alone.  We had hoped that that wretched telegram had been lost
somewhere, but it turned out that it had only been "hung up" at
Shanghai, and when the _Ringdove_ came down with the Admiral’s answer to
the Captain’s letters, she brought it with her.  Dicky was on watch,
heard Mr. Rashleigh tell someone that he had a telegram a fortnight old
for the Captain, guessed it was ours, and rushed down to the gunroom
flat to tell us. He looked as frightened as we felt.  Jim suggested
asking Willum to try and steal it from the Captain’s table, and we did,
but Willum didn’t like midshipmen, and told us that the Captain had his
hand on top of it too, so we could do nothing but huddle up on our
chests and wait.

Presently someone shouted down that we’d been ordered to recapture the
yacht and go for the pirates, and everyone began yelling and shouting
and cheering; you could hear the cheers as the news passed along from
one mess to the other.  It was so exciting, that Jim and I forgot all
about that wretched telegram, and we all made a fearful row in the
gunroom, and Mr. Hamilton, the big Engineer Lieutenant, hammered out
"Rule, _Britannia_" and "We won’t go home till morning" on the piano.
It was simply grand.

It was just about "seven bell" tea time when we heard the news, and when
we’d let off steam Mr. Langham banged on the table for silence.
"Gentlemen," he shouted, "on this great occasion, before you commence to
stuff yourselves with bread and jam, we will perform the time-honoured
ceremony of ’over the main top’, the last midshipman down to have no
’seven bell’ tea.  Stand by!" and we all tried to get a good position
near the door. "One!  Two!  Five!  Go!" and we all scrambled out,
helter-skelter up on deck, flattening out the sentry on the Captain’s
cabin, who did not get out of the way in time, up to the boat deck, into
the starboard main rigging, clambered up it, into the fighting top,
jumped across in a mob, down the port main rigging, half sliding and
getting our hands trodden on, and dashed back to the gunroom, where the
Sub-lieutenant and the A.P. were sitting with their watches in their
hands, to see whether any records had been beaten.

I was amongst the first few, because I had got a good start, but Jim was
nearly last—I’d seen him helping Dicky to haul himself into the fighting
top.  Dicky and Ponsonby—he was called Pongo for short—a fat little
cadet, were actually the last, coming in together and both claiming not
to be last.  Dicky, like an ass, squeaked out, "He trod on my thumb,"
and held it up to show the blood, "going up the ratlines," and Pongo
gasped, horribly out of breath, "I couldn’t climb into the top, I
couldn’t really; I nearly fell," and we all yelled with delight.  "You
climb into you hammock fast enough, you fat little beast," said Mr.
Langham. "The first three are Mr. Webster, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Pongo and Mr. ’Dear Little Dicky’ are last—a dead heat; neither of
them will have any seven bell tea.  Fall out!  Dismiss’"

It had just struck seven bells too, and Ah Man, the Chinese messman, and
Hong Cho, his steward, had covered the table with cups and plates,
loaves of bread, tins of salt butter, and pots of jam.  We all scrambled
for places—there wasn’t room for us all to sit down together—and grabbed
at Ah Man’s long white coat as the fat old chap came along, with his big
teapot, and tried to get an early whack of tea.  "No can do, Gen’l’men!
Makee too muchee bobberee; no can do, all same one time," the old chap
shrieked in his funny voice, as he pushed his way between the table and
the bulkhead.

Poor Dicky and Pongo had to wait on the Sub, cut him slices of bread,
spread them with butter, pile them up with jam, and then stand to
attention, whilst he very slowly ate them, and made funny remarks with
his mouth full—we had to laugh at them, whether we thought them funny or
not.

"The great thing in life, Mr. Pongo," he said, stuffing a huge piece of
bread and jam into his mouth, "is to be moderate in everything," and
when he could speak again, "You, Mr. Dear Little Dicky, may suck your
bleeding thumb if you’re thirsty, and don’t take it out again until I
tell you."

So there Dicky had to stand, with his thumb in his mouth, looking an
ass, and awfully miserable.

"There is still a chance of your getting some tea, my pet lambs," he
went on.  "Jones and Withers will be here in five minutes" (they were
the midshipman of the watch and signal midshipman, and came off watch at
4 o’clock), "and they’ll have to go over the ’main top’ before I can
make my final decision."

It wasn’t much of a chance, and when they did come down and were ordered
over the "main top", they were back again in a very much shorter time
than Pongo or Dicky had taken.

"I am so very sorry," said the Sub, chaffing them, "but for my sake, do
try and keep alive till dinner-time!"

"Now do, just for our sakes!" shouted nearly everyone—except Jim, who
was angry, and I rather fancy I didn’t, because I was angry too, for it
really wasn’t fair sport to make fun of such an ass as Dicky.

The buglers sounded off "evening quarters" just then, so Pongo and Dicky
escaped any more "rotting", though they dare not have any tea or cake,
even when the Sub’s back was turned, because that was against the rules.

Directly after the "dismiss" was sounded, Jim and I were sent for by the
Captain.  All our excitement simply fell out of us, and we were
fearfully frightened—Jim was as pale as a sheet.  We went in together
and stood to attention in front of him, quaking all over.

"Umph!" he growled.  "What’s the meaning of this?" and he held out the
hateful telegram; but we hadn’t the pluck to say anything—words wouldn’t
come.  "Infernal cheek, that’s what it was, and must have cost you a
pretty penny," and he glared at us over his cigar smoke.  "A pretty
penny, eh?"

Jim managed to tell him "One pound fifteen, sir."

"Umph! silly young fools," and then he hunted through drawer after
drawer in his knee-hole table, we didn’t know in the least what was
going to happen—Jim told me afterwards that he thought he was hunting
for a cane—found a couple of sovereigns and gave us each one—I nearly
dropped mine, I was so surprised—and growled out, "Off you go; don’t do
it again."

We just had the presence of mind to say, "Thank you, sir," and streaked
out like lightning, feeling happier than I can tell you, for now we
hadn’t a worry in the world—well, hardly, for the Sub didn’t really
count, nor Dicky either—and we had nothing to spoil our thinking about
the pirates.

That very afternoon Mr. Hobbs and Miss Hobbs came on board to tea with
the Commander, and he presently sent down to tell the Sub to have the
place "tidied up", as she wanted to come down and see the gunroom.  She
came, too, in a few minutes, and those of us who could not escape were
introduced to her, and then she sat down at our old "jingly" piano and
sang nigger songs to us, and we got over being shy, and the others
gradually came in, and we crowded round her, standing on the benches and
table, and joined in the choruses.

She was so absolutely "ripping", that when she went away we all sang
"For she’s a jolly good fellow", and did the hip! hip! hooray! part
jolly well—because we meant it.  She got quite white, I don’t know why,
some tears actually ran all down her face, she put her hand on Mr.
Langham’s arm—he looked jolly uncomfortable, but couldn’t move away
because he kicked up against the gunroom stove—and said, "Guess you’re
all too sweet for words," and slipped away back to the Commander’s
cabin, where her father was.  That made us quiet again—the tear part, I
mean—and she looked such a regular "brick", that we all would have done
anything for her, and it made it still more exciting to know that it was
her yacht which we were going to try and get back.  Jim swore that he’d
"scupper" the brute who’d cut off her hair, if he could find him, and
I’m certain that we all wanted to have a jolly good try too.

Well, at last we did get away, one exciting morning, the _Ringdove_,
_Goldfinch_, and _Sparrow_ coming along with us, and the _Huan Min_
simply making the whole sky behind us as black as your hat.  The smoke
she made was so thick, that it looked as if it didn’t like coming out of
her funnel.

For a week we wandered backwards and forwards to leeward of one of the
groups of islands, all of us in double watches at night, so as to keep a
better look-out, but nothing happened, and after that we chose another
group and waited outside while the gunboats searched it.  Still nothing
happened, and I don’t mind telling you that this wasn’t our idea of
excitement and pirate chasing.  A third week had nearly gone by when our
first news of the pirates came.

Very early one morning the _Ringdove_ was sighted coming towards us very
fast, and presently her Captain, Mr. Rashleigh, bounced on board.  He
was quite purple in the face with excitement, and looked fatter than
ever.  "The Skipper hasn’t turned out yet," the Commander told him, as
he took him down below.  "You’d better be careful. He’s a bit ’livery’
in the morning."  He hadn’t been below three minutes before he bounced
up on deck again, looking "down in the mouth", went back to his gunboat
without saying a word to anybody, and the _Ringdove_ steamed away.

The Commander had to go to the Captain immediately, and through the open
skylight I heard the Captain bellow, "that fat little blockhead has let
’em slip through his fingers.  He drives the crew of a junk ashore, and
never stops to see what becomes of ’em.  I’ve sent him back, and we’d
better follow him."  Then I heard him give a terrific "Umph!"

Dicky found out all that had happened from the coxswain of the whaler
which had brought Mr. Rashleigh across.  He had slipped down the ladder
directly, which was rather a smart thing to do.  The coxswain had told
him that yesterday evening, just as it was getting dark, they had
sighted a junk becalmed under an island.  Her crew could be seen getting
out their sweeps and working at them frantically to try and escape, but
Mr. Rashleigh had turned on the _Ringdove’s_ searchlight, and, so the
coxswain said, thrown a drum of oil on the fires.  At any rate, he jolly
soon began to overhaul her rapidly, and as she came up, the junk’s crew
jumped overboard and swam for the shore.  Mr. Rashleigh immediately sent
a cutter’s crew away to board her.  Fortunately there had been some
little delay in shoving off, and before they could pull halfway the junk
blew up, which proves that she must have been a pirate.  The cutter was
so close that pieces of burning wood actually fell into the boat, and it
was jolly lucky that they weren’t actually alongside.

Mr. Rashleigh had only waited to pick up the cutter, and had then
steamed back to us.

The _Vigilant_ didn’t wait long after the _Ringdove_ had gone back
again, and followed her to the island, but by the time we’d got there,
there wasn’t a trace of the junk. Then came more excitement, for "A"
small-arm company—that was my company, the left half of it at any
rate—was "piped" to fall in.  I had to get my gaiters on, and a revolver
and a cutlass, and then superintend the serving out of ammunition.  Mr.
Travers, a tall, very aristocratic Lieutenant, was in charge, and the
Commander came too—more excited than anyone—and we were all sent ashore.
The Commander sprang into the soft mud with a whoop, and more or less
waded ashore, and we all followed him.  I got covered with mud up to my
knees, and that pair of trousers was never of any use afterwards except
for dirty work.  It was only a bit of an island, with a small village on
the opposite side, so we spread out in skirmishing order and crept down
on it, expecting to have shots fired at us every second.  There seemed
to be a lot of smoke about, and there was a burning smell in the air,
and when we’d got within three hundred yards the Commander gave another
whoop and sang out, "Rush ’em, boys!" and we all raced down as hard as
we could, but the only living things, there, were some pigs and dogs,
which ran away squealing and yapping.  There was only one hut which
hadn’t been burnt to the ground—some were still smouldering—-and down on
the beach were two dead corpses—ugh! They were the first I had ever
seen, and though I didn’t really want to do so, I couldn’t help going
down to look at them closely.  Some of my men turned them over with
their feet, to see how they’d been killed, and then I had to go away.

Presently some of the villagers began to creep back, and then we learnt
from them what had happened, through a Chinaman whom we had brought with
us as an interpreter. In the middle of last night a band of men had
swooped through the village and set fire to the huts.  Whilst the
frightened people were trying to escape or put out the fires, they’d cut
the mooring ropes of a junk lying close inshore, and had sailed away.
It was their only junk, too, and the poor brutes were absolutely ruined.
Before we left the village they’d all come back, and were moaning and
wringing their hands, but doing nothing to help themselves.  I shall
never forget one poor old woman, just a wrinkled bag of bones she was,
sitting on a stone in front of one of the half-burnt huts.  They had
brought one of the corpses to her, and she was swaying from side to
side, making a funny noise, and looking past everything, as though she
was mad.  One of the bluejackets gave her some tobacco as we went by.
"Here, mother!" he said, "here’s a bit of navy prick,"[#] and she
snatched it from him, stuffed some of it into her mouth, and went on
swaying and moaning.


[#] Navy Prick—Navy tobacco is served out in the raw leaf, and after
being rolled and squeezed together by the men, is known as Navy Prick.


When we got aboard again—I’d never been so dirty in my life—the Captain
was simply furious.  I heard him say, "If that little fool had only
stayed where he was, he’d have caught ’em," and we steamed back to our
cruising ground.

That didn’t end the day’s excitement—not by a long chalk—for presently
we sighted a solitary junk, thought it might be the one in which the
pirates had escaped, and chased her.  However, it turned out to be one
of the Tinghai war junks looking for us, and bringing letters from the
Taotai and Mr. Hobbs.

The news must have been very serious, for the Commander and the
Navigator and the Engineer Commander were all sent for, and we could
hear the Captain’s bellowing voice talking very fast.

We soon knew why; Willum and the sentry told us. The pirates had raided
the monastery of Tu Pu, cleared out all the monks’ hoards, and left them
hardly anything except what they stood up in.  The Taotai had written
imploring us to go back to Tinghai.

We didn’t understand how important this was till the A.P. (Moore, the
Assistant Paymaster) heard of it, and then he whistled, "My aunt! you
chaps, it’s the richest monastery in North China, and you can see it
from the top of Joss House Hill—it’s not twenty miles away."

Well, that made it exciting enough for anyone, and showed how daring
these pirates were becoming; and we all expected to go back at once, but
someone heard the Captain growl, "I’ve made my plans, and I’m not going
to fly this way and that way, every other second, for all the blooming
Taotais and pirates in the world."  So we didn’t go back till the
Saturday afternoon—as we had arranged.  No sooner had we anchored under
Joss House Hill, than the Taotai and Mr. Hobbs came on board, the old
Chinaman in a great state of funk. They brought two other Chinamen with
them, and they turned out to be two of the servants at the monastery.
Six days ago the monks had given shelter to some seamen, who had knocked
at the great gates and told a yarn of having been shipwrecked.  At night
these chaps had knocked the doorkeepers on the head, opened the gates,
and let in a whole crowd of Chinamen, and while some of them kept the
monks in their quarters, the others had looted the treasury and carted
away everything of value.  One of these two men had been too frightened
to notice anything, but the other said that he had managed to escape,
had hidden in a swamp down by the sea, and had seen two steamers, one
large and the other small, close inshore, and that the robbers all went
away in them.

"That’s Hobbs’s yacht and the tramp steamer, I’ll bet you anything," the
Sub said.

The Captain came up to see the Taotai and Mr. Hobbs over the side, and
we heard him ask Mr. Hobbs: "What’s become of that great German chap
Hoffman, eh?"

"He streaked across to squint at that collection of old monks right
away.  Says he’ll get information from them at first hand, and means to
find that yacht of his before he’s much older, I guess."

"Where’s Darter Sally?" asked the Captain.

"Staying up at the Mission House.  Guess she’s gotten a shy fit and
wouldn’t come on board," and the little man smiled, whilst the Captain
snorted, as if that was the last thing in the world he could believe.

We had been away from Tinghai for nearly three weeks, and of course we
had run out of fresh grub down in the gunroom, so you can bet your boots
the very first thing that Mr. Langham did was to send Ah Man ashore to
buy some; and he came back with a sampan loaded down with things, mutton
and fowls and ducks and eggs, and any amount of green stuff.  We had a
grand "blow out" at dinner that night, and afterwards the band played on
the quarterdeck, and the ward room officers sent down to ask us to join
forces in two double sets of "lancers".

Several officers from the gunboats, and that ripping Chinese friend of
Mr. Lawrence, had come on board too, and we had a great time.  Jim
Rawlings was on watch, so he turned Dicky over to me as my partner, with
a handkerchief tied round his leg, below the knee, to show that he was a
lady; and though he spoilt the dance, because he didn’t much care for
the free fight part of it, that did not matter much, as we never
finished it.  Just when we were in the middle of the "grand chain", down
came a signalman to report that there was a fire on shore, and everyone
stopped to look at it.  Then another started some distance from the
first, and then a third, till soon flames were shooting up from several
parts of Tinghai, close down by the water’s edge, and we could hear a
great row going on.  Somebody suddenly sang out, "There’s a rifle shot",
and we all listened, and in a moment or two could distinctly hear rifles
going off; and then tom-toms banged furiously all over the town, and one
of the junks fired three guns and burnt a red light.

We all stopped dancing and watched the flames.  We could see them eating
their way along the water front, bending and curling as the breeze swept
them in front of it, and spreading up the sides of Joss Hill.  Seen
through our telescopes, it was a very grand sight, for the native houses
burnt fiercely, and soon the whole of the harbour between us and the
town was glowing with the fire.  We could see the trading junks
hurriedly trying to cast off from the shore before the flames reached
them, drifting across the reddened water, and disappearing like black
ghosts.  We could also presently hear the actual crackle and splutter of
the fire, and even the shouts of the Chinese.  The Commander had been
all this time fidgeting round the Captain, evidently wanting to suggest
something, but not quite liking to do so, and I heard him whisper to the
Gunnery Lieutenant to get everything ready to land the fire engines.
Mr. Whitmore went away with a grin on his face to do this, very quietly,
and we all watched the Captain to see if he was going to give the order,
and almost shivered with excitement at the prospect of being sent
ashore—at any rate, I know that I myself shivered. The Commander still
fidgeted round the Captain, when suddenly there was such a furious burst
of flames, that he plucked up courage, and we—we were all listening and
longing for him to speak—heard him say: "It’s getting pretty bad, sir.
It seems to be working its way uphill towards the Mission House, and
there seems to be a good deal of rioting going on, sir."

"Umph!" the Captain growled, sticking his cigar into the corner of his
mouth, so that he could use his night-glasses better.  The Commander
knew that it was very inadvisable to actually suggest landing the fire
engines, because the Captain hated anything being suggested to him; but
we saw that he was getting more and more nervous, and at last he broke
out again: "It’s not more than half a mile from the Mission House now,
sir, and a native crowd is very apt to get out of hand.  I hope the
mission people and those Americans can clear out in time."

"I suppose you want to land and put it out, do you?" grunted the
Captain.  "All right, do what you like, umph! Teaching your grandmother
to——  Umph!"

You may be pretty certain that we all heard every word, and were off
that quarterdeck in a twinkling, rushing down below to change into our
oldest uniform, even before the bo’sn’s mate, who was standing by to
pipe it, yelled out: "Away fire engines for landing," and then "’A’ and
’B’ small-arm companies fall in," whilst the bugler sounded off the
marines’ call.

Dicky came down to help me find my things—he was not to land—and the
strange little beggar excitedly strapped on my gaiters, to save time.
As you know, I was one of the Mids of "A" company, and was on deck again
in a brace of shakes to see my half company of twenty-five men fall in,
my heart simply thumping with delight when I saw one of the gunner’s
mates passing round ball cartridge.  I don’t know anything which gives
you more of a thrill than the feel of a handful of loose cartridges,
when you know that you may have to use them, in a few minutes, for the
real thing.

In twenty minutes we were halfway ashore, towed by the steam pinnace.
Looking back, we could see the sides of the _Vigilant_ and the gunboats,
simply looking as if they’d been painted red and glowing; and as we drew
nearer the shore, it seemed to us that the whole town was on fire, the
flames roaring and crackling in the most terrifying manner.  Right up
above the flames and the smoke we saw the Joss House on top of the hill
all lighted up too, and perhaps what was the weirdest thing of all, was
that funny strange sound that a frightened mob always makes.

Mr. Travers, the lieutenant of "A" company, formed up directly we
landed, about fifty yards from the edge of the water, and we had to keep
back an excited crowd which began to gather, while "B" company and the
marines scrambled ashore and dragged the fire engines and hoses out of
the boats.

I don’t think that I had ever been so excited in my life.  It was rather
nervous work too, for the Chinese began pressing against us—an
evil-looking crowd they were, come from the old town, we learnt
afterwards—but Mr. Travers was simply splendid.  He is a tall, thin,
frightfully lackadaisical and aristocratic-looking man, and he stood
there, in front of "A" company, and never stirred a muscle, though the
natives thronged around him and hustled him.  You would have thought
that he did not even see them.  Presently some stones began flying
amongst us from somewhere at the back of the mob, and my men began to
get impatient—you could feel that, even without watching them shuffling
from one foot to the other, or jamming their caps down on their heads,
or pulling their chin stays down, as if they were getting ready for a
scrap.  The crowd got bolder then, and began to press still more
closely.  I was nearly separated from my half company, and was really
rather nervous, when Mr. Travers sang out: "’A’ company, at ’shun!  Fix
swords!"[#] I repeated: "Left half company!  Fix swords!" and was very
relieved to do so, I need hardly tell you, and drew my dirk.  The men
all bent down to the left, and it was very comforting to hear the rattle
of their bayonets being snapped on the rifles.  "’A’ company!  Stand at
ease!" sang out Mr. Travers, and you could see the two lines of
bayonets, like streaks of light, looking jolly sharp and pointed.


[#] Bluejackets’ bayonets are always spoken of as "swords" in the navy,
and the order is always, "Fix swords". The Royal Marines give the order,
"Fix bayonets".


The Chinese didn’t stay too close after that, especially as the
remainder of the men had landed by this time, and we began to advance up
the beach and into the town.  It was very unpleasant at first, because
the flames seemed so close and almost scorched us, roaring in places so
loudly that we could not hear any orders.  We had to move aside, too,
every now and then, to avoid burning pieces of wood that fell, but we
gradually worked round in front of the fire, to make our way uphill
towards the Mission House, and pressed along through the streets which
had not yet been attacked.  A Chinese street is bad enough in the
daytime, but it was perfectly horrid now, and we had to force our way
along, pressing a yelling "smelling" mob in front of us.  These streets
were almost dark, too, which made it all the worse, and I don’t know how
we managed to get along as well as we did, stumbling at every other
step, and lurching into each other.  I tried to keep as close to Mr.
Travers as possible, but it was almost like a free fight, and we shoved
and pushed for all we were worth, sometimes having even to use our fists
to clear a way. More often than not, I was simply carried forward by the
pressure of my men behind me, and all the time we could hear the fire
roaring and crackling only two or three streets off.  We had first to
make a wide sweep round to the right, then go uphill to get round the
fire and above it, and then back again to the left in order to get
between it and the Mission, where, of course, we knew that the
missionary, his wife, Mr. Hobbs, and his daughter must be in great
danger.  We fought our way along as fast as we could, and presently got
into a broader street, where the crowd did not bother us so much, and
where we made much better progress, but were right to leeward of the
burning town, and were smothered with smoke and sparks.  Just then Jim
Rawlings rushed up—he was acting as "doggy" to the Commander—bringing
with him a native, covered with blood.  "The Commander wants you to
hurry on as fast as you can," he told Mr. Travers; "they’re looting the
Mission.  This man will show you the way; he’s one of the Mission
servants."

"My God, that’s what I feared!" groaned Mr. Travers, and shouted to the
men to "double".  "Double, men! double!" and ’A’ company, spitting and
choking and coughing, because of the smoke, commenced running. From
somewhere in the rear the Commander joined us, Jim panting behind him.
He had his sword drawn, and looked terrible.  "I’ve brought ten more
men, Travers," he gasped, and had enough breath to shout: "Keep it up!
Keep it up, men!  There are women to be saved!"  The men yelled, and
went even faster than before, panting and sweating.  We’d got above the
town, well clear of the fire, but we could still feel its heat, and were
wet through with sweat.  The Chinese servant couldn’t keep up with us,
but that did not matter, for we suddenly turned a corner and saw, three
hundred yards ahead of us, the white walls of the Mission House, and saw
that it was surrounded by a howling mob of natives.

I heard the Commander give a groan, a funny kind of sob it was, and he
and Mr. Travers and Jim and I simply tore along.  We hadn’t more than
four men with us, because the others, with their rifles in their hands,
were not able to run so fast; but I don’t think anybody would have
stopped, even if he had been alone, and the mob had been twice as big.
You thought of nothing but pretty little Sally Hobbs with her great eyes
and her cropped hair.  Suddenly, from a street on our left, darted a
tall figure, brandishing a sword and followed by twenty or thirty more.
They rushed out from the dark shadows of the houses, and we thought they
were going to attack us—at any rate, I did—and I don’t mind confessing
that I felt frightened, though chiefly, I think, because a scrap with
them would hinder us from rescuing Sally Hobbs.  One of our men fired
his rifle, we heard a yell of pain, and then, before we could do
anything more, the leader came out into the firelight, and we saw that
it was Lieutenant Ching, of the _Huan Min_.  "Come on, sir!" he shouted,
and we all mixed together in a crowd, and ran as fast as we could.  Two
huge Tartar bluejackets panted beside me, their felt boots hardly making
the least noise, and I don’t think that I shall ever forget them, or
their white faces, or the sound of their breathing as they ran alongside
me, making not the least noise with their feet.

The mob was so busy, trying to fight a way for itself into the Mission,
that they didn’t see us till we were right among them.  Mr. Ching got
there first, then the Commander and Mr. Travers, and I and the two
Tartars plunged in after them, and fought our way towards the little
gate.  Just as we plunged in, the mob gave a great howl of delight, and
I saw flames shoot out from the downstairs windows.  This took their
attention away from us, but it was awful, and we hit all the harder.
They didn’t oppose us much till we got to the gateway, and there we met
a stream of them coming back from the house, loaded with chairs and
clothes and all sorts of things.  We had a fierce tussle for a minute or
two, knocked them over or brushed them aside, and rushed up the path to
a verandah. It was then that I missed Mr. Travers.  I had simply been
following close behind, squeezing into the gap he made in front, but
now, all of a sudden, I missed him.

[Illustration: A FIERCE TUSSLE]

The remainder of "A" company had arrived by this time, and we could hear
them at the back of the mob, fighting their way through to us.  Some of
them began shooting, so the Commander sent me back to steady them—a
jolly difficult job, too, and I didn’t like going through the crowd by
myself; but they seemed to clear aside, and I managed to get hold of one
or two of the petty officers, and gradually got the men into something
like order.  There wasn’t any need to shoot, because the crowd had now
fallen back in alarm, and were only booing and yelling and throwing
stones.

Then I saw a commotion in the crowd, and suddenly that big German, who
had come on board once with Mr. Hobbs, and beaten the Captain at
weight-lifting, burst through and rushed past me, his face all drawn and
haggard.  "She’s lost, mein Gott!  She’s lost!  Too late!" and he dashed
into the burning house, and I heard him roaring, "Sally!"

Jim Rawlings came up panting and asking for ten men, and disappeared
with them among the sparks and smoke, into the darkness behind the
house, which was now a mass of flames from top to bottom, with big
flames licking out from every window.  The heat was intense.  It was
really a most awful time, with the burning house behind me and that mob
of wild people below, all longing to cut our throats, only not daring to
rush us, because they had no one to lead them.  I could still hear the
Commander’s voice bellowing inside the house and calling the missionary
and Mrs. Macpherson, and Mr. Hobbs and Sally, by name—but no one
answered, and there was no sign of any of them.  For one moment Mr.
Ching appeared at an upper window, then the roof began to fall in, but
they both crawled out on to the verandah before it collapsed altogether
with a crash.

They would have been buried and burnt alive if they had stayed another
second.

"That German man has just gone in, sir."

"He’s dead by now," the Commander answered grimly, and my blood seemed
to go quite cold, as the flames rushed up into the sky, hundreds of feet
up, and I knew that Mr. Hoffman was being burnt to ashes.

The rest of our people—the marines and "B" company, with the fire
engines—came up now, and the crowd split in two to let them pass, and I
had an insane hope that even then they might be able to save that
German; but by the time they had dragged the hand pumps up the path, and
got their hoses led to a little stream at the back of the house, they
might just as well have tried to put the fire out by spitting at it.

Seeing that there was no chance of looting any more, the crowd seemed to
melt away.  Probably they went off to loot elsewhere.  They were more of
the old town mob, and weren’t going to waste time, I expect.

The Commander ordered the pumps to stop heaving—it was really silly to
go on with them—and then we scattered in little parties to search the
hill behind the house.  The Commander was fearfully angry because Mr.
Travers was not there to take charge of his men.  "He’s never where he’s
wanted," he said, and took most of "A" company away with him.

"Where can Mr. Travers have gone?" I kept on wondering, but hadn’t much
time for thinking, as I only had been left a very few men to guard the
burning house, and there were still a good many prowling Chinese
sneaking round, and I had to make my men keep them away. It seemed an
awfully long time before suddenly we heard a shout and a cheer from
somewhere up the hill.  "Thank God, sir, they’ve found that pretty
little American lady!" one of my petty officers said.  "It’s worth
spoiling our clothes for that;" and in a minute or two Mr. Ching came
out from the darkness into the glare, bearing in his arms a woman.  It
wasn’t Sally Hobbs, however, but Mrs. Macpherson—I could see her black
hair.  As he came into the light I saw him look down at her face with a
strange expression, and then he gave a groan—I was near enough to
hear—laid her on the ground somewhat roughly, and disappeared again.
Her husband came too—he was a "rotter".

"Where’s Sally Hobbs?" I asked, jumping across.

He shook his head, as he supported his wife.  "Don’t know.  She and her
father went out to see the fire directly it started, and we’ve not seen
them since."

That sent the blood to my feet again and I felt terrible, and almost
thought of taking my men down into the town to try and find her, though,
of course, that would have been idiotic; and, too, I had to stop where I
was till the Commander came back.  However, I sent an able seaman to
find the Commander, and presently I heard the bugles sounding the
"retire" and the "fall in", and gradually the men came scrambling out of
the dark and formed up in the road in front of the ruins of the house.
Lieutenant Ching and his men came back too.

"What’s to be done now," the Commander asked, when he had heard the
missionary’s story.  Mr. Ching turned a haggard face towards the town,
where the fire had nearly burnt itself out, and the greatest noise was
the noise of the mob, and I saw him shake his head in a terribly sad
way, "You no good there.  I take my men down and try and find news."  He
had no sword—he must have dropped it—but in his hand was a grey
tam-o’-shanter hat, and I recognized it as the one Sally Hobbs was
wearing that day she came down into the gunroom.  He was clutching it
very tightly, and suddenly fell on the ground.  Our Surgeon, Dr.
Barclay, was over him in a moment.  He had only fainted, but then it
turned out that he had been struck by that bullet, which one of our men
had fired, just as he and his men had joined us on the road.  It had
gone clean through his left shoulder, and he had lost a tremendous lot
of blood.  How he had managed to keep "going" all this time, Dr. Barclay
couldn’t understand, and I wondered how he had managed to carry Mrs.
Macpherson, and then remembered that he had put her down rather
clumsily, and understood why.  He called to one of his men, gave him
some hurried orders, and then they all disappeared towards the town.
"Sent them to try and find news," he told the Commander.  It was
practically dark now because the fires had gone out, but presently the
_Vigilant’s_ searchlights were turned on to us and made it less horrid.
Some Chinese soldiers also came running up, followed a little later by
the Taotai himself from the old city, in his sedan chair, and surrounded
by more soldiers.

He was in a terrible fright when he found that he was too late, and that
Mr. Hobbs and his daughter had not been found.  He did not stay long,
and took his men down to the town to keep order and find news of them.

As there was nothing more to do till daybreak, the Commander sent most
of the men back to the ship with the fire engines, and I had to go back
with "A" company, as Mr. Travers had not appeared.  It was horrid work
finding our way back to the sea, but I hardly remember it, for I was
very sleepy and awfully miserable, and simply stumbled back, half
asleep, thinking of Sally and her father and that German, and of what
could have happened to Mr. Travers.

We got aboard about half-past three in the morning, and I turned into my
hammock, tired and miserable, and pretended that I was asleep when Dicky
tried to ask for news, although I wasn’t able to sleep for thinking, and
for being so miserable.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                    *The Loss of Lieutenant Travers*


    No News of Sally Hobbs—A Discovery—Those Villainous Pirates!—The
    Skipper is Furious—Weary Waiting—The Skipper Rages—"I’ll do ’em
    yet"


        _Written by Commander Leonard Umfreville Truscott, R.N._


You have already heard of that disastrous fire at Tinghai, and of our
failure to rescue the American, Mr. Hobbs, and his daughter Sally, the
strange disappearance of Travers, and the death of that German fellow,
so that I will tell you of what happened afterwards.

After sending Whitmore, our Gunnery Lieutenant, back to the ship with
the fire engines, the marines, and "A" company, I waited for daylight,
guarding what was left of the Mission House with "B" company.  Our
failure to save little Sally Hobbs and her father cast a great gloom
over my men, which was still further increased when it became evident
that something serious must have happened to account for the absence of
Travers.  Young Ford was most positive that he had seen him enter the
Mission gate, but after that no one seems to have seen him. However, we
fully expected him to turn up at daybreak, and could do nothing to
assist him till then, if he had in some way or other lost his way in the
darkness.

But I don’t mind confessing that to protect Sally Hobbs was uppermost in
the minds of every officer and man who had landed that night, and the
thought of her, surrounded by a howling mob of maddened Chinamen, was
the spur which had urged everyone so wildly through the streets.  Our
failure and her probable fate, down in the burning town, made us bite
our lips in great agony of mind.  Fifty times during the night was I
implored by my men to take them down into the town itself; but I knew
that it would be useless, and that lost among those narrow, straggling
streets, and unable to keep in touch with one another, we should be
simply courting disaster. If I had been alone I suppose that I should
have gone, and it was a great strain not to go, and take my eager men
with me; but I had no right to risk their lives uselessly. It was quite
another pair of shoes for Ching and his men, because they were among
their own countrymen, and ran little risk by doing so.  Ching, himself,
as soon as Barclay had dressed his shoulder—it was most unfortunate that
one of our people had wounded him—followed his men there and left us to
ourselves.  I told him that we should remain near the Mission all night,
and resume our search in the morning.  Poor fellow, I think he was as
distressed as any of us were at the fate of the little American girl,
for even his thin, usually expressionless face showed traces of the
anguish which we all felt.  In the house he had found a grey
tam-o’-shanter cap which she had worn, and I saw him stuff it into his
tunic, and, you may be sure, was in no mood to chaff him about it.

Mrs. Macpherson told me, before her husband took her away to the house
of some native convert, that directly the fire had started down in the
town, Sally Hobbs, poor little girl, had made her father take her down
to see it, throwing a shawl over her head and hurrying away, just as she
would have done in America, in spite of the earnest entreaties of
Macpherson himself.

As day dawned, Ching brought his men back, their faces and uniforms
blackened and torn.  "I have no news, sir. Not a trace of her to be
found;" and then he threw himself down on the ground, utterly exhausted.
His men—Tartars of splendid physique—were as worn out as he was.

As I expected, Captain Lester sent me a fresh lot of men, and food for
the few I had kept with me.  I therefore started with them to make a
more systematic search than it had been possible to make in the
darkness, leaving my other fellows to share their food with their
Chinese comrades.  We searched the ground behind the Mission, examining
every hut and outhouse as we went, and gradually spread out towards the
left and towards a little bay or sweep of the coast, which here ran into
the land.  For an hour we searched without result, but then a seaman
came running back with a uniform glove which he had picked up by the
side of a small path running down towards the sea and that small cove.
The glove might or might not have belonged to Travers, but I knew that
he was probably the only one of us who would have worn gloves—he was
rather eccentric about dress—so hoped that this might be some clue to
his disappearance, and followed the path.  Almost immediately another
man picked up a handkerchief.  The initials in one corner were
H.C.L.—those of Lawrence, our navigator—but though he had not landed, I
knew that Travers had a weakness for borrowing other people’s things,
and my hopes were again raised.  I am afraid that my brain wasn’t
working properly—the terrible night was responsible for that—and for the
life of me I could not imagine what reason could have brought Travers
along this path.  We yelled his name, my bugler boy blew the "close",
but without result, except that all the mongrel curs in the
neighbourhood started yapping and howling.

I followed that path till it dipped over the crest of a ridge and then
led down to the little bay below us—a little bay with a curved mud
beach.  My men were on the point of rushing down to it, when Trevelyan,
the Lieutenant who had brought them ashore and relieved Whitmore,
suggested that we might find traces of footmarks to help us.  I
therefore sounded the "halt", and he and I went down alone.  Trevelyan
was quite right, the muddy shore was covered with footmarks in one
place, and there were also three long furrows in the mud, evidently made
by the keels of boats.  These furrows led right up to high-water mark,
and my brain was not too dense to appreciate the fact that three boats
had been there at high water. We could trace the furrows for fifteen
feet or more down the shore, and one went much farther than the others.
"They shoved them off and had to push hard, sir," cried Trevelyan,
bending down and showing me how deep some footmarks were, and how the
mud was piled up at the back of them.  "It was at the last tide too,
sir, otherwise they would have been washed flat again."  That was
evident enough, but I couldn’t think what he was driving at.

"When was Travers last seen, sir?"

"About one o’clock in the morning—there or thereabouts," I told him.

"Well, high tide was at about midnight, so these boats must have been
shoved off about an hour and a half afterwards, half an hour or so after
you lost Travers."  He was getting quite excited, but, honestly, my
brain wouldn’t work.

"And this boat must have been later still, sir," and he pointed to the
longer furrow.

Then there was a yell above us from some of the men who had been
wandering about, and we saw several of them stooping over a clump of
scraggy bushes, and one came down to tell me that they had found some
dead Chinamen.

I went up and saw two—disgusting objects they were—with their noses and
lips cut off.  I couldn’t stand the sight; I’d had no breakfast, and
walked away, feeling dazed and sick, and opened my mouth and drew in the
sea breeze to drive the smoke fumes away from my head.

Trevelyan joined me in a few minutes.  "One of those fellows has been
shot at very close quarters, for his clothes are singed and blackened,
and the other has had his head battered in.  Look, sir! they must have
been dragged along there," and he pointed to a broad mark, running along
the mud from the bushes to the furrows.

He ought to have been a detective, ought Trevelyan, and was off in a
"jiffy" to search for fresh traces. "Footmarks! bootmarks! plenty of
them, sir," he shouted presently, and I saw him bending down and
measuring them with his handkerchief.  "Ours, I expect," I sang back;
but he shook his head, and presently came up to me in a great pitch of
excitement—he had taken his own boots off by this time to avoid making
any more marks—"There are at least three different sizes down there,
sir! European bootmarks too.  One of them might belong to Travers, but
there are some very much larger ones than his, and I don’t think that
one man made them all.  There must have been several Europeans down here
early this morning.  This must be where the pirates landed and shoved
off again, sir—two of the boats more or less together, and the third
half an hour or so later—but I’m bothered if I can make out those two
corpses, and what they are doing here."

I dragged him away.  He was very reluctant to go, and kept turning back
and scanning the shore with his glasses.  Suddenly he took me by the
shoulder—I was so "jumpy" that his touch gave me quite a shock—"Look
there, sir!  What’s that?" and before I could say anything he darted
back, began to undress, and then wading and swimming, and clinging to
some fishing stakes which jutted out from the shore, he made his way to
where something hung from the farthest fishing stake.  I could see that
it was something coloured, and as he came back with it I recognized it
as a shawl belonging to Mrs. Macpherson, and remembered that she had
told us that Sally Hobbs had borrowed one before going down to the fire.

I knew what it all meant now—her disappearance—the bootmarks on the
shore—the furrows of those boat keels—and the shawl—and that the poor
little girl had again fallen into the hands of those fiends of pirates.
One cannot explain, or describe, how one feels on occasions like this,
though I do know that when Trevelyan rejoined me presently, blue in the
face with cold, and with his teeth chattering, but bringing the shawl,
and intensely eager to solve the mystery, I felt as though I wanted to
hit him, and hated to have to tell him all it meant.

"Give it to me," I said harshly.

"No, sir; I cannot.  I found it, and if it turns out as you say, I’m
going to give it back to her."

We said not a word as we trudged back to the Mission House, neither of
us caring to speak of what we feared. Ten minutes ago I should have been
inexpressibly pleased to have found Travers, but now I eagerly hoped
that he had been kidnapped too, and that, in some way or other, he might
be able to protect her—for her father I cared not two straws, nor did I
place reliance on any effort of his to save either of them.

Fortunately Captain Lester was waiting for us near the ruins of the
Mission House, and it was a relief to find him in a bad temper.  He
didn’t wait to hear what I had to tell him, but, shaking his fist at me,
bellowed out, "This is the work of those villainous pirates"—he was
hardly able to speak for rage.  "Set fire to the town—right under my
nose—made a fool of Old Lest, and cleared out again without a scratch.
And that little lass too!  What’s become of her and of that fool
Travers? I can’t trust a single one of my officers.  Umph!  Here you go
ashore to put out a fire, don’t save anyone, and shoot that chap Ching.
Umph!  I’d like to——  Umph!"

I rapidly told him all that had happened.

"Poor little lass!  Poor little lass!" he groaned, and all the anger
died out of his face.  He came down with me to that bay, saw the bodies
and the marks on the shore, sent people to scour all the neighbourhood;
but nothing more could be discovered, and we went back again.

Presently the missionary came up—he’d been down to see those bodies too.
He was shaking like a leaf, and his sunburnt face was quite ashen in
colour.  "Ah, mon!" and he wrung his hands, "but one o’ those puir dead
things was my servant.  I know him by his clothes—the one with his head
fair smashed in."

I had had too many puzzling events suddenly sprung on me that morning,
and, honestly, couldn’t try to explain this last, and could only say
feebly, "Poor chap!  Poor chap!"

"A vairy faithful mon, an’ vairy leetil expense," moaned the missionary.
Trevelyan showed him the shawl, and he recognized it at once as the one
Sally Hobbs had thrown over her head before leaving the Mission, so our
last faint hope vanished.

Fortunately young Rawlings relieved the grimness of everything just
then.  He is a most pugnacious youngster, and though I had sent him on
board with Whitmore, he had managed to come ashore again.  He had got
into trouble with two coolies—I suppose he had found them looting—and
had gone for them with his fists, and was laying about him in fine
style.  One had taken to his heels, but the other stood his ground, and
kept banging at him with a piece of wood.  The Skipper caught sight of
them too, and, for all the bad temper he was in, smiled grimly, and
chuckled out, "Go it, youngster!"  Rawlings had already received a nasty
cut over the forehead, and would have been "knocked out" in another
minute, if I hadn’t stepped forward and knocked the fellow down. I don’t
mind telling you that I put more "beef" into that blow than was
absolutely necessary.  Somehow or other I felt I must hit somebody, and
it was unlucky for that Chinaman.

"Go down to the boat, Mr. Rawlings.  Umph! what d’you mean by brawling?"
growled the Skipper, suddenly remembering himself.

The Skipper told me, as we walked back to the landing-place, that
several Europeans had been seen during the night, and that they were
evidently in command of parties of Chinamen, who had prevented the
inhabitants extinguishing the flames when they first started.  This made
it positive that it had been the work of the pirates, and confirmed the
rumours that Europeans had frequently been seen among them at different
times, and when any outrage on a large scale had been carried out.

What made the Skipper so furious was that they had so completely
outwitted him; and he became purple in the face with fury at their
daring to swoop down on the town, under his eyes, as it were, burn half
of it, kidnap Hobbs and his daughter, probably Travers too, and get away
scot free.

He took it as a personal insult, and I can’t tell you all the mad things
he suggested.  He felt very much as I did—he wanted badly to batter
somebody’s face, but he soon quieted down, and walked beside me with
great strides, grunting and growling, and screwing up his face, and I
knew that he was trying to work out some plan in his bull-dog brain.

But you can’t hit a man till you’ve caught him, that was the difficulty,
and we had to catch him first, and knew well enough that among these
islands were a thousand places where those two steamers—the tramp and
the yacht—could lie concealed for years.

"Unless they want to make money over ’em, they’re as good as done for,"
the Skipper said, as we went on board.  "Poor little lass, not more’n a
couple of years older than my lass Nan!"

I had served with "Old Lest" seven years, and I would do any mortal
thing for him.  He pretended he was a thundering bully, and was really
as gentle as a child; and the men worshipped him, his gruff voice and
great red face—even his bad temper.  I was extremely sorry for him too,
because the responsibilities resting on him were so great, prompt action
so necessary, and the difficulties so enormous.

He did what I suppose was the best, and sent the gunboats and the _Huan
Min_ cruising, whilst we remained at Tinghai, with fires "banked".
Leave to officers and men was forbidden, and that meant, of course, that
the Skipper himself did not go ashore, and had to give up his shooting,
which was the one thing for which he lived. The _Vigilant_ was, in fact,
kept ready to start within an hour of receiving any news.

Meanwhile natives—as trustworthy as Ching and the Taotai could
procure—had been scattered through the archipelago, and the war junks
also had been induced to leave Tinghai and endeavour to procure
information. The Skipper seemed to depend upon these particularly,
because they had naturally more intimate knowledge of the islands and
the character of the people.  They could cruise, too, without attracting
so much attention as our gunboats.  They generally cruised for a week,
and at the end of that time came sailing back to Joss House anchorage,
covered with flags and firing off guns, but with never a particle of
news.

Week after week went by, and not a trace of the pirates could be found.
Indeed, they seemed to have disappeared off the face of the seas, and
not a single outrage had been reported since they had burnt Tinghai.
Rashleigh, coming back in the _Ringdove_, did certainly report that he
had one night heard what he thought was the sound of guns somewhere off
the Chung-li Tao group, but had discovered nothing when he steamed in
the direction of the noise.  "Silly fool!" roared the Skipper to me, "he
don’t know the difference between thunder and guns."

These weeks of weary waiting were most depressing, and the constant
confinement on board, without any exercise, most bad for our health—and
tempers.

We now felt sure that someone, probably the dead Mission servant, had
guided Travers down to the shore that night; that he, like the mad
fellow that he was, had rushed off alone, hoping to rescue Sally and her
father single-handed, and that he had been kidnapped with them.  I
forgot to tell you that Barclay, our Surgeon, had found the bullet in
the body of the mutilated Chinaman, and that it was a service Webley
revolver bullet, so it was quite possible that Travers had shot him.
There probably had been a scuffle, and the Mission servant, not being
worth capturing, had been killed and mutilated to prevent recognition.

We all were so worried and depressed, that two days of strenuous work,
coaling ship from a collier, and another day of cleaning ship
afterwards, came as a welcome relief. It’s precious seldom that one does
welcome that job, but we did then.

For some long time I had not heard the noise of the gunroom piano.
Someone or other would be banging it at all hours of the day, and as the
gunroom was immediately beneath my cabin, the noise was a continual
source of annoyance to me.  My messenger used to be always taking down
fiery messages to the Sub, Langham.  The absence of this noise was now a
blessed relief, and when I mentioned it to Langham, he asked me to go
down and see for myself the reason of it.  I went down, and found that
the piano was shut, and that _Vigilant_ cap-ribbons had been glued
across, to prevent it being opened.  "Miss Hobbs was the last to play
it, sir, and the Mids and all of us have sworn that no one shall play it
again till she does, and till she cuts those ribbons with the senior
mid’s dirk."

"Who suggested that?" I asked, smiling.

"Mr. Langham, sir," several of the mids cried; but he, getting red in
the face, said it was Hamilton, the Engineer, and he put it on to Moore,
the A.P., so I left them settling the subject, and only too glad that
the piano was so effectually sealed.

I think that everyone did feel, as the gunroom did, that some day we
should see them all aboard again—Travers, with his mad, chivalrous
notions and "tired" manner, and the pretty little girl, with her winsome
face and funny twang.

At the end of the third week after the fire at Tinghai, the United
States gun-vessel, the _Omaha_, came down to place herself under the
Skipper’s orders and assist us in our search.  She was larger than our
gunboats, very much more modern, and was rather quaint looking, with one
mast and an enormously long, thin smoke-stack.

"If that chap comes along here giving Old Lest advice, Old Lest will——
Umph!" the Skipper growled when she was sighted.

Her captain, a man named Parkinson, was a tall, gaunt, disappointed man,
with grey hair, and as old as Captain Lester himself, though actually
junior in rank to me.  He came across to report himself, and I heard him
say, "Guess my boys thought the old _Omaha_ was a fixture in the
’chow-chow’ water at Shanghai, and our mud-hook could never be hauled
out again.  Say, Captain, we are right pleased to come and assist you."

He was sent away cruising.

Another weary week went by, and still no news came.

Then it turned out—one of the gunboats actually caught them at it—that
those war junks, on which the Skipper relied so greatly for information,
simply went out of harbour, round the corner, and hid in a neighbouring
creek till their provisions ran out, and they had to come back again for
more.

This news put the finishing touches to the Skipper’s bad temper, and he
was mad with rage, and sent for the Taotai at once.

"Umph!  A pretty how d’ye do!  Those lumbering junks of yours simply
skulk out of sight round a corner," he roared; and when this had been
interpreted to the Taotai—I wondered how much the interpreter understood
and passed on correctly—the frightened old man gesticulated feebly, and
then out it came: "Taotai speaks, sir! If junks caught by Pilons, he
makee buy new ones—he no caree."

So that was it, was it—the old chap didn’t intend to risk losing them?
He was given so much a year to keep so many in good order, and if one
was lost he would have to replace it.  No wonder that we could gain no
information from them.

You should have seen—and heard—the Skipper when he understood this, and
you should have seen the old Taotai hurry down to his state barge, hide
under his red umbrella, and shove off for the shore—glad enough he was
to get away, too.

Late that evening the Skipper sent for me.  He was beaming all over his
face, puffing out his cheeks and working his shoulders, as I hadn’t seen
him do for a fortnight.  He banged me on the chest and nearly knocked me
over.  "Willum, where the dickens is Willum?  Willum, you scoundrel!
bring the Commander one of my eighteen-penny Havanas," he roared.

It was half past eleven; I wanted to turn in, and didn’t care to smoke,
but it had to be done.

"Hit on a scheme, Truscott; I’ll wipe the old Taotai’s eye; I’m going to
put our own people aboard those junks, and see if we can’t make them
useful like that.  Umph! What d’you say to that?" and he thumped the
table with his huge fist, and glared at me.

"Six of ’em I’m going to take."

"Won’t the old chap object, sir?" I asked.

"Object!  I’ll teach him to object!  He’s got it down in black and white
from his boss at Ningpo to put all his forces at our disposal," and the
Skipper winked at me from behind a cloud of blue cigar smoke.  "He’ll be
pretty sorry he tried to pull Old Lest’s leg before he’s done with me.
Umph!  Our only sporting chance is to catch some of these rascals, and
I’m not going to be too particular how I get information from ’em when I
do catch ’em."

Fortunately the _Huan Min_ came in that night, and Ching helped us
negotiate with the old gentleman in the walled city.  He, I am certain,
did his best; but he told me, very candidly, that if we persisted in our
demands, we should touch their pride very greatly, and that it would
increase the already hostile feeling of the Chinese towards us, and
would very possibly prevent any information coming in from private
sources.

Captain Lester was much annoyed at the attitude he took up, and always
thought that he was the cause of what happened, though, personally, I am
sure that he had acted honestly by us.  At any rate, the Skipper had
blurted out, "If he won’t lend ’em to Old Lest, Old Lest’ll borrow ’em;"
and somehow or other this threat got to the Taotai’s ears, and so scared
the old gentleman, that next morning not a war junk remained in harbour.

Ching came across directly, and protested that neither he nor his
Captain had any knowledge of their going to sea.  I believed him, and so
did everyone, except the Skipper, who flew into a terrible rage, and I
was very glad to get Ching away and soothe his ruffled feelings, but
could not induce him to stay to breakfast.

"Made a fool of Old Lest again, have they?  Umph! I’ll—I’ll—" he
stuttered and bellowed when I reported "divisions" to him, "I’ll do ’em
yet.  I’ll buy half a dozen of their big merchant junks and man ’em
myself! Old Lest’ll sell a farm or two, if the Admiralty don’t pay for
’em."

"D’you mean that, sir?" I asked.

"D’you ever hear me say anything I didn’t mean?" he roared; and though I
must confess I had done so, I dare not say so.

I slipped away directly in my gig, and went across to the old _Huan
Min_.  I saw her Captain and Ching pacing gloomily up and down the poop,
and it was very pleasant to see their faces open out again when they
heard the news, and that their country’s honour was not to be disturbed.

Ching gripped me by the hand—"You English, sir,"—and the muscles of his
face were working strangely—"do not understand how these things, these
slights, and—these little insults to our country hurt us.  All you
Western nations think we have no such love and pride of country as you
have, and do not feel it.  We do, sir!  We do!"

I have always been glad that I did go aboard that morning, for my ideas
of the Chinese were very much changed.

Ching himself came of a very old fighting stock—his people had always
belonged to a high military caste, and his father had fought against the
French well and nobly. He himself—Lawrence had told me this—had fought
against the Japanese in the Yalu battle, and when all his senior
officers had been killed, and his ship almost a wreck, had taken her out
of action and staggered across to Wei-hai-wei, keeping the light
cruisers, which hung round him, at a respectful distance with the one
gun that was able to fire.

Japanese naval men had told me the story, in admiration of his plucky
ship, but it was not till Lawrence told me that I knew who had commanded
her.

I knew Ching a good deal better after that.  He had done more fighting
than I ever hoped to have the luck to do, and when one’s job is to
fight, and one gets paid to keep oneself ready for it, one always
admires a man who has earned his pay.

Ching took me into his cabin once, a strange kind of barn, half Chinese
and half English, with two old faded photographs hanging on the
bulkheads, one of the _Inflexible_ and the other of her Mids, Ching in
the middle, and Lawrence, a fat little chubby-faced youth, by his side.

I often chaffed Lawrence about that photo—he looked so angelic.



                              *CHAPTER V*

                   *Midshipman Ford’s First Command*


    The Junk—H.M.S. "Sally"—"Here’s Luck to the ’Sally’"—Ready to
    Start—Under Way—In Command—Night at Sea—The Strange Junk


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


If anybody had told me a week ago that by this time I should be captain
of my own ship, I should have called him a blithering Ananias, and
probably punched his head if he was anything like my size, and made him
jolly sorry for trying to pull my leg.

But there it is.  I am the captain of the _Sally_, converted junk, two
guns, tender to H.M.S. _Ringdove_, and who, do you think, is my first
lieutenant?  Why, Dicky Morton, "Dear Little Dicky" of all chaps in the
world, and he’s turning out not to be half such a silly fool as he
looks—I often tell him so, just to buck him up.

I must tell you how it all happened.

The Captain had found out that those war junks never cruised at all,
simply hid round a corner out of sight, and as he depended a great deal
on them for news of the pirates, he was simply furious when he heard of
it, and sent ashore and bought six of the biggest merchant junks.

I was with the party of men under Mr. Whitmore sent to bring them off.
The steam pinnace was to tow them, one by one, but got a rope round her
screw, and delayed everything whilst it was being cleared.  I happened
to be on board one of them with six men, preparing to be taken in tow,
and it struck me that it would be a jolly good "wheeze" to sail off.
Mr. Whitmore sung out that I might try, and I did, and got her off quite
comfortably, without breaking anything when I came alongside.

I had had a jolly lot of experience in sailing at Upton Overy, both
before and after going to the _Britannia_, and I don’t want to be cheeky
or anything like that, but it seemed to come quite naturally to me to
sail any boat, and I always seemed to be able to feel exactly what was
wanted to make it sail its best.

The Captain was very pleased with me for doing this, and that is how I
got the command of my junk.

He had all of us Midshipmen and Cadets fallen in on the quarterdeck,
glared at us and growled, "Now, you young gentlemen, you’ve got a job to
do at last—no skrim-shanking about it either—jolly hard job—and I want
those of you who can sail ’em best to take charge of ’em.  You’ve got to
get hold of some of those pirate fellows for me—don’t care how you get
’em, but get some of ’em alive. Can’t get anything out of the dead ’uns,
umph!"

You can’t imagine how excited that made all of us, and when the six
junks had all been lashed alongside, we had to clean them first and fit
them out afterwards.

The Commander told me that I could have the one which I had sailed off,
and told me that I could choose one of the cadets to go with me.  Dicky
came and offered to do any mortal thing for me if I would take him—he
was nearly blubbing with keenness—so I said I would, and we both had to
start the job of cleaning her out.  The Commander gave me twelve hands,
and it was a jolly beastly job. She was perfectly filthy, and we had to
scrape away half an inch of stuff from her inside with shovels before we
could even commence scrubbing.  The smell in the holds was almost enough
to knock anyone down, and we worked till long after it was dark, and
they had hoisted big yardarm group lights to make it easier for us.

It rained too, but we didn’t worry about that in the least, because we
were so jolly happy.  I’d never seen Dicky like it before.  He was
chirping about like a bloated sparrow, and was much too happy even to
speak.

You can see what the junk was like by the picture. The great stern place
was where we all had to live, and it was something like a huge pigeon
loft with three sliding-door places in it.  One opened from the deck
into a fairly big place, where the rudder head came up through the stern
and the long tiller worked.  The ten bluejackets were to live there.
Above it and under the poop deck were two little places about eight feet
square, and only just a little more than four feet high.  In one of them
Dicky and I were going to live, and the two petty officers who were
coming had the other.

[Illustration: H.M.S. Sally]

A narrow platform was below the two upper doors, with a ladder running
down on deck at one end, and one running up to the poop at the other.
It looked exactly like a pigeon loft.

All the time we were busy scraping and shovelling and scrubbing, the
carpenters and blacksmiths were busy fitting two great balks of timber
with some cross-pieces to take a six-pounder Hotchkiss quick-firer and
its mounting. They were bolting them down to the deck and the sides of
the junk, just in front of the mainmast, and on the top of the poop they
mounted a Maxim gun.  The _Vigilant_ hadn’t enough Maxim guns for all
six of the junks, so three had had Nordenfelt machine guns from the
gunboats.  I had never seen the ship so busy; she was humming from
morning to night, and for most of the night too, for four whole days.
Besides the carpenters’ and blacksmiths’ work, the anchor gear and all
the standing and running rigging had to be refitted or overhauled.  I
only wish, as you will know by and by, that more of it had been
refitted, because it really was not strong enough.

You can just imagine how excited Dicky and I were when they did at last
lower a six-pounder down into our junk, and we saw it sitting in its
mounting, and knew we might soon have to use it.

We got most of the filth out of ours by the middle of the second day,
and the holds didn’t smell so badly, though we could never get the
Chinese kind of smell out of the living places under the stern.  What
troubled us most were the fleas and bugs and cockroaches.  They were
perfectly awful, and we couldn’t get rid of them in the few days we had.
We must have drowned thousands of them, but there seemed to be just as
many left, and we were itching all over and covered with bite marks,
even whilst we were only working in her.

The cockroaches would watch us cleaning the bottom boards, and when we
went on to another spot they would swarm down over the clean places, and
squashing the brutes made them dirtier than ever again.

It was Dicky who first thought of giving our junk a name.  I wanted to
call her _Nan_, because Nan was my chum, but then I thought perhaps the
Captain wouldn’t like it, and Dicky suggested _Sally_ instead.  It
turned out that all the others wanted the same name, but Dicky was the
only one of them that got it.  You see, the letters had to be cut out in
wood first, and as all the carpenter people were so frightfully busy, it
was almost impossible to get anything extra done at all.  But Dicky had
made great friends with the old Boatswain and Carpenter.  He used to go
and yarn with them in their cabins on the other side of the gunroom
flat, and used to take refuge there sometimes when we had driven him out
of the gunroom with our chaff, and sometimes hide there when he was
afraid of being bullied, and Jim was not there to protect him.  It was
really owing to this that we were the only ones who did manage to get it
done, and then Dicky actually had the pluck to ask the Commander for
some gold leaf to gild the letters.  He volunteered to do that too, and
I went with him to the Commander’s cabin—outside the door—to give him
courage.  When he knocked timidly, and we heard the Commander sing out,
"Yes, what is it?" in his gruff voice, Dicky looked as if he would have
bolted away—I expect he would have done so if I hadn’t been there and
the sentry as well—but he just squeezed his lips together, wriggled in
at the side of the curtain, and squeaked out, "Please, sir, gold leaf,"
and couldn’t say another word, he was so frightened.  I went in then,
"Please, sir, we’ve got Mr. Williams, the Carpenter, to cut out _Sally_
for our junk—in big wooden letters—and we want gold leaf, please."

The Commander grinned at us—he was a perfect ripper—took a book of gold
leaf out of a drawer, and gave it to Dicky.  "D’you boys think I’m made
of gold leaf?"  We didn’t even thank him, we were so excited, but rushed
for’ard to the "paint shop" under the fo’c’stle to see old Modley, the
painter, and ask him to put the gold leaf on for us.  We couldn’t get
anything out of him, though.  He was a bit of a sea lawyer, and he
"wasn’t going to do nothink but what he’d orders to do from the
Commander or the First Lootenant".

We didn’t know what to do then, and went on deck and climbed down to the
junk, feeling miserable.  Scroggs was there screwing the letters on to a
board—Scroggs was the petty officer who was coming with us—and we told
him all that had happened, and how we’d got the gold leaf, but couldn’t
get Modley to gild the letters.

"You just give it to me, sir," he said; "that ’ere Modley be a bit of a
’ard nut, but we both comes from the same village down Dorset way, an’
’is missus goes to the same chapel as my old missus, and ’e may do it
for me."

He managed to get round him somehow, and when, next morning, Dicky and I
ran up on deck in our pyjamas, as soon as it got light, to have another
look at the junk, the first thing we saw was the board on her stern, and
the letters all beautifully gilded.  We had to climb down, just as we
were, and lean over and look at them.  They looked simply gorgeous, and
there were Scroggs, and Sharpe, the other petty officer, and one of the
carpenter’s crew, and old Modley grinning at us.  They had just finished
fixing the board to the stern.  "Thank you very much," was all we could
think of saying; and when we all climbed up aboard the _Vigilant_ again,
the ship’s cocoa was just being served out, and Scroggs brought us a
bowl of it and said, "Here’s luck to the _Sally_," and we all sipped it,
and Modley said, "May the Lord have mercy on the little lass!" but the
carpenter’s crew didn’t say anything religious, because he burnt his
mouth.

Then we jumped down below before the Commander could see us on deck in
pyjamas, and rolled ourselves in our hammocks again—we were jolly cold.

We had a good bit of gold leaf left, and I nudged Jim, whose hammock was
next mine, to tell him that he could have it.  I knew he wanted it very
badly to make his junk look smart, and when we woke him and he knew
about it he gave a whoop! and tumbled out and woke the others; and Dicky
and I watched them having a grand pillow fight, till we couldn’t stand
it any longer, and joined in, and got splendidly hot—even Dicky joined
in!

All that day we were busy getting ammunition on board, and it was simply
grand to see the boxes being lowered into the hold and jammed there, so
that they would not fall about.  There were 200 cartridges for the
six-pounder—the long brass cartridge and the little shell all in one—and
three thousand rounds for the Maxim gun.  Then there were the casks for
the water, and a boat’s stove to be secured, and one of the _Vigilant’s_
dinghies to be lashed down amidships.[#]  We took the native boat, which
you can see in the picture hanging over the stern, so that we should
look more like an ordinary junk.  Then there was all our own gear and
boxes of biscuit and corned meat, and any amount of stuff.  Dicky and I
got heaps of things from old Ah Man—jam, sardines, ginger-bread
biscuits, and things like that—and when we’d got them all into our
little square pigeonhole, and our sea boots, mackintoshes, greatcoats,
and a uniform tin case between us, there was hardly any room left for
our hammocks, and, of course, it wasn’t possible to stand up inside—it
was much too low.  When everything was ready we took her away to
practise sailing, and the Captain came with us, and was jolly pleasant,
and Mr. Whitmore, the Gunnery Lieutenant, came too, and we tried the
guns and, I must say, made very wretched shooting.


[#] See page 77.


After that we had to wait for the gunboats to come back from cruising,
fill up with coal, and take us away in pairs.

The only thing that did make Dicky and me feel rather sad was that Jim
hadn’t a junk all to himself.  But he was going with Mr. Trevelyan, and
as he was a splendid chap, we knew that they would have a grand time
together.

They called their junk the _Ferret_.  The Captain had said, "Ferret ’em
out for me, Trevelyan," so we all thought the name was jolly
appropriate.  They only had it painted on the stern, not done with big
wooden letters as ours was. They had tried to use the rest of our gold
leaf, but had made a mess of the job and wasted it all, which was rather
a pity.

The Commander sent Mr. Langham a list of all the fellows who were to go
in the six junks, and he stuck it on the notice board in the gunroom.

This is a copy of it, and will explain how they were "told off", and who
were to go in them.

_H.M.S. Vigilant_,
       _Tinghai Harbour._

The six junks will be told off as tenders as follows:—

Tenders to H.M.S. _Ringdove_—

Junk No. 1, { Lieutenant Mervyn L. Trevelyan.
       { Midshipman James Rawlings.

Junk No. 2, { Midshipman Richard Ford
       { Naval Cadet Richard F. Morton.

Tenders to H.M.S. _Goldfinch_—

Junk No. 3, { Lieutenant Ronald G. Forbes.
       { Midshipman the Hon. Talbot Withers.

Junk No. 4, { Midshipman Harry G. Webster.
       { Naval Cadet W. D. St. G. Ponsonby

Tenders to H.M.S. _Sparrow_—

Junk No. 5, { Lieutenant Benjamin Langham.
       { Midshipman Percy Jones.

Junk No. 6, { Midshipman Steven J. Johnston.
       { Naval Cadet John E. Smith.

Two petty officers and nine seaman ratings and one signal rating will be
detailed to each tender, also one native pilot.

The tenders will act under the orders of the Commanding Officer of the
gunboat to which they are attached, and will be prepared to leave
Tinghai after the gunboats have completed with coal and provisions.

CHAS. E. LESTER,
       _Captain._


We had nothing to do now but wait for the _Ringdove_, so Mr. Trevelyan
took his junk and our junk the _Sally_ away sailing every day, till we
really got quite good at managing the clumsy gear and the huge matting
sails. We did some more gun practice as well.

The _Goldfinch_ and _Sparrow_ took their junks away before our gunboat
arrived, and we gave them a jolly good send-off. At last our turn came,
and the _Ringdove_ finished coaling, and we were given orders to be
ready to start at daybreak.

The evening before we had to start there hadn’t been a breath of wind,
and Dicky and I sat up whistling for it till very late.  This was the
first time we had spent the night aboard, and we really couldn’t sleep
because of the excitement and the fleas.  The wind did come by the
morning, but from the wrong direction, and the _Ringdove_, to save time,
simply towed us away behind her.

It wasn’t a very glorious start, but they gave us a grand cheer, and the
Captain had shouted, "Good luck, Dick! pull your pound for the good old
West Country," and that made me gloriously happy, because he had never
called me "Dick" since the first day I joined.

When we had got round the corner, out of sight of the _Vigilant_, and
knew that we were in for any amount of adventures, we felt simply
ripping, and the sun came out too, and we sat on deck and dried our
things.

We were so close to the _Ferret_ that we could talk to Jim, and
presently he came out of his "kennel"—he called his a "kennel", and we
called ours a "rabbit hutch"—and yelled across to us to look.  He had a
huge cake in both hands.  "You’ve got one too, I expect," he shouted,
and we crawled into our hutch; and in a corner, under the sea boots, was
just such another, all covered with icing, and "Chin Chin Joss from Ah
Man" scrawled on it in sugar.  Wasn’t that jolly decent of the old
messman?  Of course we’d spent no end of money getting sardines and jam
and biscuit from him—those sovereigns the Captain had given Jim and
myself had come in jolly useful—but we never expected anything like
this, and it just made us completely happy, and we had a piece each on
the spot, and waved across to Jim whilst he and Mr. Trevelyan had slices
too.

The pilot who came to us was named Ah Chee, a funny-looking old chap,
and I’m sure you wouldn’t have guessed his age within twenty years.  He
could talk a little "pidgin" English, and volunteered to do the
cooking—in a tiny little galley place over a brazier belonging to the
junk, and that boat’s stove which we had fitted up—and did it jolly well
too, except when he’d been smoking too much opium.

As I told you before, Scroggs was the name of one petty officer, a fine
great chap, and Sharpe, a fat, good-natured little man, the other.  They
were both jolly good at their job, and the Commander had given us a good
lot of seamen too.

When it got dark they started a "sing song", and Dicky and I each sang a
song.  I sang "We’ll rant and we’ll roar", and Dicky sang "Clementine",
and we had an awfully jolly time, and were just as happy as anything,
but for those wretched crawling and jumping things.

The _Ringdove_ towed us along for two whole days, and on the morning
after the second night Mr. Rashleigh had towed us to wind’ard of the
Chung-li Tao group of islands.  He then stopped her engines and hauled
us alongside for orders.  We took our charts with us, Mr. Trevelyan and
I, and he told me I was to cruise to the eastward and search all the
channels, and rejoin him to leeward of a certain island within four
days—I forget the name of the island; and he told us a lot more of what
we must do in case the weather or the wind changed, but as he had
written it all down, it was not necessary to remember it.  Then he said
goodbye, wished us good luck, and his final orders were: "Keep your guns
covered up with old tarpaulins, don’t let your people show themselves
when you’re close to a village or a junk, and don’t attempt to look too
smart.  Don’t hoist your sails as if you were in a blooming hurry, and
if you’re not sure where you are, anchor for the night. You’re intended
to be ordinary merchant junks, and you’re just bits of bait—sprats to
catch a whale—and you have to get hold of some of these fellows for the
Captain, and get ’em alive too—he doesn’t want dead ’uns.  If you meet
more than you can tackle, just run down to me, and," he added solemnly,
"if other things happen, keep one cartridge in your revolvers for
yourselves."

That made me feel rather creepy and coldish, but not exactly frightened,
because Mr. Rashleigh is so plump and so—well—funny looking that,
however solemnly he tried to say anything, you really wanted to laugh.

Just before we went away Dr. Hibbert, the jolly Surgeon of the
_Ringdove_, gave Mr. Trevelyan and myself two big wine bottles each.
They were marked "Foretop" and "Maintop".  He winked cheerily at us:
"You’ll find ’em useful, you fellows.  If any of your chaps gets a pain
below the belt, shove in a big whack of the ’Maintop’ bottle; if he gets
a pain above the belt, give him half a dozen whacks of the ’Foretop’."

I marked mine "Above" and "Below", and stowed them away very carefully
in a corner.  He gave me some tobacco too; for though I oughtn’t to have
smoked—I wasn’t eighteen—it was rather different when I was away from
the ship.  I had brought my pipe with me, but, like an ass, had
forgotten any tobacco.

Well, we shook hands and then off we went, the "Ringdoves" cheering us,
and all of us cheering each other. She steamed off to the north’ard to
get to leeward of the islands, we went away towards the sun, and the
_Ferret_ the opposite way, Jim waving from the poop and sending a last
"Luck to _Sally_!".

There was quite a good breeze blowing, and when we’d got all our sails
hauled up and the leeboard down, we went flying along, heeling over till
the lee gunwale raced through and under the water.  It was simply grand.
The sun came up too, and made it all the more cheerful, although there
wasn’t much warmth in it, and when the _Ringdove_ and the _Ferret_ had
both got out of sight, Dicky gave a great sigh of contentment.

I must say that, at first, I felt frightened at being alone, and should
have been jolly pleased to see the _Ringdove’s_ masts and funny little
funnel sticking up over the horizon; but presently I forgot to be
nervous, because the junk sailed so well, and it was simply ripping to
be in command, all by myself, with a six-pounder and a Maxim gun, and
all those two hundred shells down below, and to think of the surprise we
should give any junk which tried to take us, because, you see, none of
them had ever known what a bursting shell was like.  There was Scroggs
to fall back upon too, if one really got into a tight fix and couldn’t
make up one’s mind.  He was such a huge chap, that he could have lifted
Dicky and me up with each hand; but he would always talk about his
missus and his "kids" if we gave him the slightest opening,
and—well—neither Dicky nor I were the least enthusiastic about them
after the second day, and I’m quite certain that Sharpe felt just the
same—he had to live with him, too—because I heard him say, "Now chuck
it, if you don’t want to drive me off’n my blooming rocker."

To show you how the pirates had scared everything off the sea, we never
saw a single junk all those two days we were being towed by the
_Ringdove_, and now we had the sea all to ourselves.  Our first island
was right ahead, and we soon got up to it, and Ah Chee came out of his
pigeonhole and sniffed and looked, and sniffed and looked again, and
smiled, so we knew everything was all right, from the "running-on-rocks"
point of view. I didn’t tell you before, but Mr. Trevelyan had had a
great idea before we left Tinghai, and bought enough loose-fitting blue
Chinese short coats, and enough native caps to go round his men and mine
too; so now, as we got quite close to the land, we made the men stick
them on, and Dicky and I put ours on, and looked jolly funny, I expect.
I couldn’t help thinking what my mother would imagine had happened if
she’d been able to see me rigged up like this, and I was pretty sure
that Nan would say something to make me get red and angry.  But it was
grand fun, all the same.

We had one of the _Vigilant’s_ dinghies, besides that native sampan hung
over the stern, and it had to be covered up with a tarpaulin, so that
its shape wouldn’t show through.  Good old Ah Chee seemed to understand
our game, and ran in quite close, and when we were nearing a small
village, began gesticulating and signing to me to lower the sails a
little.  "Too plenty quick—plenty too quick—pilons thinkee you no
got"—and he pointed down to the hold, and I suppose meant "cargo"—"no
good makee catchee."  We lowered our mizzen altogether—it wasn’t doing
much good anyhow—and slacked off the sheets, and went past very slowly,
Dicky and I looking through our telescopes, and hoping to see something
coming after us.  There was nothing there, though, and Ah Chee shook his
head—"Too plenty good fellow can do."

One or two small junks were hauled up above high-water mark, with their
masts out—to make it all the more difficult for pirates to carry them
off, I suppose—a few children were playing with the dogs and the pigs on
the shore, and one or two miserable wretches were hauling in handlines
and picking small fish off the hooks—we could see them glitter in the
sun as they wriggled.

Then Ah Chee signed to us to go faster, so we hoisted the mizzen again,
and hauled in our sheets and boomed along.  We spent all that day doing
this, running down one channel and beating up another, and only once saw
any junks.  There were two beating to windward very slowly, and when we
sighted them Dicky and I were very excited, and brought Ah Chee out to
look at them. He only shook his head and repeated, "Plenty good fellow
can do."

Dicky suggested that we should see how fast we could sail and try and
overhaul them, and we were getting on finely, gaining every minute,
though we could see them doing their best to go faster; but presently Ah
Chee, who had borrowed my telescope, made us slow down, shaking his
head, "Plenty bad joss can do—if too plenty quick go—him Chinaman," and
he pretended to dive overboard. Dicky understood what he meant
first—that the Chinaman would think us pirates, and would jump overboard
if we overhauled them, so we lowered our foresail, just to comfort them,
and eased down.

We had to keep under way that night, because the next lot of little
islands which we had to examine were about nine miles away, and the
breeze had fallen considerably. I slept jolly soundly till midnight—I
rolled myself in my blanket and slept on deck, to escape the bugs under
the poop—and then relieved Dicky for the middle watch.

It was jolly cold, but the stars peeped out every now and again, and it
was just light enough to see rocks or land a hundred yards ahead, so
there was very little danger of our running ashore.

It was the first night I had spent at sea under sail since the Upton
Overy days, and this made me think a lot of the old village, and to
wonder what they were doing at home.  It was so jolly to know, after all
the time—the years, in fact—that I’d been longing to come to sea with
the Captain, that I was now doing quite an important job for him, and
that I might be lucky enough to help him, and even be able to find Mr.
Travers and Sally Hobbs and her father.  It was grand, and I did so
enjoy myself that night, with, everyone, except myself and the men at
the helm and a lookout man for’ard, sound asleep.

I had only the foresail and mizzen set, because there was no reason for
going fast, and I was rather nervous about squalls.  You couldn’t see
them coming at night—at any rate I couldn’t, because I’d had so jolly
little experience.

I stood up alone on the poop, near the Maxim gun, and kept my eye on the
sails and the long, narrow deck below me, and I don’t know whether you
will understand what I mean, but I felt frightfully proud and conceited.
I’d felt like that ever since we left the _Ringdove_, but I’d done my
best not to let it ooze out, for fear that Dicky and the men should
think me an ass, or too cocky, and now it seemed to swell up from my
boots, and gave me an awfully funny feeling all over.

We sighted the island about six bells, and then I tacked away again, as
it was no use to go in close till daylight. Scroggs relieved me at four
o’clock, and I felt almost sorry, but crept in alongside Dicky, as it
was raining, and went to sleep directly, without disturbing him.

It didn’t seem many minutes before Scroggs woke me. "The breeze is
steady, sir, and the island’s on our port bow, and I think, sir, that
something is following us and just smelling ’around’."

I crawled out like a shot.  It was raining gently, and the sails were
all damp and dripping, but I couldn’t see anything at first except the
long dark line of the island to the east.

Scroggs pointed down to leeward, and I thought I made out, just for a
second, three great sails.

"She’s there, sure enough, sir; I’ve seen her, off and on, for the last
half-hour, and she’s working up to wind’ard, as if she wanted to have a
look at us."

I watched and watched, my heart thumping like mad, and presently I
caught sight of her dark sails again.

We went off on the other tack, and, sure enough, the next time I saw her
she’d done so too.

I knew then that she must be following us.

"She don’t quite know what we are, sir," Scroggs chuckled.  "She’ll know
a bit later."

Presently, as it grew lighter and she got closer, we could see her all
the time.  She looked huge in that light, and had four masts and four
immense sails, not three, as we had thought at first.  She was heeling
over tremendously, sailing two knots to our one, and overhauling us
fast.

If you think that I was frightened you are jolly well right.

[Illustration: H.M.S. "Ringdove" Towing the Junks ’Sally’ and ’Ferret’]



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                     *The "Sally" goes into Action*


    The Chinaman draws Nearer—First Shots—The Maxim Gun—A Near
    Thing—Four to One—Running the Gauntlet—"Well Done, Sir!"—At
    Close Quarters—The The Grappling Iron—Left Alone


                     _Continued by Midshipman Ford_


"What shall we do?" I whispered to Scroggs.  "Go down and have a look at
her?"

"Beggin’ your pardon, sir, you’ll just keep straight on, and edge a bit
more up in the wind, if she’ll do it.  Once you’ve got the wind, sir,
and can keep it, you can do about what you like; keep away if you want
to, run down to her if you want to, and she’ll have to do what you want
her to, and when you want her to."

Then I remembered reading all about fights in the old time, and when we
were in the _Britannia_, and learnt about actions in the old sailing
days, how each side always tried to get to wind’ard first, before
fighting, and that the man who was to wind’ard could fight or not just
as he pleased.  I’d never thought much of it before, but now that
Scroggs had put it so plainly, I saw, all at once, how practically
everything depended on having the wind’ard position.

"How about giving her the mainsail?" I asked Scroggs. "She’s gaining
very fast."

"She’s doing all right, sir!  We doesn’t want to run away.  Just you
edge up a bit more in the wind and wait for her.  Time enough for the
mains’l if she be a pirate, and we have to chase her."

So we edged up into the wind again and began to stand out to sea, beyond
the island.

I pointed that out to Scroggs—I felt fearfully excited and nervous.

"That’s all right, sir, never mind about the island; you’ll be getting
her out in the open, and she’ll think you’re just trying to give her a
wide berth."  Then I remembered Dicky, and shouted through the little
sliding door for him to come and see the fun.  He scrambled up on the
poop, rubbing his eyes, and we both stood looking at her, feeling
frightened because she looked so big and came on so like a ghost, and
didn’t notice that we were getting wet through.  I did wish then that
the _Ringdove_ was in sight.

"How about letting the hands have food, sir?  Maybe, if we’ve luck,
we’re like to be busy later on, sir!"

Of course Scroggs was right, and Dicky said that Nelson always gave his
men food before going into action—he squeaked again, he was so
nervous—and that settled it; and the men were turned out, and were
almost too excited to eat anything.  Ah Chee was quite stupid and silly
when we tried to wake him—he must have been smoking opium during the
night—and the men had to make their own cocoa.  Dicky and I managed to
gulp some down, and had a couple of gingerbread biscuits each.  We
didn’t like looking at each other for fear of giving away our—well—funk,
though it wasn’t exactly funk.

By this time it was quite light, and the island was about three miles
away, right under our port bow, and the huge Chinaman was about half a
mile astern, and still a little to leeward.

We dragged Ah Chee out of his hole again, but he hadn’t recovered, and
staggered about, shaking all over; and when he’d steadied himself, got
both eyes to focus properly, and seen the junk, he simply let out a howl
and crawled back, yelling "Pilons!  Pilons!" which made me feel creepy,
although I had to pretend it didn’t.  I had to pretend jolly hard.

"He’ll kill himself with that pipe, sir, and we’ll want him later on,"
Scroggs said, but I didn’t know what to do. "You leave ’im to me, sir,"
and Scroggs dragged him out again, took away his pipe and tobacco and
opium, and then shut him down in the forehold and jammed the hatch cover
over it.  Glad enough too he was to crawl into it.

The strange junk was coming up finely, heeling over and splashing
through the water.  We could only see one man on board, standing on the
poop watching us, and he looked peaceable enough.

"She’s got guns—I can see them sticking out!" Dicky squealed; but that
didn’t make it certain that she was a pirate, because all merchant junks
carry guns too. "Couldn’t we go for her now, Scroggs, don’t you think?
She isn’t half a mile off."

Dicky and I were so excited and "quivery", we could hardly breathe, and
this waiting for her to catch up with us was the worst part.  But
Scroggs wouldn’t alter course, and said: "Just you ’oist the mains’l,
sir, and get them tarpaulins off the guns, and stand by.  When she sees
that ’ere mains’l creaking up, she’ll guess we’re frightened, and maybe
she’ll let fly at us."

We got the tarpaulins off, and the men began working the clumsy windlass
which hoisted the mainsail, and the great "clammy" thing went squeaking
up the mast. That made us go faster and heel over more.

The guns were all painted a dirty grey, so didn’t show up at all, but
just what Scroggs had expected happened. The junk all at once luffed up,
shot up into the wind, came on to an even keel, her great sails began
flapping, we could see men pouring up from below, and four white clouds
of smoke shot out from her port side, and before we could say "knife",
there were four splashes in the water behind us, and one shot came
ricochetting over us, humming like a top, and fell into the sea ahead of
us.

Dicky and I ducked, and then we looked up to see if the ricochet had
done any damage, and Scroggs pointed out a hole in the mainsail, close
to the mast, where it must have gone through, and a piece of sail
flapping down.

I’m certain that I wasn’t frightened then, for I thought more of the
mast than myself, and knew what a bad "egg" it would have been if the
shot hadn’t missed it.

I looked at Scroggs.

"Give ’em one, sir!  Give ’em one!" he was beaming all over his face;
"we can ’ardly miss ’er, sir."

I shouted for the six-pounder to open fire, but the mainsail was in the
way, and they couldn’t get the sights on.

"Gun won’t bear, sir," the captain of the gun shouted, and I jumped
for’ard to see for myself that he was right.

"What shall I do now?" I asked Scroggs, and felt stupid, and could just
see the pirate junk paying off again to give us her other broadside.

She seemed so close that there wasn’t time to think.

"Put your helm down and come into the wind yourself, sir."

I shouted to Dicky to do so, and the _Sally_ came up all shaking.

"Now you’ve got her," Scroggs said, and as he spoke the junk shot off
her starboard guns, and we could hear them yelling and beating tom-toms.
There was too much to do this time to "duck", and besides, they had
fallen astern by luffing and then paying off again, so their shots
didn’t come so close.

Then Fergusson, the captain of the six-pounder, fired. The little shell
burst as it touched the water halfway across, and we heard the pirates
yell again.  Scroggs let out a dozen oaths, and told him to steady
himself; and his next went nearer, and the next burst close alongside,
and they didn’t cheer that—they’d never seen shell burst before, I
expect, and wondered what it was, and how we could fire so fast.

"Take your time," I shouted, and was so excited that I bit a great piece
out of my lip.  We fired again, and must have hit her, for a cloud of
smoke came out of her bows, and a very different kind of yell came back,
and we yelled too; but she’d loaded again by this time, luffed up, and
gave us her port guns.  There was a crash and a whistling sound, and out
through the poop bounded a round shot, struck against a big chock of
wood at the foot of the mainmast, and bounced overboard.  It only missed
one of the men at the tiller by a hair’s breadth, and he let out a
squeal, he was so surprised, and then got red and tried to pretend that
it wasn’t him.  "They’re only smooth bores," Scroggs shouted.  "Who’s
squealing like a furry rabbit?" and Fergusson fired again—she wasn’t
four hundred yards away—and missed her.  They started easing off rifles
at us too, and the bullets went splattering through the sails and
splashing into the water.

The _Sally_ had been jumping about up to now—that was why Fergusson had
kept on missing—but for just about two minutes she was quite steady.
She almost seemed to know things were not quite all right, and Fergusson
must have got off a dozen rounds, and nearly all of them hit.  I was so
excited, I yelled every time, and we could see smoke coming out and
pieces of wood flying, and though she turned to give us her starboard
broadside, she didn’t fire them, and fell right off the wind, with her
stern facing us. She wasn’t three hundred yards off, and suddenly
remembering the Maxim gun, I rushed aft; but before I could climb up the
poop, Dicky turned out "trumps" and began firing.  "Tut tut—tut tut," it
went, and you could see a lane of bullet splashes; and as we lifted our
stern they must have poured into her, and we heard shrieking, and could
see the Chinamen throwing up their arms and falling, till the roll of
the _Sally_ took the sights off again.[#]


[#] A Maxim gun is an extremely difficult weapon to use, unless the gun
platform is absolutely steady.


Then the signalman shouted, "They’ve had enough, sir!" and we saw that
they daren’t turn round again, and were easing off their sheets to run
down wind.

You should have heard us cheer; and there wasn’t any need to tell the
men at the helm to "hard a-starboard", for they did it of their own
accord, and we eased away our sheets and ran after her.

"I thought he’d be sorry for it, sir," said Scroggs coming up.  "Look up
there, sir; that does one real good."

I looked, and saw that we had the White Ensign flying from the mizzen
peak.  Dicky and I grinned with delight. We’d been told not to hoist
it—they’d not even given us one—but there it was—grand!

"I did that, sir," the signalman said bashfully.  "Stole it aboard the
_Vig._, sir," and he grinned, and everybody grinned at everybody else,
and looked to see what damage that round shot had done, just for
curiosity.

My aunt! we did just bubble through the water, half burying our bows;
the breeze must have freshened up without our noticing it.  The pirate
was digging out too, and had got a good start, and it wasn’t any use
firing at her, because we had a funny corkscrew rolling motion, and
couldn’t be certain of hitting anything.  We only had two hundred rounds
of shell to begin with, so I didn’t dare to waste them, and waited till
we could draw up closer and make certain of hitting.  She was making
straight for the island, and at one time we thought that we must try and
disable her before she ran herself ashore.  Dicky and I began to talk
about capturing her.  We were little fools, as it turned out.

Presently we saw that a channel opened out, right in the middle of the
island, and she was making straight for it.  I got out our chart, but
couldn’t find the island—not to make sure of it—so hauled Ah Chee out
from the forehold.  He was plucky enough now the pirate was running
away, and nodded his head and said, "Vely good—vely good—plenty good,"
and pointed to the channel, so I knew we were all right to follow her.

She was almost in it before we began firing at her, and we hit her big
square poop time after time, and saw pieces of wood flying in the air;
but it didn’t seem to make any difference to her, and she still kept on
steadily.

In another three minutes we shot into the channel ourselves—between high
cliffs—and as the tide was running with us and the strong wind behind
us, we scooted along at a tremendous pace.  We were catching her up
fast, too, and had got to within two hundred yards, and Fergusson began
pouring in six-pounder shells.  I really wanted to frighten her so much
that she would surrender, and I would be able to tow her back to the
_Vigilant_, and give her up to Captain Lester. And I wanted to take back
some of the crew as well, for Captain Lester had told me, "Don’t want
dead ’uns; dead ’uns don’t tell things".

The noise our little gun made was tremendous, now that we were in
between high rocks.  You could hear a crash! crash! and then a rolling
sound and another crash after every shot.  It must have frightened the
pirates, if it did nothing else; and whatever happened I don’t know, but
we suddenly saw her main shrouds on one side give way, her fore mainmast
bent over like a whip, and before they could do anything, down it came
with a snap, and the great sail with it, and the foremast and foresail
went too a moment later, and she simply seemed to stop dead, turning her
broadside to us and unable to move—just like a huge bird with one wing
broken.

I had an insane idea of running alongside, but Scroggs put our helm hard
down, and we swung round like a top, not fifty yards from her, and slid
up into the wind.  I rushed aft, furious with him.

"You’d have been atop of her in another second, sir."

"That’s what I wanted," I said angrily.  "What d’you mean by touching
the helm?"

"Begging your pardon, sir, if you once got alongside, we’d be done for!
She’s got a hundred men aboard, and we twelve wouldn’t ’ave stood a
chance."

But I was so excited, that I never thought of that, and was just going
to give him a piece of my mind about his cheek, when the pirate let off
his broadside right in our faces.  We were so close that the noise
seemed to knock our ears in.  I was half stunned and dazed, felt
something hot all over me, and was thrown against the mast.  I picked
myself up, and found my hands and my clothes covered with blood.
Scroggs was nowhere to be seen, two of the Hotchkiss gun’s crew were
lying near the gun groaning, and the dinghy had been smashed to pieces.

Sharpe, the second petty officer, was bringing the _Sally_ round into
the wind again, and Dicky was busy with the Maxim gun, but the
six-pounder wouldn’t bear—the mainsail was in the way.

"Heaps of time, sir," Sharpe said, looking at me in a funny way.  "They
daren’t go near their guns to reload ’em.  I thought you’d been killed,
sir!"

"What happened?" I asked him, trying to shake the blood from my face and
eyes; I felt quite stupid. "Where’s Scroggs?"

"Scroggs is gone, sir.  One o’ them round shot took him in the middle,
just as you were standing by, and carried what was left of him
overboard, and another struck some of the six-pounder cartridges, and
they blew up and knocked over Adams and Cooke, and threw you up ag’in
that mast, sir."

Poor old Scroggs! and I’d been beastly to him too. I have always been
sorry for that.

Dicky gave a yell when he saw me.  He looked funny about the eyes—rather
mad—and burst out crying, just for a second.  "I thought you’d been
killed," he stuttered, "and I’ve killed dozens of those brutes to
revenge you."

I shouted something, and a funny hot kind of feeling came up inside me,
and the only thing I thought of was to go on killing; and we edged up,
just to leeward of the junk, and fired at her with the six-pounder as
fast as Fergusson could load—Sharpe had sent him two more hands, and had
hauled Adams and Cooke aft, out of the way.

Not a single live Chinaman could we see on deck—they’d all gone down
below out of sight—but every now and again we could hear shrieks coming
from inside her, and knew that our shells were finding them out.  I felt
mad, and Dicky was mad, and only Sharpe kept his head. We must have made
some holes in her below the waterline, because she was now much lower in
the water, and I simply longed to see her sink and drown all the
crew—I’d forgotten all about trying to capture her.

Then suddenly, as we were expecting her to go under, someone pointed
down to leeward, down the channel, and, looking there, I saw four great
junks beating up towards us.  They were about a mile away, and had
covered themselves with pendants and streamers—all the colours of the
rainbow—and began firing guns to frighten us, I suppose.

I went cold all over, for I knew we couldn’t manage four more, and I saw
that Sharpe thought so too.  Dicky didn’t seem to be quite right in his
head, for he shook his fist at them, and yelled to me that there were
more for him to kill.  "Off out of it, sir; we can’t tackle that lot.
We’re only nine all told, not counting orficers, sir.  Back again, sir;
beat up to wind’ard, sir; and get away into the open sea."

We hadn’t a moment to lose, either, and I knew he was right, and stood
away from the sinking junk, and started to beat up the channel, through
which we had just entered. The entrance was about half a mile to
wind’ard of us, the tide was against us, and jolly slow progress we
made, though I knew it was the same for those who were chasing us.  We’d
sailed so much more quickly than that sinking junk, when we ran before
the wind, that I hoped we should be as good when we were beating; but I
soon had a most horrible feeling that we were not pointing so high as
they were, and not going so fast through the water, either.

We had time to look after Adams and Cooke now—Adams had one thigh
broken, and I knew that that wasn’t so bad; but Cooke had his hands and
face and legs all badly burnt with the explosion, and was in awful pain.
We made them as comfortable as we could down below under the poop, but
it was horrid to hear Cooke moaning and shrieking sometimes.

We soon got so close inshore that we had to go about on the starboard
tack, and we swung round and plugged away for the entrance, which never
seemed to get any nearer.  The junks behind us were still gaining, two
of them very quickly.  These two were leaving the others a long way
astern, and just to show you what asinine ideas come to one, I thought
for a moment that we might draw them on and on, till they were so
separated that we could tackle them one at a time.

The breeze had been gradually freshening, and was now blowing down the
channel quite hard, and as we went off on the starboard tack, we heeled
over till the deck seemed almost upright (we were heeling over to
port—the left side).

But then an awful thing happened.  Suddenly, above my head, there was a
noise like a pistol shot, and, looking up, I saw that one of the
starboard main shrouds had parted, and that the mainmast was beginning
to bend over.  If I held on for another minute, the other two would be
certain to go—the strain on them was awful—and the mast would have gone
too. There was only one thing to be done, and I shrieked to "Hard
a-port!"  She heeled over, another shroud uncurled and parted, but
before the last could go she staggered round into the wind, the strain
was taken off, and the mast straightened again.

Sharpe came running aft; he was as white as a sheet. "It will take us an
hour to repair, sir!  What can we do?"

It was plain as a pikestaff that we couldn’t beat out. Everyone on board
knew that at once, and they all looked to me, but knew what would have
to be done just as well as I did, and I could see them watching the
pirates out of the corners of their eyes.

The current was taking us down towards them, and they were all coming
along at a tremendous rate.  It was no use drifting among them
helplessly; we couldn’t beat out with only the mizzen and foresail, so
the only thing to do was to get before the wind again, with our sails
out to starboard, so that most of the strain came on our port rigging,
and try to run past them.  Clarke and another man sprang up the
mainmast, going up the big bamboo hoops which kept the sail close to the
mast, and began reeving a temporary rope to act as a backstay, and we
swung round, gybed very carefully, and the little _Sally_ went bounding
back to them.

The only one on board who wasn’t—well—frightened was Dicky.  He’d have
charged an express train; he was so mad with fighting and killing people
with that Maxim. We moved Cooke and Adams from under the poop, and put
them down below in the big hold, out of danger, and by that time we were
abreast the sinking junk; and as we went rushing by she gave a lurch, we
saw her guns slide overboard, she went under, and we could see at least
fifty Chinamen struggling in the water. Dicky yelled and shook his fist
at them, and called them all the names he could lay his tongue to.

I had tried to keep my eye on those four junks all the time, and though
I was still feeling "silly" after being "bashed" against the mast, I
could see that they didn’t seem to know quite what to make of us.  The
leading ones were half a mile ahead of the others, and we were coming
down so fast towards them that we didn’t give them much time to make up
their minds. We saw them run into the wind for a second or two, and then
they came along, on the other tack, straight for us, the leading one
about two hundred yards in front of the second.  They were almost as big
as the one we had sunk, but only had three masts, so didn’t look quite
so ferocious.

I thought that we could slip by and pass the first two to port (our
left-hand side), but as we got closer it seemed to me that the first one
was trying to ram us, and I had sense enough to know that if she did,
our masts would probably go overboard, and that all would be U P with
us.  Sharpe was still up aloft, reeving that temporary shroud, so I
couldn’t ask him what to do, and began to feel very frightened.
Fergusson kept on firing the six-pounder very fast, and kept on hitting
her, but that didn’t seem to have any effect, and she didn’t alter
course.  We were hardly fifty yards away now, and Fergusson let off that
gun faster than ever, and we could actually hear the shells bursting and
see the pieces of wood flying out of her bows, and gashes opening out in
her foresail.  Her crew were yelling most awfully, and making such a
banging noise with tom-toms and brass clappers, that that frightened me
all the more.  We were simply tearing along, with the water bubbling
along the sides like a mill stream.  We should be into her, or she into
us, in a moment, and I held my breath and clutched hold of something,
not knowing what to do.  The men at the helm were looking at me for
orders—they looked scared, too—and I was just going to tell them to
"starboard", when I saw her begin to luff up.  I yelled to them to
"steady", and before you could say "knife", she slid along our port
side, with her huge sails leaning right over us.  The horrid brutes were
all hanging on and glaring at us, and they shrieked and yelled, and I
saw some of them throw things at us, and some of them fire off rifles.
She couldn’t fire her guns, because she was heeling over so much; but I
knew she would let them off directly she was on a level keel, and I saw
a lot of them scrambling over each other to get at them, and knew they
would fire almost directly—right in our faces.  But as they slid past,
like an express train, Dicky began firing the Maxim right down in the
middle of them.

I shall never forget how they screamed and fell down in heaps; and then,
whether I gave the order or not (Clarke said I did, but I think that the
men who were steering did it of their own accord), we put our helm "hard
a-starboard", and flew round under her stern. Fergusson fired two shells
straight into her poop, and in their fright they let off their
guns—right away from us.

[Illustration: The battle between the Sally and the pirates]

We put up our helm and flew away down wind, and left her standing still,
all her sails shaking, and in any amount of confusion.

"Well done, sir!" Sharpe shouted from aloft, and that seemed to wake me
again, and Dicky and his Maxim gun’s crew were yelling with delight, and
then everybody cheered because the second junk wouldn’t face us, but
luffed up and popped off her guns.  She was too unsteady, or too much in
a hurry, and we were going too fast, to give her a chance of hitting us.
"Passed two of ’em, sir," Sharpe sang out cheerily; "get those stink
things overboard, sir."  That was the first thing which made me notice
that I’d been coughing, and choking, and running at the eyes, and that
there was a horrid smell.

There was a round basketwork thing spluttering and fizzing, and the
beastly stinking smoke coming out of it, lying jammed in a corner close
to me.  I got it overboard somehow, and heard it fizzle as it fell in
the water—ugh! the stink was awful.  The others which had come on board
were got rid of somehow or other—the men had thrown them or they had
rolled overboard—but everyone was coughing and wiping their eyes,
especially the six-pounder gun’s crew, who were to leeward, and so had
got most of the smoke.

When I could see out of my eyes properly, there was Dicky grinning at me
from the poop, and I did really think, at the time, too, that he must
have either gone off his head or was actually enjoying himself.  The two
junks which we had passed were coming along after us now; the first one
was a long way astern, and the second broad on our port quarter.
Fergusson had got the smoke out of his eyes too, and began banging at
this cowardly second one; and we could see that she was trying to edge
away out of range of his shells.

But now we were rushing down towards the last two junks.  They were
lashing along on the port tack, heeling over till we could almost see
their keels, and were coming straight towards us on the other side—to
starboard (our right-hand side).  I couldn’t see them at all from the
high poop because our sails were in the way, so went down close to the
men steering, and could then see them by looking under the foot of the
mainsail.  Sharpe came and stood by me, and I didn’t feel so nervous.

The nearer one was about a hundred yards off.

"Wait a little, sir!  Wait a little!" Sharpe said.  We were both peering
under the sail, and Dicky had gone for’ard to see if he could get the
six-pounder to fire. "When she’s a leetil bit closer, turn away from
her, sir."

There was only fifty yards between us now, and we were rushing to meet
at a point.

Thirty yards!  Twenty yards!  I couldn’t breathe. They yelled and shook
their arms about; we could see them all clinging to the weather gunwale.

I looked at Sharpe.  "Now, sir!" he cried, and I sang out, "Starboard!"
and our bows slewed away from her.

"Haul in the sheet, sir!  Quick, sir! or she’ll be on to us and carry
away the sails," and everyone jumped to the sheets and began hauling in
the huge booms of the foresail and mainsail.  The _Sally_ heeled over,
with the wind on her beam, and seemed almost to give a leap through the
water. We thought that we should just shoot past the third junk, and
were going to cheer, but the next thing I knew (the sails hid her now)
there was a bump, and the junk suddenly appeared right on top of us.  I
was flung down—we all were—the _Sally_ seemed to rebound, and there was
another crash under her poop.  I bent my head down, expecting the masts
and sails to come toppling on top of me; but she must have only struck
us grazing blows, because they didn’t, and when I looked up again we had
cleared her. "For God’s sake, ease off those sheets!" Sharpe yelled, "or
we’ll gybe," and I had enough sense left to know that if we did gybe we
should either capsize or carry away all our damaged starboard main
rigging and lose our masts.  The men at the helm scrambled to their
feet, and had enough wit left to "starboard" a little.  The sails were
just shaking, uncertain whether they would swing right across to port,
but that extra bit of starboard helm just did the trick and saved her.
They were all too busy with the sheets to fire the Maxim or the
six-pounder, and the next I knew was a roaring hot noise right in our
faces—she had fired her broadside at us.  My head and ears seemed banged
in, and I shut my eyes, wondering where I should be hit.  Then I heard
Sharpe yell, "Mr. Morton’s down, sir!" and I opened them to see Dicky
lying on the deck where the dinghy had been, with his face and head
covered with blood.  I forgot about everything else, and jumped across
to him, and tried to stop the blood with my dirty handkerchief, and make
him say something; but Sharpe sang out, "For God’s sake, sir, look where
you’re going!" and I heard the most awful noise of yelling under our
port bow, and there was the fourth junk, towering above us and rasping
along our side.  I was knocked over again.  I saw some iron things, like
grapnels, thrown on board, with ropes fastened to them.  One near me
caught in the starboard gunwale, but jerked itself free; another missed
the main rigging, but two caught somewhere on the poop, and I could see
the lines on them tautening and the pirate junk turning after us, to
ease the strain.

There was a horrid feeling that the _Sally_ wasn’t going so fast.
Sharpe rushed past me with an axe in his hand, and I found myself on the
poop next to him.  He was hacking away with all his might, and cut
through one rope; but there was the other grappling iron, caught in the
damaged woodwork, and it had about six feet of chain secured to it, and
he couldn’t break that.  He hacked and hacked, and we all tried to pull
the grappling iron itself free, but couldn’t move it, because the crew
of the junk were hauling on the rope at the other end of the chain, and
there was a tremendous strain on it; the rope and chain were as taut as
a bar.

[Illustration: "HE HACKED AND HACKED"]

I can’t quite tell you what happened for the next few seconds; they
seemed like years.

The third junk was firing her broadside guns, and the one that had got
hold of us was firing rifles; and we were covered with smoke, and could
hear woodwork smashing somewhere all round us, and how it was we were
not all killed I don’t know to this day.

"I can’t do it; God help us, sir!" Sharpe groaned, and left off hacking
at the chain, and began to try and cut away the side of the poop where
the grappling iron had fixed itself; but the edge of the axe was all
blunted, and would hardly even cut wood.  It was perfectly awful, and
you could see the cruel brutes in the bows of the fourth junk hauling in
the rope, hand over hand.  They thought that they had caught us, and
were making the most tremendous noise, shouting and yelling.

They had hauled themselves to within twenty feet of us, and would be
alongside in another few seconds.  We could see them crowding for’ard,
waving swords, and getting ready to pour on board.  They began throwing
stink balls, too, but these fell into the water, or, at any rate, we
were too terrified to notice them.

I suddenly wondered why the Maxim wasn’t working—I’d not thought of
it—and looked round and saw why.  It was all battered in a heap, and two
of its crew were lying underneath it.

I don’t know what I did, or quite what happened then, but I found myself
under the poop, hunting among all the wreckage for my revolver.

I didn’t find it, but got hold of a cutlass and was rushing up again,
when I heard Sharpe give a yell of joy, and was just in time to see that
awful rope "part", and the people in the bows of the pirate junk fall on
their backs in a heap.

"We’re away, sir!" Sharpe shouted, and, darting for’ard to the
six-pounder, sang out to the men steering to turn her round a little,
and fired four times right into the pirate’s bows.

They came round, too, and fired their guns at us; but we were beyond
worrying about gunshots now, after all we’d been through, and paid off
again before the wind, the third and the fourth junks following us close
behind, and the first two a long way behind.

My head was simply going round and round, and my ears were ringing and
buzzing.  We were still in a cloud of powder smoke from the junks, and
our poop was a perfect wreck.

I had time to look round now—the Maxim gun was lying there, knocked to
pieces, the two men near it were quite dead, horribly smashed up one
was, and there was hardly an undamaged plank to be seen.  The native
boat hanging over our stern had been smashed to pieces, and the wreckage
of it was trailing in the water.  We cut it adrift.  Bits of wood and
sail and rope were lying all over the decks, and up above our sails were
full of holes. The main gaff was hanging down and beating against the
sail, and tearing long strips out of it; but the mast still stood, and
the rudder wasn’t damaged, and we were simply roaring through the water
again.

Then the third junk began creeping up on our starboard quarter, not
overhauling us very fast, which showed that our speed wasn’t much
decreased; and directly the six-pounder would bear, Sharpe, who had
taken charge of it, began firing into her, and hit her several times.
We could see her trying to edge away.

Right astern was the fourth junk, and half a mile astern the first and
second.  The third and the fourth kept on yawing, so that they could
bring their guns to bear and fire at us, but lost ground doing this, and
only made a few more holes in our sails.

My people began to cheer—the seven who were left—because the open sea
showed right in front of us; and then they cheered more loudly, because
the first junk, which seemed to be very low in the water, suddenly shot
up into the wind, the second junk, which had always given us a wide
berth, followed her, and both of them began tacking over to the island.

That left us only two to tackle—the fourth, which was about three
hundred yards astern, and the third, which was broad on our starboard
quarter, but was edging away to try and get out of range of Sharpe’s
little shells, and was quite out of it, as far as her own guns were
concerned.

But before she could get out of range, something happened which made her
gybe badly—we were all running before the wind, you must remember.
Whether Sharpe had smashed her steering gear or not, I don’t know, but,
at any rate, she lowered her foresail and hauled into the wind as if to
repair something, and lost a great deal of ground before she paid off,
and came after us again.

Something, whatever it was, must have been very badly damaged, for she
hauled her wind again; and the fourth did so too, sailing close up to
her, and then—hurrah! how we cheered!—they both began beating to
wind’ard towards the island, and we were left alone.

I don’t know how the men felt, but I felt giddy and weak and horribly
sick, and had to hold myself up against the mizzen mast, because my
knees trembled so much, and my head was splitting, and my mouth felt
absolutely dry, and my ears were all buzzing and humming, and very
painful.

I jumped down to Dicky; he was lying just where he’d fallen, and he was
quite unconscious, and had an awful gash across the side of his head.
Some splinter must have struck him.

The signalman said he knew something about "first aid", and brought the
"first aid" bag, and bandaged him up, and wiped the blood off his face,
and we brought him aft.

Please don’t think that I was cool enough to have written this down
right on the spot.  I couldn’t possibly have done it.  Everything went
so fast, that you had no time for thinking, and really, after being
thrown against the mainmast, when Adams and Cooke had been injured, I
wasn’t any use at all.

I was shaky and "jumpy" for days afterwards, and it wasn’t till I got
back to the _Vigilant_ that I could write this down, and then I had to
get everyone who was on board the _Sally_ to help me.

It was Scroggs, and after he was killed, Sharpe, who had done it all,
and but for them—well—I shouldn’t have been able to write about it, or
any of us either, for the matter of that.

And if, after Scroggs and Sharpe, you asked me to tell you who did next
best of the men, I should say the two able seamen who stood to the
tiller ropes and steered for that horribly long hour, and did
things—right things—at the proper time, even without orders. They hadn’t
had the excitement of firing back, either, to keep them keen and from
getting in a funk.  One was John Corder, and the other William Young,
and they both got their ratings as leading seamen some time afterwards,
and I only wish that my father were a rich man, and could do more for
them.



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                     *Mr. Rashleigh takes Command*


    Tired Out—Mr. Trevelyan Assists—A Trying Night—On Board the
    Ringdove—The Sally in Danger—The Sally Disabled—Dicky is
    Better—Open Fire!—A Surprise—The Sally is Done For


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


It must have been some time between seven bells and noon when we found
ourselves clear of that hateful channel and the smoke that seemed almost
to fill it, and the last of the pirates had given up the chase.  We
hadn’t even enough energy to cheer, but we all wanted to lie down.  Not
a single one of us had escaped bruises or cuts from bits of splinters,
and I know that I felt almost dead, as if I’d been bruised all
over—being thrown against the mast, when poor old Scroggs was killed,
did that.

I would have let the men sleep, but Sharpe shook his head and said that
there was too much work to be done, and of course he was right.  All the
wounded had to be looked after, and the rigging and sails to repair
temporarily.  When we’d got well away from the island, we found that the
wind had begun to go round to the west, and what bothered us most was a
plank, under the starboard side of the poop, which had been smashed in
when the third junk collided with us.  The breeze going round to the
west was good, because it brought all the strain on our port rigging,
and the fore and main rigging on that side hadn’t been injured; but it
was bad for us, because it made us heel over to starboard, and this
smashed plank kept on going under water and letting a lot in.

We had to turn the Sally round into the wind and lower her sails, and
stayed like that for nearly an hour, all the time looking to see whether
any junks were coming after us, and standing by to scoot off again if
they did.  But none tried to follow us, and when Sharpe had nailed some
canvas and some of the dinghy’s broken planks over the hole, we hoisted
our sails again and sailed away for the island where we had to meet the
_Ringdove_.

Ah Chee was plucky enough now, and began to cook something hot for us
all over the big brazier.  It had been knocked over and emptied, but
there were so many bits of wood lying about, that he made a fire out of
them. He kept pointing to himself and jabbering, "Ah Chee belong plenty
blave fightee man," and then to the island, shaking his fist, "Pilons
all same pig."

I had crawled under the poop to look at Dicky.  I was almost afraid to
go there, because I thought I should find that he had stopped breathing;
but I watched him very carefully, and could just see his chest moving,
and his lips too sometimes, when he breathed in and out. I crept back
again, feeling very funny and glad.  Adams and Cooke were moaning and
groaning, and it was awful not to know the proper thing to do for them.
Sharpe had wrapped the two dead men in their blankets and put them down
below out of sight, and we had put Adams and Cooke and Dicky in the
men’s part of the poop, because all the upper part, where Dicky and I
and Scroggs and Sharpe had lived, was simply a wreck.  My hammock and
bedding had been carried halfway through the bulkhead by a shot, which
was still fixed in it, and my uniform tin case was almost doubled in
half, and I couldn’t open it.  I know that you will think me an ass, but
when I found Ah Man’s cake, with only a gash across the icing, I could
have whooped with joy, and divided it among the men, leaving a bit for
Dicky, if he ever got well—I knew he wouldn’t mind.  That was the first
thing we had to eat after the pirates left off chasing us.  You should
have seen us drink. I had never been so thirsty in my life, nor the men
in theirs either, I should fancy.

Our compass had been smashed, but we could guess our course roughly, and
Ah Chee knew his way pretty well among the islands, so we didn’t worry
much about that.

We were really too "played out" to worry about anything. By the middle
of the afternoon it was blowing very hard, and we were plunging, and
shaking, and heeling over so much, that we had to lower the mainsail
altogether, and could only carry the foresail hoisted halfway up, and
the little mizzen sail.  That eased her, and made her much more
comfortable, and I should have let the men go to sleep, but Sharpe
wouldn’t hear of it.  "No, sir.  It’s going to be a dirty night, and
we’d best set up that damaged rigging tempor—arily."  So he and the four
hands—all that were left, if you don’t count the two men at the
tiller—worked wearily away till it was nearly dark.

But long before that I’d gone to sleep myself.  I was very ashamed then,
and am still ashamed of myself; but I had got into a corner, more or
less out of the wind and the spray, propped up between the poop and the
side of the junk, close to the men at the helm, and must have simply
gone to sleep standing up, and slipped down without knowing it.

"The _Ferret_ is in sight, sir!" I suddenly heard, and there was Sharpe
standing over me, and trying to shake some life into me.  "She’s asking
for news."

I hardly dared look at him, because I felt such a "worm", and got on my
feet again.  At first I thought he meant the _Vigilant_, but it was only
Mr. Trevelyan and Jim in their junk.  Oh!  I felt so stiff and sore, and
had to rub my eyes to get properly awake; but then I was frightfully
glad, for I thought that Mr. Trevelyan might know something about
doctoring.  She was slanting down towards us, with only a bit of her
mainsail hoisted, and flying some signal.

"We’ve given her our name, sir," the signalman said, "and now Mr.
Trevelyan wants to know what news you have, sir."

I told the signalman what to say, and he semaphored, "Captain to
Captain" (that didn’t even make me smile, or feel proud, so proves how
tired I must have been).  "We have sunk one pirate junk, and escaped
from four more in the channel between East and West Nam Chau Islands"
(we had found the name on the chart, after all).  "Petty officer Scroggs
killed, two able seamen, Midshipman Morton and able seaman Cooke badly
wounded, and able seaman Adams has leg broken."

We saw them take it in, and I knew how unhappy Jim would be about Dicky.
Then they hoisted a signal which meant "heave to", and we lowered the
bit of foresail and swung round, with our mizzen to keep us in the wind,
whilst Mr. Trevelyan came lurching down, swung up into the wind just
ahead of us, lowered his mainsail, and hoisted a tiny bit of mizzen.  I
could see them all looking at us, and Jim was standing on the poop
waving to me, and I waved back to him.  They got out their dinghy and
two men, and Mr. Trevelyan began dropping down towards us.  We threw
them a rope and they caught it, swung in under our stern, and Mr.
Trevelyan clambered up over our poor old wrecked poop.  It was a jolly
tricky thing to do, because a big sea was running. I was so awfully
"done up", that I could almost have burst into tears when I saw him.  I
was never so thankful to see anyone in my life before.

"Holy Moses!  Ford, you’ve been and smashed up the Skipper’s junk, and
no mistake!  My jumping Jupiter! you must have had a warm time, and you
look like a blooming butcher yourself."

"It’s not mine, sir," I told him; "it’s Scroggs’s."  I had been too
tired to wash my face and hands and my clothes, and the spray hadn’t
done it either; it was all caked and brown by now.  I implored him to
come and see Dicky and Adams.  "I don’t know a blooming thing about
doctoring," he said, scratching his head, and looking awfully serious;
but he picked his way across the smashed-up poop, and where the Maxim
gun had been, and we crawled in to see Dicky.  He was still unconscious;
he wouldn’t even look at me, though his eyes were open, and we shouted
his name, and every time the junk flopped about, both Adams and Cooke
moaned terribly.  Mr. Trevelyan did make it more comfortable for them
all, because he made us roll Cooke in blankets, so that his legs did not
stick together, and he made us tie Adams’s legs together to keep the
broken one steady; and then we put them in their hammocks and slung
them, somehow or other, and after that it didn’t hurt them so much when
the junk rolled and pitched.

All this time I had told Mr. Trevelyan everything, just as I have told
you, and he was fearfully excited, and made us show him on the chart
exactly where we had been, as far as I could make out.  "You have had
luck," he kept on saying; "and I’m going to have a go at them."  You
see, I hadn’t really got any information—none worth having—and no
prisoners.  I had been much too excited to notice anything on the
islands themselves, and, as Mr. Trevelyan said, "They might have their
whole bally ’fit out’ there."

"Don’t bother about that, you lucky little beggar" (I suppose I looked
miserable); "you can’t do every blessed thing!  Now you shove along to
the _Ringdove_, and I’ll beat up to your pirates, if my crazy old
’ditcher will face it—she won’t sail for nuts, Ford—and just ’makee look
see’ first thing in the morning.  Give old Rashleigh my love, and if I’m
not back again by to-morrow night, or the morning after, get him to come
along and pick up the scraps."

He was just as excited as you can imagine.  I wanted him to take back
all the Maxim ammunition I had left—of course it was no use to me
now—and he jumped at the idea, and we hauled the dinghy under the stern
and passed the boxes, with the unused cartridge belts, into her.

The _Ferret_ had dropped down to leeward of us, so that he would not
have to pull back to wind’ard; I don’t think he could have done so even
if he had tried.  "Goodbye, my sucking Nelson; keep your pecker up, and
I’ll give ’em ’beans’ in the morning," he said as he slid down into the
dinghy.  He was always so awfully cheerful and "buckish".  "What d’you
think of Dicky?" I asked him before he let go.  "I’m jiggered if I
know!" he shouted. "Get him to the _Ringdove_ and Hibbert as quickly as
you can."

He was just casting off, when he happened to look up, and sang out to
the bow man to hold on.  He had seen our white ensign, and shouted out
to me: "I say, Ford, let me have that, there’s a good chap; you’ll have
no more fighting, and I’d like it so much."  I had it hauled down and
passed it into the dinghy, though the signalman wasn’t half pleased.

Back he went, alongside the _Ferret_.  I saw the flag and ammunition
boxes and then the dinghy hoisted on board, a man hauled himself up the
mizzen and made the flag fast there, and then she hoisted part of the
mainsail again and began to pound away back to our islands.  We cheered
her and she cheered us, and the last shout I heard was a "tiger" from
Jim.

Then I hoisted the foresail halfway up, and off we went again; and by
this time it was nearly dark, and we soon could only make out where the
_Ferret_ was by the white splash when she flopped down on top of a sea,
and in a very few minutes we couldn’t even see that, and felt awfully
lonely.

I should never have found the way back, and I don’t think that Sharpe
would have done so either, but for Ah Chee.  He was a grand chap, when
there wasn’t any fighting to be done, and seemed to know every island we
passed that night, and just where we could trust ourselves.

Sharpe and I had to be on deck nearly all night, it was blowing so hard,
and of course there were those islands to avoid.  Sharpe wouldn’t leave
off talking about Scroggs and the family he had left behind him, and
that made it more miserable still, that and hearing Adams and Cooke
groaning, and knowing that Barton and Hicks, the two men who were
killed, were lying down in the hold.  We got a little lee from one of
the islands some time during the middle watch, so then we made better
weather of it. It must have been soon after that when Sharpe woke me—I
had fallen asleep again.

"Who’s that?" he cried, his voice all of a shake, and I listened, and
all of a sudden could hear someone singing out "Dick" from under the
dark poop.  All the blood rushed to my head, and I could have blubbed
with delight, for it was Dicky’s poor little bleating voice; and I crept
in with a lantern, picked my way over the men asleep, held up the
lantern, and there he was looking at me and asking for a drink.  Well, I
did blub then—just for a second—and don’t mind saying so, I was so
happy, and went and found a little water and gave it to him; and Sharpe
stirred up the hot bits of wood in Ah Chee’s brazier, which the wind had
kept glowing, and we warmed some tinned milk and gave that to him.  When
he’d drunk it he turned over and went to sleep, without asking anything,
only just saying, "Thank you".

Still, that was enough, and I do believe that Sharpe was a little bit
husky too; and I wanted him to let me shove on a little more sail, so
that we could get back to the _Ringdove_ all the more quickly, but he
wouldn’t let me do it.  "She’s carrying all she can do with, sir, and
the men are asleep."  He was right, too, because we should have had to
turn them out to hoist more sail.

Ah Chee knew all right where he was going, and at daybreak we sighted
the island at which we had to meet the _Ringdove_, and two hours later
saw her three masts and her funny little funnel sticking up.

I had signalled across all my news, and you can imagine how thankful I
was to run the Sally alongside her, and to see Dr. Hibbert clambering on
board us over her "nettings", smoking his pipe and looking jolly.

"Find my medicine stuff any use?" he asked me.

"Both bottles were broken, sir," I told him, "so I hadn’t the chance,"
and took him under the poop, and a lot of men came and hoisted all three
of the wounded on board the _Ringdove_.

Dicky woke up and managed a bit of a smile as they took him away, but he
was still dazed and half silly. They took Hicks’s and Barton’s bodies on
board too, and before we went off again buried them overboard.

Then Mr. Rashleigh sent for me.  He was angry that I hadn’t reported to
him directly I had come alongside. I told him all that had happened, and
how Scroggs had done nearly everything, and when he’d been killed, how
Sharpe had practically done everything, and how Mr. Trevelyan had taken
all my Maxim ammunition and gone back to have a look at the pirate place
himself. The last bit seemed to make him jolly angry, and he muttered
something about "confounded disobedience".

The wind, too, had gone round to almost due north, so that Mr. Trevelyan
couldn’t possibly get back for at least three days.

"That ass Trevelyan would put his head into a lion’s mouth, if he
thought he could get any news there," he said, and swore angrily.  "I’ll
have to go and haul him out by the feet, and hope the pirates won’t have
snapped his head off.  If they haven’t, I will."

We had to go back with him, he couldn’t leave us there, and as soon as
his people had set up some more rigging, and done a bit more to make our
poop water-tight, and the stern as well, we had to follow the _Ringdove_
back again.  It was a fair wind for us, and we didn’t delay her very
much.  Mr. Rashleigh had offered to let me sleep aboard his gunboat, in
order that I could get a good rest; but I had had a jolly good feed in
the ward room, and had had a bath, so this made me rather angry.  "Just
as you like; I don’t care a tuppenny biscuit," he said, and gave me
another petty officer to take Scroggs’s place, so at last Sharpe was
able to get a little sleep.

I must say that I felt frightened about Jim and Mr. Trevelyan, because
neither of them would have thought twice of taking on all the pirates in
the world; and they had already had nearly thirty hours to themselves,
and I wondered what had been happening.  By noon next day we were two
miles off the islands, and the channel from which we had escaped; but we
had heard or seen nothing of the _Ferret_, and thought that we might
possibly have passed her beating back to the rendezvous during the
night.

Presently someone shouted that they thought they had heard the noise of
a gun.  Everyone listened, and in a few minutes we could hear three
sharp bangs.  "That’s the _Ferret’s_ six-pounder," someone said, and we
were all frightfully excited.

The _Ringdove_ signalled us to follow as fast as possible—she had heard
them also—and shoved on for all she was worth.

She had all her little sails set, and smoke was pouring out of her
funnel.

We saw her enter the channel, half a mile ahead of us, and just as she
got into the mouth of it, two clouds of white smoke jumped out from the
left-hand side, down by the water’s edge, we saw two great splashes of
water leap up behind her stern, and then came the roar.  If you’ve never
heard the roar of a gun, it’s awfully difficult to describe it; but with
cliffs all round, you can hear the noise smashing up against them with a
crash, and rolling about and crashing again.

"They’ve got some guns there, sir!  Now we’ve got some information as
will please the Captin, sir, when he hears of it, sir, eh?" and Sharpe
winked at me.

We kept our eyes glued on the _Ringdove_, and saw that she was clearing
for action.  I have always thought that Mr. Rashleigh might have done
that before; and the two guns had reloaded before he could commence
firing, and they plugged in two more shots.  "One’s hit her," the
signalman sang out, "close to the foremast, sir."  But she didn’t seem
to be badly damaged, and started off with her four-inch guns (three she
had on each side, one on the poop, one in the waist, and one on the
fo’c’stle). They made an awful noise in the narrow channel; and we could
also hear the rattle and see the spurts of smoke from under her bow and
stern, and knew that she was working her Nordenfelt machine guns.
"They’re digging up the ground all round them pirates’ guns," one of my
men sang out, though, as far as I could see, most of the _Ringdove’s_
shells were falling in the water—at first, at any rate.

I couldn’t find the guns, but soon the "Ringdoves" made better shooting,
and I could then spot them.  Just as I had spotted them they fired
again.  "Short," yelled a man.  "Two hundred over," another shouted.

"They’re too much bothered by those ’Ringdoves’ to do much aiming, sir,"
Sharpe said very coolly.  Then I began to wonder what would happen
whilst we were passing them, and whether the _Ringdove_ would wait for
us.  She didn’t, however, and you can imagine how frightened I was to
see her steaming away out of range, and cease firing, after the shore
guns had fired another round at her, which fell a long way astern.  She
was almost hidden in powder smoke too.  "They’ll just have time to
reload before we get abreast of them," I said to Sharpe; and I don’t
mind telling you that I felt in a horrid funk, and, if there had been no
one to know anything about it, should have turned the _Sally_ round and
run away.

"All right, sir!" Sharpe said; he didn’t look frightened. "Keep her
across as far as you can, and send all of ’em who aren’t wanted down
below.  Mr. Rashleigh will be back in a minute."  He took charge of the
six-pounder, with one man to help him load, and, "my eye!" he did let
off quickly.  I sent everyone else down below into the hold except
Fergusson and another man, who looked after the tiller tackles, and went
amidships myself and stared at those two guns reloading—I couldn’t take
my eyes off them—and—and—then they began slowly to train round, till I
could only see the black muzzles pointing straight at us, with Sharpe’s
little shells bursting on the ground in front of them.  I’ve told you
how frightened I was, so I must tell you that I did not get behind the
mainmast.  I would have done anything to get there, but something inside
me prevented me, and I have been awfully proud that I didn’t, ever
since.

It’s bad enough standing behind a big gun and waiting for it to go off,
but it was awful standing in front of two; and I felt that they couldn’t
possibly help hitting me—to say nothing of the junk—because, although we
had crept over to the far side of the channel, we were only about four
hundred yards away.  Then off they went, the smoke and the flashes and
the roar, Sharpe’s yell, "Look out, sir!" a crash somewhere in our poop,
and another crash up above; all seemed to come together.

"The tiller’s smashed, sir!  We can’t steer," Fergusson shouted, and I
saw that one side of the poop had been blown clean out, and the whole of
the upper part of the mainsail had fallen down, and the top of the mast
with it.

Sharpe rushed aft and cut the mizzen halyards, and down that sail came.
You must understand that we were sailing very fast before the wind, and,
of course, if we had only the foresail set, we should have blown along
in more or less of a straight line, but the mizzen made us yaw from side
to side.

This steadied the _Sally_ a little, and we were going to lower the rest
of the mainsail too, when there was a tremendous roar, and the
_Ringdove_ came splashing back, in between us and the guns, with all her
sails flat "aback", and she didn’t give those guns a chance to fire
again.  She ran in quite close, and we could see men running away from
them; and then round she turned, still firing, and followed us as we
staggered this way and that way up the channel.

"Lower that cursed fores’l or you’ll be ashore," Mr. Rashleigh shouted,
"and we’ll take you in tow."  Jolly coolly he did it, too, and everyone
hauled in the grass hawser and made it fast.

In five minutes we were out of range.

"What the furies is the matter?" he shouted from the poop.

"First shot carried away our tiller," Sharpe shouted.

"Anybody hurt?"

"No, sir," he answered.  I was too excited to shout.

Still there wasn’t a sound or sight of Mr. Trevelyan’s junk, and we went
very slowly up the channel, almost as far as where we had sunk that
first pirate junk.

Then all of a sudden we could hear the six-pounder banging away
somewhere on our left, and the tut—tut, tut—tut of the Maxim, and in a
little opening in the rocks I caught sight of the white ensign I had
given Mr. Trevelyan, against the dark shore, and could make out the
_Ferret_ herself, jammed at the foot of some rocks, and people on board
waving their arms.

The _Ringdove_ had spotted her as well, and we all cheered and steered
straight across towards her—at any rate, the _Ringdove_ steered and we
were towed round—and the gunboat dropped her anchor about a hundred
yards off.

The poor little _Ferret_ was all over to port.  She had only her mizzen
mast standing, and was evidently hard and fast on the rocks, right in
the middle of a small creek.

Mr. Rashleigh went across in the whaler at once, and as he got close to
her we could see his boat’s crew pulling very fast, and noticed some
bullet splashes round the boat, and the _Ferret’s_ Maxim spluttered out.
We couldn’t see what they were firing at, and it was most exciting.

"Mr. Trevelyan, he’s bottled ’em, sir; that’s what he’s done, sir,"
Sharpe said.  He was busy repairing the tiller, and going about the job
as if he was on board the _Vigilant_ at Hong-Kong, or Portsmouth, or
anywhere else where there was no chance of a scrap.

Well, that was just what it turned out to be. Mr. Trevelyan had fetched
the mouth of the channel the morning after he had left me, hadn’t been
fired at by the battery, but had coolly crawled through and examined the
shore on each side.  He had found this creek, sailed up it right past a
bend, and found himself in sight of a dozen or more junks all anchored
together.  He had carried on and opened fire on them, but found that
they were too much for him.  He had lost his mainmast, had two men
killed when it fell, had to haul out again, and, not being able to avoid
the rocks in the middle of the creek, had run hard and fast on them.

Jim told me the story, and how they daren’t try and get her off again
because she had such a big hole in her bottom, and how the junks had
tried to come and capture her, but had to come singly, and couldn’t face
the six-pounder shells and the Maxim, and had drawn back. Last night
they had tried to rush them in boats, but Mr. Trevelyan had rigged nets
all round, and it blew very hard, and many boats were stove in on the
rocks, and the nets and the Maxim gun drove off those that did not get
alongside.

"It was a most awful night, Dick," he said, "but I wouldn’t have missed
it for the world, now it’s all over. And what we should have done
without that ammunition you gave us, I don’t know."

All that day the pirates had been firing rifles at them from both sides
of the creek, and only one man at each gun was allowed on deck, and they
had had to be changed, because three of them had been wounded.  Everyone
else had kept down below in the hold, with the dirty water up to their
knees.

"We couldn’t have stuck it for another day," Jim told me, "and Mr.
Trevelyan was going to attempt to land the guns on one of the bigger
rocks, which had some trees on it, that very night, and try and cut them
down and make a breastwork of them, and hold out till you came."

Mr. Trevelyan had sent him across to that rock during the night to see
if it was all right, and he had waded and swam across, and then in the
dark slipped down on his way back, and cut himself against the rocks.
His hands, and face, and chest, and all over, in fact, were all
scratched—great long scratches—and he was so stiff, he could hardly
move.  He had to be bandaged pretty well all over, but was as happy as
anything.  "Mr. Trevelyan is a fine chap," he kept on saying.  "He’s
always thinking of some new dodge.  It was grand."

"What are you firing at?" I asked him.  "Can you see the junks from the
_Ferret_?"

"No, they’re round the corner, but the cliffs are full of the brutes
with rifles."

Dr. Hibbert wouldn’t let us see Dicky.  "He’s asleep again," he called
out from the _Ringdove’s_ poop.  "Don’t you come aboard, bothering
round.  He’ll do all right." He had a lot of work to do, because one of
the "Ringdoves" had been very badly smashed "up" by that shot which had
hit her, and four or five of Mr. Trevelyan’s men had been more or less
badly wounded, and had come across with Jim in the whaler.  Dr. Hibbert,
and the Paymaster, and the sick-berth attendant were busy in the ward
room patching them up.

They had got up steam in the _Ringdove’s_ little steam cutter, and Mr.
Rashleigh and Mr. Trevelyan steamed up past the rock and out of sight
round the corner.

The _Ferret_ fired her Maxim and the _Ringdove_ her Nordenfelts to keep
down the rifle fire, and they got past the entrance safely and out of
sight, but came back very soon.

I could see that Mr. Rashleigh was puffing out his cheeks with
importance, and that Mr. Trevelyan was looking very vexed about
something, as they went aboard the _Ringdove_, and I heard afterwards
that Mr. Rashleigh had wanted to steam back to Tinghai at once to report
that he had found the headquarters of the pirates. Mr. Trevelyan,
however, wanted to burn the pirate junks first, and, if the _Ringdove_
wouldn’t go in and try, had offered to do the job with her boats.

Eventually Mr. Rashleigh gave way, but he wouldn’t take the _Ringdove_
in till his Sub-lieutenant had surveyed the creek, and he sent him away
in the whaler to take soundings, although Mr. Trevelyan swore that there
was enough water.

The whaler was all right whilst she was in sight, but directly she got
round the corner she lost a man wounded, and came hurrying back again.
There was another row then; but Mr. Trevelyan had his own way, and a
Nordenfelt machine gun was put in the bows of the _Ringdove’s_ cutter
and another in the steamboat, and we saw that they were going to follow
the whaler and protect her.

Jim and I were supposed to be getting some sleep all this time, but we
couldn’t—of course we couldn’t; and just then Mr. Trevelyan shouted to
us that I had to go away in charge of the cutter, and Jim in charge of
the steamboat, if we’d had enough sleep.  The boats dropped down
alongside the _Sally_, and we were aboard in a jiffy, Jim grinning with
delight.  We shouted that we’d had all the sleep we wanted and were
quite wide awake, and shoved off after the whaler, Jim taking me in tow
and I taking the whaler astern of me.

The steamboat towed us past the _Ferret_, quite close to her.  She was
an absolute wreck, and all one side looked as though it was smashed in
by a big rock.  She fired a shell or two to prevent the brutes firing
rifles at us from the shore, and the five men left aboard her cheered
us. We got past without being fired at, and then we were out of sight of
the _Ringdove_, and the steamboat cast us off, and we had to pull in
towards the starboard side of the creek and search that with our
Nordenfelt, if anyone fired.  The steamboat did the same on the other
side, and the Sub in the whaler went on taking soundings between us.

"Cutter!" the Sub had shouted, and I held up my hand (he didn’t know my
name), "open fire directly you hear rifle shots;" and I sang out, "Ay,
ay, sir!" and you may bet we were keen as mustard, and "stood by" with
the Nordenfelt’s hopper full of one-inch cartridges, and the lever all
ready to jerk backwards and forwards.

You should have seen us watching the banks.  I had borrowed the
signalman’s field glasses, because my telescope had disappeared in the
wreckage of the _Sally’s_ poop, and watched every bit of rock or bush,
and saw several Chinamen creeping about.  They had rifles, but didn’t
fire them.

"There’s a shot, sir!" cried the coxswain, and I saw a splash near the
steamboat, and Jim began banging away with his Nordenfelt, but stopped
after he’d fired three times, and we had never another shot fired at us.
I was rather pleased.  To make up for it, we suddenly came in sight of
the whole fleet of pirate junks, and a whole crowd of ordinary junks
lying behind them.  They weren’t more than five hundred yards away, and,
when they saw us, began beating drums, and clashing brass things, and
yelling, and letting off crackers to frighten us.  One of the nearest
had her side turned towards us, and began letting off her guns as well,
and the din was simply hideous.

It was just like going up to a peaceful wasp’s nest and stirring it up
with a stick.

We were both close to the whaler, and the little round shot began to
come rather too near.  I heard Jim shout, "Couldn’t we go for them,
sir?" and my boat’s crew bent forward to be ready for a spurt; but the
Sub, who was standing up in the whaler, shook his head, and ordered Jim
to take us in tow again.  He looked as if he’d jolly well like to have
tried, but he had to obey orders.

"There’s enough bally water for an ironclad," he shouted, "all the way
up, but we must go back, or it’ll be too late for the _Ringdove_ to do
anything."

So back we went again, the men pulling their oars to make it easier for
the steamboat, and the round shot bobbing about in the water astern of
us, till we’d got out of sight.

But Mr. Rashleigh wouldn’t move for anything the Sub or Mr. Trevelyan
said to him.  It would be dark in half an hour, and he wasn’t going to
risk anything in the dark, and would wait for daylight.  I was ordered
to take my cutter alongside the _Ferret_, and transfer her guns and
stores to the _Ringdove_.  This took nearly two hours in the dark, and
Mr. Trevelyan came in charge.  He was simply bubbling over with anger.
"She’s got a searchlight, and the old _Vigilant_ could go up there
without winking.  I bet ’Old Lest’ would have cleared out the whole
blooming crowd by now.  My aunt! fancy wasting the whole jumping day!
Call himself Rashleigh!  My blessed grandmother!" and he spat in the
water to show his contempt.

The last thing I took away was my white ensign, and although it was
nighttime, I hoisted it on board the Sally again.  It had several bullet
holes through it, and was torn and looked jolly warworn.  I thought even
then that I’d keep it—if the signalman didn’t collar it himself—for my
mother, or perhaps give it to Nan when I got home.

We had cast off from the _Ringdove_, and had anchored close to her.  My
orders were to make the cutter "fast" along-side, man it in the morning
with all the _Sally’s_ crew who were left, and follow the _Ringdove_ up
the creek directly it was light.

I was very excited, but managed to find some place to lie down, and
slept jolly well, which only shows how very tired I must have been.

Sharpe woke me at six, half an hour before sunrise. We all had some hot
cocoa and some biscuit, and then we got as many rifles and revolvers and
cutlasses as we could find, and filled the Gardner’s hopper with
cartridges. We crept about in the dark without making any noise, could
presently hear the hands "turning out" aboard the _Ringdove_, and took
our places in the cutter and waited to shove her off.  When it was light
enough to just see the rocks, Mr. Rashleigh called out that he was not
going to weigh for another half-hour, and there we had to sit, and the
longer we waited the less brave we felt—at any rate, I felt.  I don’t
believe that anyone can feel brave on a dark cold morning.

It seemed like hours before we heard her cable "clanking in", and that
woke us up again with a funny, cold feeling, and in a few minutes the
water under her stern began to swirl, and she started very slowly for
the entrance, and we pulled away from the _Sally_ after her.

Then there came a surprise, if you like.  My aunt! it did startle us.

Right on top of the cliffs, over our heads, a terrific roar broke out,
and splash went a shot right under the _Ringdove’s_ stern, and the water
fell right aboard her.

"They’ve hauled a gun up there—on the right, sir," Sharpe said very
quietly, and somehow or other I felt certain that this would decide Mr.
Rashleigh not to go up that creek.  I am certain that he never really
wanted to go there.

He yelled to me to come alongside, and then he yelled for me to go back
to the _Sally_, cut her cable, and clear out of it.

I was very frightened, and hurried back to the _Sally_—Ah Chee was the
only one aboard her—when another roar came from above, the shot fell
between the _Ringdove_ and ourselves, and wetted us all.  I saw the
_Ringdove_ hurrying towards the foot of the cliffs, where the gun
couldn’t touch her.

"We must be nippy, sir," Sharpe said, very excitedly for him.

Just as we were going to run alongside, someone sang out, "What on
earth’s that, sir?" pointing to a small rock on the other side of the
creek.  We all looked, and could see someone standing there and waving
his arms.  "He’s trying to semaphore," several men cried, and a moment
after, "It’s Lootenant Travers, sir."

None of us thought of that gun then, and we shoved off towards him as
hard as we could—there were only six of us in a ten-oared cutter—and
gave a shout.

"Swim towards us, sir," I yelled, as we got closer and bullets came
round, though I didn’t really notice them much.  There was a Chinaman
with him, and they both waded out as far as they could, and we grabbed
them and hauled them in, and pulled back again with another shout, Mr.
Travers taking one of the spare oars, and the Chinaman, who was almost
dead of fright, hiding under the gunwale.

As we hauled Travers on board he asked, "Have you found Sally Hobbs?"
but I shook my head, and hadn’t time to think what that all meant, and
shouted to Sharpe, "Cut the anchor rope directly we get aboard and hoist
the fores’l."  I needn’t have troubled, because that gun above us fired
again, and we saw the stump of poor little _Sally’s_ mainmast come
toppling down, big pieces of her deck went flying about, and she began
to heel over as we ran alongside.  Mr. Travers and I jumped aboard, but
I saw that she was done for.  Her deck was absolutely smashed up
amidships, the six-pounder had fallen on top of the cartridge boxes in
the hold, and water was bubbling up through two great holes in her
bottom.

"We shall have to leave her, sha’n’t we, sir?" I asked.

But there was no doubt of it, and I only just had time to haul down the
white ensign and get back into the boat and shove off, before she
settled right down, and with a bubbling noise slid under.

"’Twill drown all them cursed bugs and cockroaches what’s been biting at
us, curse ’em!" Sharpe said coolly, and we shoved off for the gunboat
under the cliff.  You bet that Ah Chee had jumped into the cutter
directly we’d got alongside!

The _Ringdove_ was waiting for us, and we were all aboard in five
minutes.  She sneaked out round the foot of the cliffs—Mr. Rashleigh
didn’t wait to take soundings now—ran out of the channel past where the
two guns had been, without being fired at, and started off for Tinghai.

I saw Mr. Rashleigh rubbing his hands, and heard him chuckling, "I’ve
rescued Travers, and the ’Old Man’ will be jolly pleased."  He seemed to
be awfully proud of himself, but Mr. Trevelyan told Jim angrily: "Of
course the Skipper will be pleased; everyone knows that; but he might
have burnt the whole nest of them as well, wiped out the whole boiling
crowd, if he’d only had the pluck to go in yesterday.  Instead of which
he gives those chaps time to haul their guns up over his head, where he
can’t touch it.  Confound him!"

Mr. Travers came up on deck soon afterwards, shaved and clean, with some
of the Sub’s plain clothes on.  He shook my hand.  "Long time since you
shoved me in the back in that crowd outside the Mission House, Ford.
Thought they would have plugged some of you in that boat.  They were
firing pretty fast."  That was tremendously demonstrative for him.

It was jolly good to have got him back safely, but we were all awfully
disappointed that we hadn’t found where Sally and her father were.  We
had thought we had done so, but he told us they weren’t there, and he
hadn’t the faintest idea where they were.  The Chinaman who’d helped him
to escape, and had come along for his reward, didn’t know anything about
them either. Ah Chee found this out.

Dicky was a jolly lot better, and could talk, but hadn’t the faintest
remembrance of anything after we’d sighted those four junks beating up
to wind’ard after us.  He remembered the junk running away from us and
the masts coming down, but nothing after that.

Dr. Hibbert wouldn’t let him talk to us much. Poor Cooke died before we
had got out of sight of land, and we stopped our engines and buried him
at sea.

That brought the killed ones in the two junks up to six—two of Jim’s and
four of mine—and there were six wounded besides Dicky.

I managed to hide away the ensign before the signalman could claim it,
and felt rather a beast; but I meant to keep it and get it home—some
day.  Jim lent me another monkey jacket.  It was quite "sopping" wet,
but it was clean, and we soon dried it, so that I looked more
respectable, and didn’t feel so horrid as I had felt in my bloodstained
one.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                       *The Vigilant Sails Again*


    The Padré Complains—Mr. Hoffman Returns—Under Way Again—Good
    News—"Good Old Dicky!"—Mr. Rashleigh’s Report—A Unfair Report


                    _Written by Commander Truscott_


I had had an extremely busy ten days superintending the fitting out of
those junks, and getting them and the gunboats away to their cruising
grounds.  I think that I had offended pretty nearly everyone in the
ship, from the Fleet Surgeon, who disliked parting with so many sick bay
stores, to the youngest cadet, who thought that he ought to have been
given a chance.

The Skipper was positively in a vile temper all the time, and I, myself,
and old Bax, the Fleet Paymaster, who came from the same part of the
country as he did, were the only ones who dared to approach him.  He
simply spat fire whenever anyone spoke to him, and the simplest thing
used to bring forth a torrent of oaths, and it was best to beat a hasty
retreat.

Don’t think that I minded, or anyone else—really. "How’s ’Old Lest’ this
morning?" they would ask, after I had reported morning "divisions" to
him, and I must say that I generally had to say "Worse than ever". They
would all chuckle at that.

For some reason or other everyone, except the Skipper himself, seemed to
be proud of his temper, and the more he roared and swore, the more the
men liked him.

"He’s the worst-tempered man in the service, I should imagine," the
young Padré had remarked one morning, when he and I and Mayhew, the
Fleet Surgeon, were walking up and down the quarterdeck, and could hear
him storming at "Willum" down below.

"For worst-tempered read best-tempered," Mayhew had replied fierily.
"You’ve only been a ’dog watch’ in the service, and when you know
something about it, you’ll know that you are wrong.  Why, man, he’s the
best Skipper to serve under in the whole blessed navy.  Call him bad
tempered!  Why, great snakes! that’s the temper coming out of him
instead of being bottled up.  It’s only fools and rotters who have
tempers that don’t come out."

I fancy that the Padré’s knowledge of human nature was of the slightest,
and I also must admit that it was probably very difficult to preach a
good sermon to the accompaniment of the Skipper’s snores, but he hadn’t
quite shaken down in his new surroundings.

When he first joined the ship his sermons were full of "my dear
brothers", or "dear brethren", and it was as good as a play to see the
Skipper’s face when he happened to be awake and first heard himself
called a "dear brother".  I thought he would have had a "fit", and after
church he stalked down below without saying a word, Blucher at his
heels, and sent for me.

Then out it came.  He had bottled it up for nearly twenty minutes, and
he pretty well excelled himself. "That little—little—whipper—snapper
call ’Old Lest’ his ’dear brother’!  Don’t let him come near ’Old Lest’.
I’ll ’dear brother’ him if he does it again!" and he glared at me and
shook his huge fists in my face absolutely unable to say anything more.

"Very good, sir; I will speak to the Chaplain," I had answered, and
fled.

For some reason or other I forgot to do so, but, after lunch that
morning, the younger people in the mess spread him out on the sofa, very
gently, and sat on him.  I happened to go into the ward room at the
moment, and found eight of them and Old Bax in a heap, with bits of the
young idiot showing out here and there under them, and heard them sing
out, "Here’s another dear brother," as they bumped him and he gasped for
breath, and implored them to leave off.  I slipped back to my cabin,
and, as I expected, there was a knock at my door a few minutes
afterwards, and in he came, very dishevelled, and complained of the
indignity.

"You surprise me, Padré," I told him.  "I can only say that I happened
to go to the mess, and saw you ’scrapping’ with your brother officers in
the most unbecoming manner, and endeavouring, as far as I could make
out, to break up the mess furniture.  I trust that such conduct will not
occur again."

He got very red and confused, and was going away, when I called him
back: "Of course, Padré, you must remember that if they do dislike any
of your expressions, you often enough complain of some of theirs, and I
should advise you to humour them.  It’s often a great effort on their
part to humour you, and you should be proud that they do try.  I will
speak to them, but strongly advise you to drop the ’dear brother’ part
of the show."

I’m glad to say that he did, and eventually became quite proud of
relating the bumping incident as "a stepping-stone in my education for a
life so strange, and at one period so apparently uncongenial, ah!"

As a matter of fact, he was always called "dear brother" after that, so
never had the chance to forget it. To come back to my yarn, the absence
of three watch-keepers and so many petty officers and men, to say
nothing of the midshipmen, made it difficult enough to carry on the
ordinary work of the ship.  This was a constant source of irritation to
Lawrence, Whitmore, and myself, and above all, there was the added
overwhelming anxiety at the fate of Travers, Sally, and her father.  It
was now five weeks since they had disappeared, and I assure you that
these weeks had only increased our anxiety and the feeling of utter
helplessness at our inability to discover their whereabouts and rescue
them.  Somewhere, but whether north, south, east, or west, we had not
the faintest notion, they were waiting for a sign of our coming, and
every evening, as the sun set and the dark clouds and grey twilight shut
out the islands all round us and wrapped them in darkness, the feeling
of depression used to become still more acute, and we used to imagine
them beginning another dreary night of waiting, and longing, and praying
that the morning would bring them rescue, which we all knew it wouldn’t.
These things, and the want of exercise on shore, were excuses sufficient
to account for any irritability of temper.

The Skipper used to tramp the quarterdeck from after "evening quarters"
till sunset, but then the sight of the long skeins of ducks, geese, and
swans flighting across the harbour to the mud flats round some of the
smaller islands used to drive him down below.  He used to growl: "Umph!
That’s what ’Old Lest’ came down here to do, to shoot ’em, and he’s only
made a fool of himself so far.  Umph!" and he’d send "Willum" round for
three of us to go aft to make up a rubber of whist.

But at last the long period of inaction came to an end. One morning,
just a week after the _Ringdove_ and her two junks had left, I had
turned out with the hands, and was walking up and down till my servant
had made my morning cup of tea, the quarterdeck men scrubbing and
holystoning round me in the dismal light.

I noticed a little native sailing boat beating up to Tinghai, and I
remember that I thought it strange for so small a boat to have been out
at night time.  As it came towards the harbour, I watched it idly
through my telescope, and presently saw that there were three men in
it—a Chinaman steering and two people pulling lee oars, one a Chinaman
and—I looked again to make sure—the other a tall gaunt fellow with a
shaggy black beard.  "That’s a rum go," I thought, and was still more
surprised when I saw them lower the sail—they were directly to leeward
of us—and begin to pull straight towards the _Vigilant_.

"What on earth’s going to happen now?" I thought, as the boat crept
alongside, the men pulling very feebly. The gaunt European half crawled
up the ladder and advanced towards me, and for a moment I did not
recognize him.

"Hoffman!" he said.

Good heavens!  I recognized him then, even with that black beard, and
with his face sunken and starved looking. "We thought you’d been burnt,"
I said, holding out my hand, as he tottered on to the quarterdeck.

"Give me some drink and food, and those men too," he gasped; and I led
him down below to my cabin—I thought he would have fallen down the
hatchway, he was so weak. Fortunately my servant had just brought my tea
and some bread and butter, and he drank and ate as if he had not touched
food for a week.

I sent for another plate of bread and butter, and when he had finished
that, and drunk all my tea and two tumblers full of water, he didn’t
wait for me to ask him any questions, but, clutching at the chair, and
with a wild look in his eyes, began, "For God’s sake, Commander, get the
Captain to start at once!  I know where Hobbs and his daughter are, or
were, six days ago, and if you are quick you may rescue them before they
can be hurried off somewhere else."

"Good heavens, man! and Travers, do you know where he is too?" I
shouted, jumping up.

"Yes, I do; but he’s not with them," he answered.

"Is she safe?" I asked eagerly; and he nodded, "Yes; up to the present."

"How the dickens did you escape being burnt?  We’ve actually read the
funeral service over the ruins of the Mission."

"Wait," he half moaned.  "Go and tell your Captain I am here, and give
me a cigarette—I haven’t tasted one for a month."

I woke the Skipper.  "That German, Hoffman, has come aboard, sir.  Says
he knows where Sally is and Travers."

"What?" roared the Skipper, opening his eyes.

"That German chap Hoffman has come aboard, sir."

"Well, don’t wake me," he grunted, not hearing me properly.

"He’s that man we thought had been burnt in the Mission House.  He knows
where Hobbs and Sally and Travers are," I repeated in a louder voice;
and he jumped out of his bunk, swearing angrily, "Why didn’t you tell me
before?" and roared for "Willum" to help him dress. "Bring him aft in
five minutes’ time," he growled.

"For goodness sake, don’t suggest anything to him! Don’t attempt to give
him any advice," I implored Hoffman.  "Ten to one, if you do, he’ll put
obstacles in the way.  Just tell him what you know, and nothing more."

"I’ll remember," he said wearily, as I took him aft. He had to steady
himself with one hand on my shoulder, he was so weak; his clothes simply
hung in loose folds.

I slipped away and turned out Hutton, our Engineer Commander, telling
him what I knew, and that the Skipper would be sending for him in a
minute or two.  In fact, he hardly pulled his trousers over his pyjamas
before he was sent for.  "How long will it take to get up steam?" I
asked him, as I helped him on with his monkey jacket. "An hour; we’re
still under banked fires—have been all the time," and then I went round,
turning everyone out. It was such a godsend to have at last some news to
tell.

"D’they know where Mr. Travers and the pretty little lady be, sir?" the
captain of the quarterdeck asked me; and I heard him tell his men, and
they left off scrubbing to discuss the situation.  "Little lady or no
little lady," he sang out, "just you go on with your ’olystoning."

In less than half an hour we had steam on the capstan, and were
shortening in the cable, and in another hour were under way.  It was
glorious to feel the engines moving round again and the beastly steam
steering gear rattling under my cabin once more, and to know that at
last our long six weeks of inaction were at an end.

There wasn’t a long face or a sour face in the ship that day.

The Skipper had filled his pockets with his beloved Havanas, and pulled
one out for me on the fore bridge too—a sure sign that he was in the
best of tempers.

"That chap Hoffman couldn’t lift a hundredweight now," he chuckled.
"I’ll take him ’on’ when he’s had a bit of sleep—the only chance I’ll
get," and he gurgled and croaked with laughter.  "He don’t exactly give
himself away, does he, Truscott?  Couldn’t get him to suggest a single
thing."

"I told him not to, sir," I said, smiling.

"Umph!  Think ’Old Lest’ an obstinate old fool, do you?  Think you know
’Old Lest’ better’n he knows himself, do you?  That’s the worst of
having a commander who’s been shipmates for seven years.  Umph!"  And he
glared at me, and was in a grand humour.

As a matter of fact, there were several reasons which made it
inconvenient to leave so hurriedly.  For one thing, we were, as you
know, very shorthanded, and for another, we expected the gunboats to
return at any moment with their tenders, and it would, at the best, be a
tedious business to call them all in.  Fortunately we met the old _Huan
Min_ pounding back to Tinghai for more coal; judging by the smoke she
made she seemed to grind it into dust and then blow it up her funnel.
We stopped her, and the Skipper sent on board to tell her Captain where
the _Vigilant_ was going, and to ask him to communicate with the other
gunboats, and with the _Omaha_, which had gone off by herself.

Ching evidently wrote the letter which came back, promising to do this,
and he sent a private one to his chum Lawrence to say that they were all
immensely pleased to hear that there was a chance of rescuing the
captives, and that the _Huan Min_ would come along after us as soon as
possible.

"He says that his shoulder is practically all right again now, sir.
He’s made a jolly sight less fuss about it than I should have done."
Lawrence smiled when he’d finished reading this letter.  "I wonder how
much he cares whether we ever see Hobbs or Travers again?  He doesn’t
hurry the old _Huan Min_ round these islands to find them, I bet you
anything you like, sir.  He’s hunting for Sally.  He’s simply head over
heels in love with her."

"More power to his elbow," I said.  "We all are, more or less."

We had left orders for the gunboats to follow us—left them with
Macpherson the missionary, so felt sure that they would fetch up, sooner
or later, even if the _Huan Min_ missed them.

The island for which we were now steering was right away in the SE.
corner of the archipelago, one of a group marked on the chart as the
Hector Group (it was so named after a transport which was wrecked there
in 1851).

It was there that Hobbs and his daughter were reported to be by Hoffman,
and it took the Skipper but a very few minutes to determine that he
would go there first and leave Travers till later.

As it happened, by great good fortune, there was no necessity to regret
his decision, because just after dark we sighted the lights of a
steamer, flashed the "demand" from our masthead lamp, and it turned out
to be the _Ringdove_ on the way back to Tinghai.  I wasn’t on the bridge
at the time, and had only just reached the deck after she was reported
to me, when I heard men cheering, and a midshipman rushed up, "Mr.
Travers is on board, sir, and well, sir!  Isn’t that grand?"

It’s extraordinary how good—and bad—news comes in lumps together, and
this seemed suddenly to make me feel ten years younger.  I was up that
bridge in a "brace of shakes".  We had stopped our engines, and the
_Ringdove_ was flashing across a long signal, and everyone bent eagerly
forward to try and take it in, whilst the signalman wrote it down, and
clicked the shutter of his hand lamp to show the _Ringdove_ that he had
taken it in correctly.

Most of us were so much out of practice that we only got a word or a
number here or there, but enough to know that she and her junks had lost
a lot of men.  At last the _Ringdove_ had finished, and the signalman
brought his signal pad to the Captain.

"Read it out, Truscott; your eyes are younger than mine."

Someone held up a lantern, and I read: "Have rescued Lieutenant Travers
uninjured from island of Chung-li Tao Group.  No news of whereabouts of
Hobbs or daughter. Tender _Sally_ sunk by gun fire; tender _Ferret_
wrecked and abandoned, guns saved.  Losses—_Ringdove_, one man wounded,
since dead, two wounded; _Sally_, four[#] men killed, Mid Morton, two
men wounded; _Ferret_, two men killed, five wounded."


[#] Cooke, A.B., had died as a result of his injuries.


"Phew!" whistled the Skipper.  "They’ve had a hot time!  Read it again."

I did so.

"Do they mean young Morton’s killed or wounded?"

"Ask them."

Click, click went the shutter of the signalman’s lamp.

You could not hear a sound whilst the _Ringdove_ light twinkled the
reply, and we all gave a gasp of relief when we
read—W-O-U-N-D—O-F—S-C-A-L-P—O-U-T—O-F—D-A-N-G-E-R.

"Get ’em all aboard," the Skipper told me; "best send both cutters," and
he sent a midshipman running aft. "Tell the Doctor—ten wounded coming
from _Ringdove_."

We signalled across for her to "close", and that we were sending for the
wounded and for the rest of the crews of the two junks.

This was a jolly ticklish job, because a rather heavy sea was running;
but we ran our searchlights, and I sent Lawrence and Whitmore away in
charge of the boats, and we managed to transfer them all without
anything happening worse than breaking one or two oars.

We gave Travers a cheer when he came across, and all crowded round and
congratulated him; and we cheered Trevelyan, young Rawlings and their
men, and Ford and his.  They had come over in the first boat, and
Rashleigh had come as well—to report personally.

Whilst he was down below I got a list of the names of those killed and
wounded from Trevelyan, and had it stuck on the lower deck notice board.
Scroggs was a serious loss to me—the captain of the fore top, and a fine
reliable man—and the others were all good men; they wouldn’t have been
sent there, of course, if they hadn’t been.

Ford and his six men had lost everything except what they stood up in,
but every one of them was in the best of spirits.  The second cutter
came along-side with the wounded, and young Morton was the first to be
carried up the ladder, managed a smile from under his bandages, and we
gave him a cheer.

The mids who’d been left behind sang out, "Good old Dicky".  I knew
perfectly well that he had been called "Dear Little Dicky", and that the
inoffensive, harmless little chap hated it, and was glad to hear them
drop it for once.  I knew a good many more of the "ins and outs" of what
went on in the gunroom than the Mids used to give me credit for.

The rest of the wounded were carried up, or hobbled up the ladder, and
they all went for’ard to the sick bay.

Then Rashleigh went back, simply bubbling over with importance and
excitement, the Skipper actually coming up to see him over the side.  He
didn’t often pay anyone under the rank of post captain that compliment.

"I thought that chap a blooming blockhead—told you so often—but he’s
done a jolly sight better than I gave him credit for; that he has,
Truscott, that he has.  And he’s found a place where they’re as thick as
thieves—big guns mounted, and all that.  I’ve sent him back to keep his
eye on it.  Jolly smart chap!  Things are just coming along now, eh?
They’ll find ’Old Lest’ ain’t such a fool as they think, eh?"

"We’ve made a good start, sir, although we’ve lost rather heavily."

"Put up a subscription list, Truscott; some of those men have left
families.  Stick me down for twenty-five ’thick ’uns’.  It’s more than
’Old Lest’ can afford, but stick ’em down.  If the Admiralty don’t pay
for those junks, and the others get knocked about or lost as well, ’Old
Lest’ ’ll find himself in the Bankruptcy Court, umph!"

"Make a signal: Captain Lester to Captain, officers, and men of the
_Ringdove_.

"The Captain, officers, and men of the _Vigilant_ congratulate you on
the plucky rescue of Lieutenant Travers and the two junks’ crews."

He sent for’ard to tell the Fleet Surgeon to let him know directly he
could come down to see the wounded, and then stalked along the upper
deck to the bridge, swinging his great shoulders and striding down an
admiring lane of men, who made a gangway and stood to attention as he
passed.  You could see, even by the little light there was, how they
worshipped him.

We hoisted in our boats and steamed off towards our island, the little
_Ringdove_ turning back to hers and signalling, "Captain, officers, and
men," to ditto.  "Thank you very much.  We are very proud to have the
honour of serving under your orders."

That pleased the Skipper—the last part, I mean—for he was simply a huge
simple-minded baby, and he grunted, and puffed at his cigar.

"He’s tickled to death with that," Lawrence whispered to me.  "Old
Rashleigh knows how to get the soft side of him, doesn’t he?"

Rashleigh had brought over a written report of his proceedings, a copy
of which I give you, so that you may draw your own conclusions.  He had
not had time to finish it properly, and I hardly think that he could
have read it over either, after having written it.


H.M.S. _Ringdove_,
       Off the Chung-li Tao Group, Chusan Archipelago,
              _May_ 7th.

SIR,—In pursuance of your orders, I have the honour to report that I
towed the two tenders, the _Ferret_, Lieutenant Trevelyan, and the
_Sally_, Midshipman Ford, to a position five miles to wind’ard (the wind
being SSW.) of the Chung-li Tao Islands, arriving there at 8 a.m. on the
2nd May.

At 10 a.m. I despatched the _Sally_ to search to the east’ard, and the
_Ferret_ to the west’ard, and repaired to a rendezvous to leeward of
them, giving them instructions which should meet any probable
eventualities which might arise.

I waited at the rendezvous till the morning of the 4th May, and then
sighted the _Sally_, and ordered her to come alongside.  She reported
that she had three men killed, Mid Morton and two A.B.’s severely
wounded, and that she was much damaged by shot above the water line.
She had chased a pirate junk and sunk her, but had then most unwisely
attacked four others, and only escaped with the above losses.  Her Maxim
gun had been destroyed, and she had expended practically all her
six-pounder ammunition.

Mr. Ford also reported having met the tender _Ferret_ the night before,
and that Mr. Trevelyan, contrary to my orders, had at once altered
course to the island where the _Sally_ had been attacked.  The wind had
veered to NW. by N. during the night, and was now blowing a strong
breeze.  As it was therefore impossible for him to beat back to me under
three days, I took the wounded on board my ship, buried two of his men
at sea, and steamed towards the island and channel in which Mr. Ford had
engaged the four junks.  The _Sally_ followed me at all speed.

I arrived off the entrance to the channel at noon of next day, and on
entering it was fired at by a two-gun battery at close range.  One shot
came aboard me and wounded two men—one, Edward Larking, ord. sea. No.
867037, has since died.  I silenced these guns, and proceeding up the
channel, discovered that Mr. Trevelyan had wrecked his junk at the
entrance to a small creek, and was in a desperate position, being
attacked by rifle fire from both sides of the creek.

I made a hasty exploration of the creek, and found that a quarter of a
mile inland it opened out, and that anchored there were a number of war
junks, and a very large number of merchant junks.

I determined to attack, but first deemed it necessary to survey the
channel, which operation was successfully performed, under a heavy fire,
by Sub-lieutenant Harrow, who worked with great coolness, and lost one
man wounded.

By the time the channel was reported as being sufficiently deep to allow
the passage of the _Ringdove_, it was dusk, and I determined to take her
in at daybreak of the following day.  Meanwhile I transferred the guns
and most of the stores of the _Ferret_ to my ship.

At daybreak I weighed, and was at once fired upon by a gun, mounted on
the cliffs three hundred feet above my head, to which it was impossible
to reply.

I immediately recognized that it would, under the circumstances, be
impossible to force the entrance, and stood off, ordering the _Sally_ to
follow me.

She was, however, struck by a large shot or shell, and commenced to
sink, and I had only sufficient time to bring off her crew, and could
not save any of her stores.

The cutter which brought off her crew sighted a man on the rocks, who
semaphored that he was Lieutenant Travers, and most pluckily brought him
off under a heavy fire.

I then altered course for Tinghai with the crews of my tenders on board.

My officers and crew behaved with gallantry and coolness under trying
circumstances.

I am, Sir,
       Your obedient Servant,
                J. S. T. RASHLEIGH,
                   Lieut. and Commander.

To     Captain CHARLES E. LESTER, R.N.,
              H.M.S. _Vigilant_,
                     Senior Officer, Chusan Archipelago.


It was no doubt written hurriedly and finished off abruptly after
sighting the _Vigilant_; but from what I learned afterwards, hardly gave
a correct, or rather fair account of the doings of his tenders.

I was rather amused by young Ford coming to my cabin next morning.  He
had a boat’s ensign under his arm, looked very sheepish, and wanted to
know if he might keep it.  "The signalman of the _Sally_ borrowed it,
sir, and hoisted it, without my knowing, whilst we were fighting those
junks—he didn’t know that it was against orders—and I do want to take it
home ’so badly’."

I told him to run and hide it, and he could not have been more pleased.



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                         *Mr. Hoffman’s Secret*


    Bored Travers—Bored Travers Continues—"Old Lest" in Form—"We’ve
    Got ’em at Last"—A Dirty Night—"Old Lest" Unfolds a Tale—Mr.
    Hoffman’s Tale—"Old Lest" and Hoffman—A Marvellous Old Chap


                    _Written by Commander Truscott_


At the time of parting company with the _Ringdove_ the weather was
extremely unpleasant—heavy rain squalls and a bitterly cold northerly
wind—but it was snug enough down below, and, to celebrate the return of
Travers, we gave him a great dinner in the ward room.

It is hardly necessary to tell you that we were all in the very
brightest spirits, and spent a most jovial and riotous evening—all
except, funnily enough, Travers himself.  He was always a bit bored at
these shows, and "turned in" early, only too glad to find himself once
more in his own bunk.  He was known throughout the fleet as
Bored-Travers, or "B.-T.", his full surname being Gore-Travers, and was
rather a weird chap, with a superior, supercilious,
"Bond-Street-on-a-swagger-morning air" about him, which, somehow or
other, gave everyone the idea that he looked "down" upon everybody else.
You couldn’t help liking him, however, for all that.  I had never seen
him enthusiastic about anything except a pretty girl or a game of
cricket, and now after dinner he looked bored to distraction, leant
wearily against a stanchion, and told Lawrence and the others his yarn.
It was like drawing teeth out of a horse, to get him to tell anything at
all.

"Oh! that night, um!  Oh yes!  I remember.  One of those Mission native
chaps got hold of me when I’d got inside the gates—couldn’t shake him
off—too much bore altogether, you fellows.  He was so jolly earnest, I
just went along with him.  He said something about Old Hobbs and his
daughter being carried away, or something.  I had to go, you know—had
never seen the girl—all you fellows said she was pretty—forgot ’A’
company wasn’t coming along too."

He stopped in the most irritating way to fill his pipe. "Same beastly
old tobacco in the mess—can’t get it to draw—never could."

"Didn’t you find them, and have a scrap down there on the beach?"
Trevelyan asked.  "There was a Chinaman down there—dead, with a Webley
revolver bullet in him."

"Did I kill him?" he asked, without the faintest display of interest.
"I knew the beastly revolver would go off some day and hurt someone.
Someone took it away after that—lots of them—shoved a beastly cloth over
my head, and shoved me into a boat.  They seemed to want me to stay
still, so I did."

"Did they knock you about much?"  "Didn’t you see Sally?" several asked,
and Trevelyan very eagerly added, "How many boats did you see?  We
thought there were three.  We saw the keel marks of three in the mud."

He seemed quite amused at their eagerness.

"Well, you chaps, I think they must have knocked me on the head.  I
didn’t remember much about it—didn’t see anything I could swear
to—rather fancy, though, there were two boats, and, now you mention it,
that I did hear a girl’s scream just before.  Don’t remember anything
else till I woke up, with a beastly headache, and a mouth like a
limekiln, in a jolly sight better cabin than I’ve got on board here."

"That must have been Hobbs’s yacht!  What happened then?"

"Nothing at all—couldn’t shave—had forgotten to bring my razors and"
(yawning) "my dressing case with me—there wasn’t a towel there, or water
even—and there they kept me till they shoved me ashore, where young Ford
found me."

"Ford?" I said, chipping in.  "I thought Rashleigh did that."  The
Skipper had just shown me his report.

"Rashleigh!  No, sir.  He was shoving out of it as hard as he could go.
Young Ford came along and picked me off—he and the rest of his junk’s
crew—in the _Ringdove’s_ cutter.  The Chinamen wasted a lot of good
ammunition over the lot of us, and I’d have made ’em pay for it if I’d
been in" (yawning) "charge of ’em.

"Plucky chap that," he went on placidly, ordering the marine servant to
bring him more sugar for his coffee. "I told him so.  Hope it won’t make
him more conceited than he is.

"How about that Chinese cove who came along with me in the _Ringdove_!"
he asked, with some little display of interest.

"He’s all right, B.-T.," someone said.  "Came aboard with the wounded."

"Um!  I thought I’d given him the slip.  Promised him a hundred dollars
for getting me out of it, and" (yawning several times) "I haven’t got a
hundred cents in the world."

"That’s all right.  You’ve got your last month’s pay due to you," Old
Bax growled impatiently.  "But, man alive, shove on with your yarn."

Travers simply opened his eyes a little more widely, looked amusedly at
him, and yawned again.

"What did you do all the time?"  "Give you decent grub?"  "Did you see
the boss of the show?"  Questions simply poured in, but he languidly
helped himself to more sugar, and stirred his coffee.

"Why the dickens can’t our cook make better stuff than this?  The grub
was beastly, and I grew a beastly beard, and everything was" (yawning)
"beastly.  There was a chap there—an old Scotch engineer fellow—seemed
to belong to the show—came across to yarn once or twice—said he was
tired of having no one to talk to—but he bored me, so didn’t come
often."

"Weren’t you excited when you heard the firing?" the young Padré asked.

"Interested," Travers drawled; "I’m never excited—just interested," and
he put on his most superior look, and the young Padré retired in
confusion.  "There was a bit of a shindy—guns, and all that—about a week
after I’d been there.  It was rather interesting—at any rate the coves
there thought so."

I remembered now that Rashleigh had reported having heard the sound of
guns in the direction of the Chung-li Tao Group about that time, and had
had his head snapped off by the Skipper for his pains.  He may have been
right, after all.  "What happened?  Who were firing?" I asked.

"I don’t know, sir; think they must have had a bit of a ’pick up’ among
themselves.  I did mention it to the old Scotchman, but he wasn’t giving
anything away just then, and I never thought of asking him again."

"Was he a prisoner too?" I asked.  He was very irritating.

"Oh no!  Think he bossed the show—when he was sober.  Told me one day
that they’d sent the Old Yank and Sally somewhere, where we’d never find
them.  Seemed to know a good deal about it, and seemed sorry for the
girl too."

"I’m going to turn in now, you fellows, if you don’t mind.  Thank you
very much, but I haven’t slept in a bed for six" (yawning) "weeks," and
he stretched himself and yawned again and went away.

Trevelyan disappeared with him and came back triumphantly.  He had that
glove which we had picked up behind the Mission House.  "We were right,
after all, sir!  That was his glove, and he had borrowed Lawrence’s
handkerchief.  I’ve got that much out of him. He says he’ll never stuff
a handkerchief up his sleeve again.  He’d given a couple of pounds" (if
there had been anyone to borrow from) "not to have dropped it."

"It’s the first thing I’ve ever got back after he once borrowed it,"
Lawrence sang out, and we all laughed with him.

The Skipper came in presently (Hoffman had been dining with him, but had
turned in directly afterwards), and we dragged Old Bax, the Fleet
Paymaster, to the piano and made him sing, "Tam Pearce, Tam Pearce,
bring me my grey mare"; and the Skipper joined in the chorus and smoked,
and Old Bax "cadged" his best cigars from him and smoked them, one after
another.  The Skipper grunted and growled, and was redder in the face
than ever, took off his mess jacket and loosened his braces, and beat
everyone else at feats of strength, and was as happy as a sand-boy.  He
went down into the gunroom to say a few words, as he put it, and I went
with him.  He squeezed himself in, and, as they all stood up, growled
out, "Umph! Sit down, please!  ’Old Lest’ will give you all a show—later
on.  If those two steamers are there when we get in to-morrow afternoon,
umph! we’ll go in and sink ’em.  If there ain’t enough water for the
boats, we’ll swim" (huge yells of delight).  "Good night, gentlemen;
three of you have done a bit of fighting, the Fleet Surgeon hopes to get
Morton off the sick list in a day or two, and I hope you others will do
as well.  Umph!  You can have half an hour’s extra lights."

They made a perfect deafening noise, gave three cheers and a "tiger",
and then he came back to the ward room, and stayed there till after
midnight—the youngest of the lot of us—he and Old Bax chaffing each
other in broad West Country dialect.  Old Bax had "wiped his eye", the
last time they had gone shooting, by bagging a woodcock which the
Skipper had missed with both barrels, and never lost an opportunity of
reminding him of it.

Whitmore and I slipped away long before the ward room singsong was
finished, and the ship quiet again, because we had to make all
arrangements for manning and arming boats if necessary.  You see, we had
so many seaman ratings away, that it was rather difficult to fill their
places.

Hoffman had his breakfast in his cabin, and spent two hours alone with
the Skipper during the morning, and I did not see him again till we were
nearing the Hector Group late in the afternoon.  He then came up and
helped Lawrence pick his way among the islands towards the one where he
said that Hobbs and Sally were imprisoned.

We all hoped to discover the tramp steamer and the yacht anchored there,
but very much feared that the prisoners might have been spirited away
again in one or other of them.  The anxiety grew greater as we drew
nearer, and was shared by every soul on board, for everyone knew by this
time all that I myself knew.

It struck me as peculiar how intimate and accurate was Hoffman’s
knowledge of the local pilotage.  There seemed to be some strange "bond"
between him and the Skipper, and I felt sure, from the Skipper’s manner
to him, and from his silence to me, that there was something which I did
not know, and which would explain a good many things when I did know it.

One thing indeed the Captain had told me, blurting it out when I
reported "defaulters" to him, and found him and Hoffman together.
"Hoffman tells me that that rascally Englishman, who sold that yacht of
his to Hobbs, is bossing this show.  He’s hanging on to Hobbs and Sally,
and trying to force the poor little lass to marry him—umph! or make her
father pay a pretty penny.  He’ll skin him out pretty thoroughly, I’ll
be bound."

"If you don’t get hold of her quickly, Captain, I believe she’ll
consent," Hoffman said.

"Just to save old man Hobbs’s dollars, eh?  Poor little lass, eh?" the
Skipper grunted.

"Partly that and partly because he is such a handsome, dare-devil
scoundrel, that I don’t think she’d be unwilling;" and Hoffman moaned
and buried his face in his hands.  He was still as weak as a rat, and
couldn’t control his feelings.

"Poor little soul!" the Skipper said softly.  "God help us to get her
out of his clutches!"

At about five bells (2.30 p.m.) in the afternoon we eventually sighted
the island, a low irregular line on the horizon right ahead, a gloomy
enough prison under its dark sullen banks of rain clouds.  The wind had
gone down during the morning watch, and the sea was fairly smooth, but
the rain still came down mercilessly, and everything was dripping with
moisture and extremely uncomfortable. "Masthead lookout!" roared the
Skipper from the fore bridge, "keep your eye lifting for two steamers
lying under the land," and to assist him sent up the sharpest eyed
signalman.

In spite of the drenching downpour, the fo’c’stle and under the fore
bridge was crowded with men, all their eyes glued on the land as we very
slowly forged towards it through the muddy yellow water.  I don’t
suppose that there was a single field glass or telescope in the ship not
in use.

Then there came a yell from the masthead which made us all look up.
"Yes, sir, I can see them—two steamers under the land, right ahead,
sir;" and we all stared ahead, and in a few minutes could see them
ourselves, and, quite without orders, everyone cheered and waved his
cap, looking up at the Skipper from the fo’c’stle to see whether he was
looking happy.  The cheers were as much for sighting the steamers as for
knowing that now "Old Lest" would have a chance of paying off old
scores, and the Skipper, looking bigger than ever in his dripping
tarpaulins, roared out to ask me if I’d ever been aboard a man-of-war
before, and knew what discipline was; so I sent my midshipman down to
stop the noise.

"Umph!  Truscott, we’ve got ’em at last;" and he slowly dug his fingers
into the palms of his hands, as if he was crushing something, glared at
me, and shook them in my face.

We slowly steamed along, till we took soundings under six fathoms, and
then anchored.  "Can’t go in any farther," I heard Hoffman tell
Lawrence, and again wondered how he had picked up all this knowledge.

The cable had scarcely finished rattling out before the Skipper, turning
to me, said, "Man and arm boats, Commander; I’ll go in directly.  Old
Lest ain’t going to let grass grow under his feet."

"We’ve only got about two hours more daylight, sir," I told him,
thinking that there was scarcely time for the boats to get ashore.

"Umph!" he growled, and went down below.

In forty minutes I’d got them all away, the steam pinnace, with the
Skipper and Hoffman aboard, towing the launch and sailing pinnace, and
the steam cutter towing the barge and the two cutters.  We were so short
of men that Marshall and his marines had to man the sailing pinnace, and
very few men were left aboard to give them a cheer as they shoved off,
only about half a dozen seamen, a few marines, and the stokers.

I had thought of keeping Trevelyan on board, but the Skipper growled
out, "Send him in with me.  ’Old Lest’s’ brain’s not as sharp as it was.
He’ll smell out something."

It was still raining hard, but the sea remained smooth. Personally, I
thought it rather unwise not to wait for the morning; but the Skipper
was so anxious not to give the pirates a moment’s rest, and to start by
sinking those steamers or driving them ashore—to do anything, in fact,
to prevent them escaping—that the risk was probably worth taking.  The
steam pinnace had her fourteen-inch torpedo dropping gear fitted, and
the Skipper’s main idea was to blow holes in the steamer and the yacht,
and so effectually to prevent them moving.  Once more, it was not so
much our chief object to destroy the pirates or recapture the yacht, as
to rescue the little American girl and her father. We hoped that we had
now found where they were concealed, and our first object was to prevent
them being smuggled away again.

We kept the boats in view till they disappeared in the gathering dusk
and the heavy rain, and then could only wait for them to return.  It was
so cold on deck, that I went down to warm myself in front of the ward
room fire. Mayhew, the Fleet Surgeon, was sitting cosily in front of it,
and made room for me.  "Heard or seen anything?" he asked.  "I shall
have them all on the sick list if they ever do come back.  I’ve never
seen a night I should less like to spend in an open boat."

I hadn’t been there five minutes, when the quartermaster came clattering
down from the quarterdeck in his dripping oilskins and sea boots.  "We
can see some flashes ashore, sir.  I think our boats are firing as well,
sir."

Both of us ran on deck.  Several dull "booms" gave us the direction in
which to look, and every now and again we could see the twinkle of a gun
flash a very long way off, generally a single one, then perhaps two or
three quickly, one after the other.  It was just as if someone a hundred
yards away was striking matches, which the wind blew out as they were
struck.  The reports came along a few seconds later, and among them we
could hear quite distinct sharp cracks.  These were from our boats’
guns, I expect.  In spite of it being so wet, every soul on board was on
deck, staring through the darkness and the incessant rain, to try and
make out the boats returning.  We ran a searchlight, throwing the beams
vertically upwards to guide them, and could do no more.  This beam
lighted up the raindrops, and made everything even more depressing than
it was before.

I only wish that all men were obliged to supply themselves with oilskins
or thick pea-jackets, for, as it was, hardly one in twenty away in those
open boats had them, and I could imagine pretty plainly the state they
were in now.

By ten o’clock there was no sign of them whatever, and I was very
anxious.  Midnight came (I don’t know what foolhardy ideas hadn’t
occurred to me in the meantime), and shortly afterwards we heard the
sound of more guns, and a muffled, long-drawn-out "boom", which made me
almost jump out of my skin, my nerves were so very much on the stretch.
"That’s a torpedo, sir," the signalman said.  I didn’t much care what it
was; I really was so thankful to know that they were still in existence.

The noises ceased almost immediately, and I again trusted that they were
on their return journey.  A long, dreary wait followed, and then one of
the people on the bridge spotted flames from the steam pinnace’s funnel.
We watched them flicker out every now and again, drawing steadily
nearer, and I sent down to Mayhew to have everything ready in case there
were any wounded.  Presently she came close enough to hail, and to see
that she was towing the launch, sailing pinnace, the barge, and the
cutter.  She had a good deal of "list" to port, and I thought at first
that she must have been damaged, but then saw, as she rounded up to come
alongside, that she had dropped her starboard torpedo, which accounted
for it. The boats ran alongside, and the Skipper came up the gangway.

"What luck, sir?" I asked him.  "Where’s the steam cutter and the second
cutter?  Anyone hurt, sir?"

His face was purple blue with the cold, but he was in the highest
spirits.  "Blown a hole in that tramp steamer; made the little yacht run
up inside the creek.  That’s a good beginning for ’Old Lest’, eh?
Haven’t had a man touched, and left the second cutter and the steam
cutter inshore to come off at daybreak.  Got the galley fires alight?"
he asked, before he went below.  "The men are pretty well dead with the
cold and the wet."

"I’d thought of that, sir," I told him; "they shall have some hot cocoa
and pea soup directly they have fallen out."

I had never seen such a washed-out crowd of people as clambered on board
that night.  Even though those in the boats had pulled their oars on the
way off to the ship, they were simply blue and shivering and stiff.  You
may guess that I got all the gear replaced, and the men dismissed to
their messes as quickly as possible.

When I went in to report to the Captain, he was standing in front of his
blazing fire in a thick dressing gown. He had a great bowl of pea soup
in his hands, and Blucher was leaning up against his legs.  "Umph!
that’s good," he said, smacking his lips and rubbing himself.  "Warms
one’s inside, eh?" and he roared to "Willum" to bring his eighteenpenny
Havanas, and made me smoke one: I should have very much preferred a
pipe.

"Willum" had been sent round to collect all those officers who had been
away, and they came trooping in in all kinds of rigs, all looking jolly
pleased with themselves, and Willum served them out hot drinks, and the
Skipper said, "Here’s luck to the little lass and the old _Vig_," and
when they were thoroughly warm sent them all away to turn in.

"They’re not going to turn in yet, sir," I told him; "they are going to
have a sardine supper in the ward room."

"Umph!  Good idea that!  ’Willum’," he roared, "make me some sardine
sandwiches, and put plenty of onions in ’em."

"How about sending the steam pinnace inshore with some hot soup for the
people in the boats you left behind?" I asked him, after he’d devoured a
plateful of sandwiches and had sent Willum for more.

"No good; couldn’t find ’em in the dark.  I’ve stuck ’em right in under
the guns, in the middle of the creek which runs up there.  They’ve got
to fire a Very’s[#] light, if the yacht tries to get away, so tell ’em
to keep a good lookout on the bridge."


[#] A Very’s light is somewhat the same idea as a Roman candle firework.
It throws out one very brilliant ball of coloured light.


"It was grand work in those boats," he continued; "they couldn’t see us,
and went on firing and wasting ammunition.  I kept on running away in
the steamboat, easing off a few shells at them, and then going back
again, and they’d fire off twenty or thirty rounds where she had been."

"I expect you had some pretty narrow shaves, for all that, sir?"

He growled out "Umph!" and winked at me very slowly.

Now that he and I were alone, I saw that he had something which he
wanted to tell me, and when presently he had sent Willum to bed, he
lighted a fresh cigar and began.  "You know that man Hoffman?  What
d’you think of him, eh?"

"I can’t quite say, sir.  Can’t quite ’place’ him."

"What would you say if I told you he _is_ the pirates—bosses the show,
or did.  What d’ye say to that?"

I supposed I looked surprised.  I certainly felt so.

"He’s told me all about it.  He is running this show, or was."

"What d’you mean, sir?" I could hardly understand him.

"It’s this way, Truscott," and, puffing his cigar, and grunting and
growling, the Skipper told me the most extraordinary yarn I had ever
heard.

Hoffman had for years owned quite a small fleet of merchant steamers,
and had endeavoured to compete with the native junks for the coastal
trade between Ningpo, Shanghai, and the Chusan Archipelago.  Local
prejudice and the hatred of the white foreigner had been too much for
him, and he had failed.  The idea then occurred to him that if he could
make a clean sweep of the merchant junks throughout the islands, he
would have the monopoly of the carrying trade.

"That explains why we have seen so many small steamers about lately," I
burst out, absolutely dumbfounded.

"Umph!  It does," the Skipper nodded, and went on to tell how Hoffman
had built and armed a fleet of large junks, and carried out the raids of
which we knew so well.

"But what’s he doing now?" I exclaimed.  "Coming on board here half
starved?"

The Skipper explained.  "That rascally skipper of the yacht was his
first lieutenant.  It was he who did most of the work, headed most of
the expeditions, and thought himself as big a ’pot’ as his master.  He
thought he would strike out a new line for himself, too, and kidnapped
Hobbs and Sally.  Thought he’d get enough ransom to make his ’pile’ in
one swoop."

The Skipper went on to tell me that this wasn’t Hoffman’s idea of doing
business, and that it was owing to him that they escaped, that time they
were picked up by the _Huan Min_.  It meant finally breaking with the
Englishman, and (Hobbs told us, I remember, that he had heard a scuffle
that night) they actually had come to blows, Hobbs and his daughter
being shoved off alone in the boat during the confusion.

Next morning Hoffman had found himself practically a prisoner.  Nearly
the whole of the Chinese sided with the good-looking scoundrel, who had
so often led them on their forays, and the German had to clear out, and
was lucky to find a junk whose crew remained faithful to him.  That is
how he first came to Tinghai, and it was there that he saw Hobbs and his
daughter for the first time.  The girl reminded him of his wife, or
daughter, at home in Germany.  He hadn’t seen either of them for twenty
years, and the daughter would have been about her age.  At any rate,
whatever it was that made him take such a fancy to her, he wasn’t going
to let her fall into that chap’s hands again.  Directly he had heard of
the raid at the Tu Pu Monastery, he had gone across to endeavour to
regain his influence over his men, found that impossible, but learnt
that they were going to raid Tinghai itself and kidnap Hobbs and the
girl again.  He had come back in his junk as fast as he could, but too
late to save her.

That accounted, then, for his sudden appearance at the burning Mission.
He had landed in the same bay as the pirates themselves, an hour or more
behind them, and rushed up to the Mission, but too late to save her.

"Travers says that he saw two boats there, sir. Probably those were the
two close together, and probably Hoffman’s made that third mark we saw
farther along the shore."

"Dare say it was," the Skipper grunted; "and he tells me, too, that he
got away about half an hour after they had left."

"Trevelyan is a regular Sherlock Holmes," I said.  "I must tell him;
he’ll be very pleased."

But the Skipper scowled and growled, "No, no; I don’t want anyone to
know yet;" and went on with his yarn, whilst I listened, wideawake
enough, you may be sure, although it was past two in the morning.

"Hoffman thought that the people at his dépôt in the Chung-li Tao Group
would still stand by him, so packed off there," the Skipper went on to
tell me, "and found the old Scotch engineer in charge of the place.  It
was this man who had separated him and the Englishman—that night they
fought.  He was a friend of his, and gave up the place and the junks;
and everything was going well, till one morning the Englishman appeared
off the town, fired a few rounds from the tramp steamer, the junks’
crews wouldn’t fight, and Hoffman had to surrender.  He was eventually
taken to the Hector Group, and kept there till he managed to escape to
us again."

"Travers heard some fighting, but never saw Hoffman," I interrupted.

"Well, Hoffman was hardly likely to give himself away by interviewing
him.  At any rate, that was the reason he gave me when I asked him," the
Skipper said.  "He was waiting until he felt more sure of his people
before trying to get him away—he couldn’t trust any of them—and the
chance never came."

"By the way, sir," I said, suddenly remembering that he had not come
back, "where is he now?"

"Umph!  I left him and one of his Chinese fellows in the boats.  They’re
going to try and get ashore to-night at low water, find their way across
the mud, and see if Sally and Old Hobbs are still there.  The boats are
to wait for them for half an hour after daybreak.  If Hoffman and his
man don’t turn up then, the boats have to come back to the ship, and
I’ve told him I’ll have another waiting at the back of the island for
him.  There’s a big rock somewhere there—can’t mistake it, he says—and I
want you to send a boat round there in case he can’t get back this
side."

"He’s not strong enough for much hard work, I fear, sir," I said.

"’Fraid not, Truscott; ’fraid not."

"Whenever did you know all about this, sir?" I asked. I was a little
nettled that I hadn’t been told before.

"Only this morning," the Skipper replied; he was lighting his third
cigar since coming back.  "Only this mornin’—couldn’t keep it to himself
any longer—came and told me.  Umph!" (I suppose that he saw I looked as
if I might have been told too) "I’d have told you then, Truscott, but I
wasn’t certain of him till to-night, and wasn’t going to let you think
’Old Lest’ had had his leg pulled again, if he turned out a wrong ’un."

"What happened to-night, then, sir?" I asked.

"Directly they saw us coming along, the yacht began to push inland—close
up to the town, up a bit of a creek—and just as it was getting dark, we
saw the tramp steamer trying to do the same.  I wanted to shove along
after them, but he wouldn’t let me, said we should have to pass within
twenty yards of a battery, and they had had plenty of time to man the
guns.  He said it didn’t matter either, as the tramp couldn’t get up
there, and would be aground before she’d gone fifty yards.  He promised
to find her, too, later on, and I took him at his word.  They blazed off
a few rounds at us, I kept ’em busy for a few minutes, and then lay off,
out of sight, as if I’d gone back again."

"I didn’t know what had happened, sir, when I could neither hear nor see
anything of you.  I was in a bit of a ’stew’ when you didn’t come back.

"I wanted to go and torpedo her, but he wouldn’t let me.  Said she’d be
half out of water in another two hours, and he’d do the job then,
without getting into danger."

"He did, too; guided us in—how he did it, beats me—somehow or other got
her in between us and the battery, and we let rip a torpedo right into
her bottom, just amidship.  We weren’t fifty yards away, and not a soul
saw us till we’d fired.  I tell you, Truscott, that man’s straight. ’Old
Lest’ don’t often make a mistake when he’s sized a man up and seen him
under fire.  He’s as straight as a die.  It was his own steamer he blew
up."

"Well, he’s the first man’s advice you’ve ever listened to, sir," I
said, smiling.

"Umph!" he growled, "but ’mum’s’ the word;" and he patted old Blucher,
who was squatting between his knees and yawning.

"If he can’t get back to that cutter—and I don’t know how the dickens he
means to do so—he’ll go across to the back of the island."

"What boat shall I send, sir?" I asked, getting up, for it was time to
be off; it was nearly three in the morning.

"Send the other cutter, and Trevelyan; I believe in that chap," he
growled.  "Umph!  You are going to turn in, eh?  Umph!  All right!  I’ll
write home to the Missus and the Admiral.  Don’t know when I can send
’em.  Umph!"

"Have you read Rashleigh’s report?" he asked me, as I was going out.
"I’ve read it again.  He don’t say much about Trevelyan and Ford."

"No, he doesn’t, sir; and I’ve heard their accounts. They throw rather a
fresh light on the loss of the two junks.  Well, perhaps not quite that,
but they seem to have done better than we thought."

"Umph!  Good night!  Tell ’em to send their reports to me—to write ’em."

I left him lighting a fresh cigar—a marvellous old chap he was—and
warned Trevelyan and his boat’s crew before I turned in myself.

On deck they had seen nothing of the two boats, still remaining inshore,
and I felt extremely sorry for the drowned rats in them.



                              *CHAPTER X*

                       *The Vigilant under Fire*


    A Foolhardy Undertaking—"Who’s Captain?"—Mr. Trevelyan
    Returns—Taking Precautions—The Skipper’s Plans—A Ticklish
    Job—The Commander’s Show—The Skipper’s Few Words


                    _Written by Commander Truscott_


I sent Trevelyan away an hour before sunrise, and told him where to lie
off and wait for any sign of Hoffman and the Chinaman—they were to wave
a piece of red bunting—and then turned in for another forty winks, and
was called as it grew light.  I went up to the fore bridge and found the
Skipper already there.  He was smoking, even at this hour, and looked as
fresh as paint, although he probably had had no sleep at all.

Hardly had I reached the bridge before we heard guns firing again,
strained our eyes to see what was happening, and presently saw the steam
boat puffing towards us, with the second cutter in tow.

"Get their breakfasts ready for ’em, Truscott; they’ll want ’em, and
’Old Lest’ wants his too;" and he went down below.

In twenty minutes the boats ran alongside, and pretty well worn out all
the people were.  Hoffman was the first to come aboard.  I have never
seen such a dirty object in my life.  He was covered with mud from head
to foot; even his face and hair were caked with it.  He looked terribly
exhausted.  I felt a strange feeling of curiosity in speaking to him,
now that I had learnt his history and the part he had played in shaping
the events of the last two months.  "Found out whether they are still
there?" I asked him anxiously; but he shook his head, "Couldn’t do it;
too weak, Commander; had to give it up."

The Captain coming up then, took him down below.

"Brought back the steam cutter and the second cutter, sir," Whitmore
reported.  "I waited as long as I could, but that Chinaman never came
back, and I daren’t stay any longer, sir, as they began to plank shots
all round us."

"What happened to Hoffman?" I asked.  "He looks as if he had had a bad
time."

Then Whitmore told me that Hoffman and his Chinaman had tried to get
across the mud flats at low water, and find their way ashore in the
dark.  It was a foolhardy undertaking, because Hoffman was evidently not
strong enough; but they lashed flat pieces of wood to their boots.
Whitmore ran the cutter’s bows into the mud, and they had crawled
overboard and soon disappeared.

Whitmore backed the cutter into deep water and waited for them to
return, and in about half an hour had heard a cry coming out of the
darkness and had answered it, and rammed the boat into the mud again.
Presently Hoffman came stumbling back, falling and scrambling to his
feet, and floundering through the mud.  He had lost one of his flat
pieces of wood, and was unable to reach the shore. Sending on his
Chinaman, he had tried to retrace his steps, and had had an awful time
before he heard their hail.  He only just had sufficient strength to get
back to the boat, and had to be hauled in.

"That Chinaman didn’t come back at daylight, sir. I don’t know how he
intended to do so, but, at any rate, we saw nothing of him."

I told him that Trevelyan had gone round to the back of the island, in
case he tried to get off there.

"I hope you don’t think I shoved off too soon, sir?" Whitmore asked me
anxiously.  "We were very nearly hit several times—as it was."

"My dear chap, of course not.  Go down, have a hot bath and some food;
you look as though you wanted both pretty badly.  You’ve not had much of
a time, I should fancy."

"I’ve never spent such a night in my life," Whitmore said, and I could
quite believe him.

"That steamer is as safe as ’eggs’, sir.  She’s right over on her side,"
he called out as he went below.

That was one thing accomplished satisfactorily.

As it turned out, he might have waited for that Chinaman till he was
blue in the face—well, hardly that, for he was already blue in the face,
but till he’d been sunk—because the Chinaman came off with Trevelyan a
couple of hours later.

The Skipper was waiting for his return before making any plans; but long
before that, something occurred which thoroughly upset him.

We were all at breakfast, when suddenly we heard the distant report of a
heavy gun, and through the open scuttles could hear the "swish, swish"
of a shell. Everyone jumped up and rushed on deck, the gunroom people
clattering up behind us.  "They’ve fired a gun at us, sir," the
midshipman of the watch told me.  "It went right between the masts and
fell over there, sir," and he pointed to where you could still see the
spray of the splash, just drifting to leeward, about four hundred yards
away.  "Don’t think it was a shell, sir; no one heard it burst."  He was
extremely nervous and excited, twitching all over.

The Skipper came up his ladder, red in the face and indignant, and as he
stepped on the quarterdeck there was a shout from for’ard, "They’ve
fired again, sir!"

Several people sang out, "Can see it, sir, coming straight this way,
sir!" a spout of water leaped into the air, and, "whizzle, whizzle"—with
that funny whistling, whispering noise only a ricochetting projectile
makes—it passed overhead, and fell close to where the first had fallen.

It was rather amusing to watch how our people "took it".  One officer,
whose name wild horses shouldn’t drag out of me, threw himself flat down
on deck, several tried to get behind each other, and most of them looked
as if they were—well—thrown off their "balance".  But you should have
seen the Skipper.  He stood there, with one foot on the quarterdeck.
His mouth was wide open, his face was absolutely crimson, his eyes stood
out of his head like lobsters’ eyes, and his neck was so swollen that it
was a purple colour, and even from where I stood I could see the veins
standing out.  He actually couldn’t speak, he was in such a frightful
rage.

"Close water-tight doors," I sang out, and "steam on the capstan," not
knowing what else to do, and then went up to the Captain.

"Who’s captain aboard this ship?" he managed to bring out; "Old Lest or
you?"

Then, pausing to take breath, he roared: "What the—the—Jerusalem d’you
mean by ordering steam on the capstan?  D’you think ’Old Lest’ is going
to get up anchor, and move off, because a lousy Chinaman fires a gun at
him?  Umph!  What’s the range?"

"About eight thousand yards, sir."

"Well, he won’t hit us," he growled, and with his field glasses slung
round his bull neck, he commenced tramping up and down, scowling to left
and right, as everyone hurriedly cleared over to the port side to get
out of his way.

Two more shot—they certainly were not shell—came along presently, one
after another.  They were both a long way short, and ricochetted
overhead like express trains.  He never turned his head to look at them,
but roared for me.  "See those darned youngsters leanin’ up against the
quarterdeck rails!  See ’em—loafin’ on my quarterdeck!  Give ’em half an
hour’s extra drill in the morning, and send them up to the masthead.
I’ll teach ’em to loaf."

I wanted to suggest clearing for "action", going to "General Quarters",
and sending them a few rounds to quiet that gun, for a lucky shot of
theirs might do a lot of damage, and they must get the range before
long; but, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t the courage to do so.

"I’ll teach ’em to loaf," he growled again.  "Sound off ’Divisions’."

The buglers rather nervously sounded off, and the men began "falling
in".  Pretty nervous they were, most of them, especially those with
their backs turned to the shore; but they knew that this was "Old
Lest’s" way of "showing off", and I could see them winking at one
another and grinning.

That was a "Divisions" with a vengeance.  It usually lasted ten minutes,
but this morning the Skipper, glaring and snorting, went round each
"division" himself, stalking along and finding fault if a cap ribbon
wasn’t put on correctly, or any small detail of the men’s uniform wasn’t
exactly to his liking; and there was no blinking or shrinking—the men
simply dare not—whenever another boom was heard, and another shot came
whistling past.

When he had at last finished, the men were all marched aft on the
quarterdeck, and the young Padré, pale and nervous, and with half an eye
for the shore, read prayers, making many mistakes, at which the Skipper
growled like a bull dog.  I’m certain that one of those projectiles
passed not ten feet above us all, and it fell into the water not twenty
yards the other side; but not a scrap of notice did the Skipper take,
and presently they left off firing altogether, much to our relief.  Then
he growled out, "Umph!  I said so," and went below.

In the middle of all this Trevelyan was sighted coming back round the
corner from the other side of the island, and as soon as he came
alongside, I saw that he had the Chinaman on board, and looked happy.
"I’ve got him, sir, and from what I can make out, Hobbs and Sally are
there all right.  A lot of those shot have been pretty close, sir; I’ve
been watching them all the way off.  I wondered why you didn’t fire
back."

"Ask the Captain," I said, and took the Chinaman down to Hoffman’s
cabin, where the Skipper joined us, and we soon learnt the good news.
He had not been able to communicate with them, but they were both safe,
and were kept well guarded in an old house, with a high wall round it,
just at the back of the town.  It was on a little rising ground, and we
thought we could actually make it out from the ship through our big
telescope.

The man had heard that Evans—that was the name of the rascally
Englishman—was laid up with fever.  The town, he said, was in an uproar.
Hoffman told us that he was always going down with fever, which
generally lasted for four or five days, and that probably a Swede, named
Jorgensen, was running the show.  "It’s a six-inch modern gun that
they’ve got there," he said, "but they haven’t much ammunition, and no
shell at all for it; and it’s just the mad, silly thing he would do, to
go easing it off at this long range."

Hoffman kept on imploring us to prevent Hobbs and Sally being taken off
somewhere again.  He felt sure that Evans would try to do so, and told
us that plenty of junks were always lying in the creeks at the back of
the island, and could get away in half an hour, with the wind as it was
now blowing.

"Directly he is well enough he’ll be off, and take them with him.  He
doesn’t care a straw about anything else, so long as he can force Sally
to marry him, and bleed the old father.  He won’t wait for you to come
and try to capture them, you may be certain of that."  Hoffman was so
earnest, that he made us realize the danger of the poor little girl
being once more spirited away by that unscrupulous villain, and how very
urgent was the necessity of losing no time in preventing this, at all
costs.

The breeze was still blowing dead on shore, so that we were fairly
certain that no junks could hope to beat out from this side and escape.
The steam yacht dare not come out during the day, and as he had done
last night, so the Skipper intended doing every night—leave a boat lying
almost in the creek itself to signal directly she attempted to move.
Till the arrival of the gunboats, we had nothing but the ship’s boats to
send round to the back of the island to patrol; and the Skipper was so
impressed with Hoffman’s earnestness, that he gave me orders to "man and
arm" the sailing pinnace, the sailing launch, and the steam pinnace for
this purpose.  I had done this, and they were, in fact, just going to
shove off, when they reported that the _Ringdove_ was in sight.

The Captain belayed the boats and ordered Rashleigh round there instead.
He had signalled, as he drew near, that he had found the pirate dépôt
deserted, and not a junk of any sort or description to be seen, and had
therefore come along here at his utmost speed. Whatever demerits
Rashleigh may have had as a writer of despatches, he certainly could not
have turned up at a more opportune moment, and we all felt grateful to
him.  I had forgotten to order Trevelyan and Ford to send in their own
reports concerning the loss of their junks, but the arrival of the
_Ringdove_ reminded me of the Captain’s order, and I sent for them.
They were both very bitter about the way in which Rashleigh had reported
on them, and I heard Ford say to Trevelyan as they went away, "I’ll
write a snorter, sir."  As the reports had to go through my hands before
the Skipper saw them, I knew that I should be able to "tone" them down
if necessary, so said nothing at the time.

The Captain was in great good humour now, and had forgotten all about
the firing and his morning’s wrath. "Hoffman tells me," he said, "that
there are about a thousand men ashore; got plenty of rifles, too, and
ammunition, and will probably put up a good fight.  So long as Hobbs and
Sally are safe, ’Old Lest’ ain’t going to be hurried for nobody, and
he’s going to wait till the other gunboats come along.  Can’t do any
more by myself, Truscott."

Hoffman himself was down with fever, and, old Mayhew told me, was pretty
bad.  I met him coming out of the cabin, and he held up a thermometer
for me to look at. I couldn’t get the hang of it myself, but he told me
it marked 104 degrees.

"Get him on his legs again as soon as you can, old chap," I said; but
Mayhew shrugged his shoulders, and he and Barclay went away together to
yarn about him. Thank goodness the other wounded people, young Morton
included, were doing well.

We took every precaution to prevent anything escaping that night, and
sent in both Hoffman’s Chinamen, with a couple of Very’s lights apiece,
with orders to try and find out if any attempt was made to move Hobbs or
his daughter, and to fire them, down at the water’s edge, if any such
attempt was made.

They were evil enough looking fellows, but Hoffman swore that they were
to be trusted, so we had to trust them.

The night passed quietly, and early next morning the _Goldfinch_ and the
_Omaha_ arrived.  The latter was at once sent round to assist the
_Ringdove_ at the back of the island, as her searchlight was much more
powerful than the _Ringdove’s_, and she would therefore be more useful
there than on this side of the island.

In the afternoon the _Sparrow_ also came along.  They all reported that
the _Huan Min_ had rounded them up, and we felt very kindly disposed
towards the melancholic Chinese Captain, and Lawrence’s chum, Ching, and
hoped they would bring the _Huan Min_ along to share our adventures.
The _Sparrow_ and _Goldfinch_ had left their junks behind, and brought
the crews and guns and stores along with them, so that, I am glad to
say, we had all our people aboard once more.

We felt now that it would be impossible for anything to escape from the
island, and our feelings were much relieved.  In fact, I think everyone
felt sure now that it would only be a matter of a few days before the
pretty little girl and her old father would be safe and sound on board;
and all day long there was a constant stream of people going up to the
fore bridge and looking through the big telescope to "spot" the house
where they were imprisoned.

Directly the Skipper believed that the rascally Englishman and his
pirate crews were at last cornered and unable to escape, he sent a
letter ashore demanding the immediate release of Hobbs and his daughter,
and the immediate surrender of the island.  Whoever was in charge of the
battery at the mouth of the creek respected the white flag, and the
letter was jammed in one of a row of fishing stakes till some Chinese
ventured out and took it ashore.

It was a mere matter of form.  I do not suppose that anyone imagined
that the man Evans would comply with either demand; and so it turned
out, for he sent back—the morning after, when the same boat went in
again—a most impudent letter, in which he stated that he was going to
marry Miss Hobbs, and "hoping that it would not be necessary to hasten
his marriage on account of any attempts being made to prevent it", a
threat which infuriated the Skipper, and made us all feel extremely
distressed.

The Skipper told me what his general plans were.

Two brigades were to be formed, one under his own command from the
_Vigilant_, and the other under the command of Captain Parkinson of the
_Omaha_ from the gunboats.

They were to disembark at the back of the island, behind the town, at
places about two miles apart, and were to march inland as quickly as
possible, get between the town and that walled house, and join hands
there.

He had not yet decided whether he would land at night or during the day,
but rather favoured daylight.  "Like to see where I’m goin’, Truscott.
’Old Lest’ ain’t a badger."

This was the general idea, but to make certain that no chance should be
left of Sally and her father being spirited away, the _Ringdove_ and
_Omaha_ were ordered to destroy every junk and boat they could find in
the three little creeks on their side of the island.

At the same time the _Sparrow_ and _Goldfinch_ were ordered to anchor as
close in to the town as they could, to make escape impossible from
there.  They weighed anchor, and proceeded to take up their station
inshore, directly after the receipt of the Englishman’s letter, but had
not steamed within five thousand yards of the town, when the six-inch
opened fire on them.  We watched anxiously, and saw that the first shots
were very wild. They steadily kept on their way, and, unfortunately,
almost directly afterwards, the _Goldfinch_ was struck in the bows, and
we could see was badly damaged.  It was very awkward to know what to do,
because the little hill, and the house in which Sally and Hobbs were
imprisoned, were directly behind the six-inch gun, and might be damaged
if they tried to return the fire.  Their little four-inch guns were not
of much use at that range, being very old and very inaccurate, and their
erratic shells might have fallen anywhere.

The Skipper swore angrily, and ordered them to return, which they did,
followed by six-inch projectiles, until they were well past us.  It was
a very anxious and exciting few minutes, because a single lucky shot
would have sunk either of them, and many were falling extremely close.

We could see the hole in the _Goldfinch’s_ foc’s’tle as she steamed up,
and she signalled for medical aid, and that she had two men killed and
four wounded.  The Skipper cursed roundly, and sent Mayhew and Barclay
across to her.

"You’ll land and destroy that gun to-night, Truscott," he turned to me
and growled out.  "I daren’t fire at it for fear of hurting the little
lass, and I’m not going to have it interfering with my plans.  Take what
men you like, and make what plans you like, and blow it up. Umph!" and
he went across to see what damage had been done aboard the _Goldfinch_.

This rather staggered me—I’d not been expecting anything of the kind—but
I had sense enough to stammer out, "Thank you very much, sir," before he
went away, and went off to find Whitmore, and to get Hoffman to assist
us as well.

[Illustration: PLAN OF CREEK.  (HECTOR ISLAND)]

Whitmore was wildly excited; but he is a good deal younger than I am,
and hasn’t a wife to worry about, and I have, and a couple of youngsters
too, which makes a good deal of difference.

Hoffman shook his head when he heard of the job, but gave us all the
information he could.  The six-inch gun, he told us, was mounted behind
an open earthwork, on some rising ground, about five hundred yards from
the little battery at the water’s edge, the one that had fired at our
boats on the first night.

He drew the rough plan which I show you opposite, and which I have
lettered, so that you can understand more easily where we had to go and
what we had to do.

Our first idea was to land clear of the battery and advance straight
towards the six-inch gun; but Hoffman said that there were many native
fishermen’s huts all along the beach, and that we should wake their dogs
before we’d gone five yards.  Even if we did get past them, the ground
between was a swamp, and after the continuous downpour of the last few
days we should never get through it at night.

He sent for his Chinamen to help him, and apparently they were of the
same opinion.

"How about landing on the other side of the island and approaching it
from the rear?" I asked.  He shook his head.  "There are huts all over
the island, and where there are huts there are dogs, and you’d wake
every dog for miles.  There’s not the faintest chance of your rushing it
and surprising the people there."

I scratched my head.  I didn’t like the job a little bit; but the
Skipper had said it was to be done, so that was the end of it—it had to
be done.

Whitmore suggested landing abreast the battery and rushing that.

Hoffman thought that could be done easily enough, though it was hardly
worth it, in his opinion, as the guns were useless old smooth-bores.  He
was evidently afraid of irritating the people.

"If once they get out of hand," he said earnestly, with a haggard
expression on his thin face, "they’ll rush that house and murder Hobbs
and little Sally."

Whitmore hadn’t intended merely rushing the battery, but had thought out
an entire scheme.  One party was to rush the farther end of it—the
right-hand end of it—the one opposite the fishing stakes, and they were
not to try to do it silently, but to draw any fellows there towards
them, whilst another party slipped round the left end and made their way
up to the six-inch gun with a gun-cotton charge.

"The ground is all right if you could find your way in the dark,"
Hoffman told us.

"Why not send one of your fellows?" we suggested; but he said he
couldn’t trust them, couldn’t be sure what they would do under fire, and
besides, they were not natives of the place, and wouldn’t know the way.

There are any number of small huts and fences and pitfalls there, and
you could never get past them in the dark.

I had enough experience of Chinese villages to recognize that it would
be a jolly ticklish job.

We left him then—he looked too ill to be worried any more—and went back
to my cabin, taking his rough drawing with us.

The landing seemed easy enough—it was the getting back again which
worried me.  The party who held the right end of that battery would have
to hold it for at least forty or fifty minutes; the destruction party
couldn’t possibly find their way up to the gun, disable it, and return
in less time than that.

"It has to be done," I said finally, "and your way seems the best.
We’ll do it."

I don’t mind confessing that I had never run a "real" show previously.
Plenty of times I had worked out schemes, and carried them through
successfully, at manoeuvres and things like that; but it was very
different now, and I devoutly wished that the Captain hadn’t put all the
responsibility on my shoulders, and, without really meaning to do so, I
more or less shifted it on to Whitmore’s.

Whitmore wanted to land at nine o’clock, an hour before high water, so
that we should have firmer ground under us, be able to get closer in to
the battery, and have less trouble with the boats.  I, however, thought
the early morning the best time, somewhere about three o’clock, for my
experience in manoeuvres and sham attacks had taught me that the
attacked side was generally at its worst, and that men, all the world
over, were more likely to be surprised and "shaken", at that hour.  It
had the disadvantage of being at low water, but we should have those
fishing stakes to guide us.  Hoffman had told us the mud was fairly firm
there, and, perhaps what appealed to me most, daylight would not be far
off.

Whitmore eventually gave way, and we decided that we would leave the
ship at about 1.30 a.m., be towed as far as possible, and pull in with
muffled oars.

Then it was a question of what men I should take, and I decided to take
Marshall[#] and his forty marines.  Speaking generally, they were an
older lot of men than a seaman company, and the older the men were, the
less liable they would be to lose their heads.


[#] Captain S. A. Marshall, R.M.L.I., was in command of the detachment
of Royal Marines.


It was decided that I should rush the battery, and that Whitmore should
take twenty picked men and three torpedo hands with the gun-cotton
charges and try and make for the gun.

"How about midshipmen?" he asked.

I personally didn’t want to take any; the job was too risky a one.
However, we finally decided to take one each, and thought we had better
choose Rawlings and Ford, as they had had some experience lately.

"Heads, Ford; tails, Rawlings," Whitmore said, tossing a dollar; and
Ford fell to me.  There was nothing to choose between the two boys.

I am not going to weary you with all the details which had to be thought
out and prepared, but I will just say this.  There is no possible
similarity between preparing for a landing party or a sham fight during
manoeuvres and preparing for the real thing.  When you are getting ready
for the first, someone comes along: "The Gunnery Lieutenant’s
compliments, sir, and he doesn’t want the small-arm magazines opened
this morning".  "All right; very well," you say; so no ammunition is
passed round, you take it for granted that water-bottles are filled, and
a hundred-and-one other things which are essential in active warfare.
Besides—and this is more serious than everything else put together—for
one you prepare as for a football match, for the other you cannot help
realizing that the lives of the men actually standing there in front of
you, cheerfully getting ready, are to be dependent upon your judgment.
If other people who have the same responsibility are as keenly conscious
of their own lack of skill and experience as I was that day, I am very
sorry for them.

By six o’clock in the evening everything that Whitmore and I could think
of had been prepared.  The men had all seen Hoffman’s rough sketch, and
all thoroughly understood what was to be done.  They were thoroughly
happy too, and the Skipper sending up to tell me that he wanted to say a
few words to them, I fell them "in" on the quarterdeck.  There was very
little light, though enough to see his great wrinkled red face.

"Landing party present, sir," I reported, calling them to attention.

"Umph!" he said, speaking in his gruffest tones.  "You went in last
night, most of you, and blew a hole as big as a house in that tramp.
You know why you did that, and got wet skins doing it—to stop ’em taking
away the little lass, now I’ve cornered ’em.  To-night the Commander is
going to take you in to blow up that gun which had the confounded cheek
to fire on the _Vigilant_ the other day, and killed two men aboard the
_Goldfinch_ this forenoon.

"Umph!" he growled.  "Last time the Royal Marine detachment went ashore
there was a good deal of leave breakin’.  I hope you’ll all come back
this time."  (The men guffawed and chuckled.)

"Captain Marshall," he roared, and pointed to one of the front-rank men,
"have that man’s hair cut before he leaves the ship.  He’s a disgrace to
the detachment;" and he went round and inspected them all.

"Well!  Umph!  Good luck to you!" and he looked them up and down again,
growled, and went below, the marines all grinning with amusement.

I dismissed them.

"What a grand chap the old man is!" Marshall said. "No wonder the men
would do anything for him.  Hasn’t he a grand ’few words’?"

The rain had ceased, and the night showed signs of being clear though
cold, and the breeze was not strong enough to make boat work difficult.

I tried to make Ford and Rawlings turn in directly after dinner, but
they—like the two young fools they were—were much too excited to do any
such thing.  I turned in myself, but that drawing which Hoffman had made
seemed to haunt me.  Directly I turned my light out and shut my eyes, I
saw it, and even now, when I am much worried, it comes before me as
clearly as it did that night.

I couldn’t sleep a blessed wink, and at one o’clock my servant called
me, bringing some cocoa and biscuits.

I had no appetite for anything, and it was so cold that I shivered as I
dressed.



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                          *The Landing Party*


    Left Behind—"You’ll Do—Some Day"—"Dicky"—Preparation to
    Land—"Good Luck, Men!"—In the Boats—Scrambling Ashore—Rushing
    the Battery—Setting Fire to the Huts—A Hot Corner


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


I have so very much to tell you, that I hardly know where to start; but
I think that I had better begin where we met the old _Vigilant_ steaming
away from Tinghai.  It was simply grand to take Mr. Travers back to her,
and to go alongside her in the dark with everybody looking over the side
and cheering.  There was a very nasty sea running, and they were a long
time getting the wounded across; but no one was hurt, and it was
splendid to know that Dicky would now be a jolly lot more comfortable
than he could be in the _Ringdove_.

They gave Jim and me a splendid "blow out" in the gunroom, and we simply
had a grand time.  There was only one thing which made us miserable—the
Captain didn’t seem at all pleased.  I had been so longing for him to be
pleased—everything I had done I had done for him—and had been looking
forward to what he would say when I saw him, and when he knew that I had
rescued Mr. Travers.

It wasn’t till after Mr. Rashleigh had gone away that he spotted me.  I
had been hanging about and getting in his way on purpose, and when he
growled out in a surly manner, "Umph!  Lost my junk, have you, and four
good men—Umph!—and haven’t got anything to show for ’em either?" and
turned away, I almost felt inclined to blub, and Jim was just as
miserable.

Mr. Trevelyan had been snubbed nearly as much, and he was furious, and
said, "That fat little beast Rashleigh has been spinning yarns, that’s
what it is."  The Captain was certainly rather nicer when he came down
into the gunroom after dinner and made a speech; but no one ever says
nasty things in a speech at that time of night, so it didn’t nearly
"make up".

Still, everything else was so jolly, and it was so glorious to know that
Mr. Hoffman had escaped from the fire after all, and that we had found
out where Sally and her father were, and that we were actually on our
way to rescue them, that we couldn’t feel miserable for long.

Next morning Mr. Trevelyan sent for Jim and myself in his cabin.

"I told you what it was," he burst out, red with rage. "It was that
overfed, bloated hog!  Look at his report!  The Commander has just given
it to me to read.  I’m going off to tell him our side of the show," and
he rushed off, but came back again redder than ever.  "I’m to wait till
I’m cooler, as if I wasn’t as cool as a cucumber in an ice chest;" and
he stamped about his cabin.

Later on, however, we were all sent for, one after the other, and told
the Commander our own accounts of what happened, and some time
afterwards were ordered to send in our own reports in writing.

Neither Jim nor I went ashore with the Captain that first night when he
blew a hole in the tramp steamer, and we knew that it was because he was
still angry with us. We would have given our skins to go; but we both
pretended that we didn’t mind, and that as the night was so cold and
awfully wet, it was jolly lucky that we hadn’t gone.  We determined to
have a jolly good feed, and then turn in early and get a jolly good
night’s rest, and we yarned with Dicky and tried to pretend that we were
having a good time.  It wasn’t much of a success, however, and we soon
found ourselves on the fore bridge in the rain, looking at the flashes
and then waiting for the "booms" from the guns with a beastly feeling
inside, because we weren’t there ourselves.  We got just as wet and cold
as they did, almost.

I was more lucky than Jim, because I did have something to do, and went
with Mr. Trevelyan very early in the morning to bring off Mr. Hoffman’s
Chinaman.  We had to hang about near a big rock at the back of the
island, and directly it was light "stand by" for a piece of red bunting
to be waved from shore.  We must have been there for more than an hour,
and thought that he had either gone back to Mr. Whitmore in the steam
cutter, or perhaps been collared by the pirates.  When we did see it
wave, we fetched him off pretty quickly, and shoved along back to the
_Vig_ just as hard as we could go. You see, we were certain that he had
good news, because Mr. Trevelyan drew pictures of a thin little man and
a girl and showed them to him, and he seemed to understand, and nodded
his head and pointed to the island.  He kept on saying "Vely good" all
the way off to the ship.  I don’t think he knew any more English words.

On our way back we watched the six-inch gun firing, and dropping her
shells or shot all over the place.  Some of them fell very close to the
_Vigilant_, and we wondered why Captain Lester didn’t reply.

"How would you like to be there?" Mr. Trevelyan asked.

"Ra—ther!" I told him, and he smiled.  "It’s all right if you’re doing
something yourself, but it’s a jolly different thing when you’re simply
waiting for them," and that made me think of my horrible funk when those
two shore guns had fired point blank at the _Sally_, and I was rather
sorry I had spoken.

Mr. Trevelyan laughed when he saw them all falling in for "Divisions" on
board the _Vig_.  "That’s ’Old Lest’ all over," he said.  "I bet he’s in
a towering passion."

Jim told me afterwards that he didn’t like the shooting a little bit,
and if they all hadn’t been so afraid of the Captain, they would have
hated it all the more.  That was the day we wrote our reports—the
_Ringdove_ coming made the Commander remember about them—and I put it
all down very clearly, how I had done my best to escape from the four
junks, and why I had been obliged to run down through the middle of
them.  I told exactly how I and all those who were left of the _Sally’s_
crew had brought Mr. Travers off in the _Ringdove’s_ cutter, and put in
a lot about Scroggs and Sharpe and all of them.  You see, I wanted
Captain Lester to get Scroggs’s wife as big a pension as possible,
because of all the children.

I didn’t want to say much about Dicky, because—well, you know what I
mean—I was only a very few places senior to him, although he was only a
cadet, and it seemed so cocky.

But Mr. Trevelyan made me do it, and I explained it all to Dicky.
Afterwards Mr. Trevelyan wrote some pretty hot stuff too.  This was part
of it: "With regard to the alleged disobedience of the orders of
Lieutenant and Commander Rashleigh to proceed to the given rendezvous, I
considered that the information obtained from Midshipman Ford of the
_Sally_ made it imperative that further and more definite information
should be obtained.  Your" (that was Captain Lester’s) "original orders
to me were to obtain such information at all costs, and I considered
this the opportunity to act upon them.  As a direct result, I discovered
the whereabouts of one of the headquarters of the pirates, and
indirectly was the means of the rescue of Mr. Travers."

We took them to the Commander, who made us rewrite them and "tone down"
many things; but they were pretty good "snorters" for Mr. Rashleigh,
even after that.

The Captain must have thought that he had been a little unjust, because
later on in the day he saw me on the quarterdeck and stopped me.  He
glared at me for a moment, and with his legs wide apart, growled out:
"Seem to have shown more sense than I thought. Umph!  You’ll do—some
day," and left me feeling jolly happy.

Of course when the _Goldfinch_ and _Sparrow_ arrived, Mr. Langham and
Mr. Forbes and the midshipmen of the other junks came back to the
_Vigilant_.  They hadn’t any experience worth telling, compared to ours,
except Webster, who had managed to run his junk ashore, and the
_Goldfinch_ had spent all her time getting her off again.

Jim and I nudged each other; we didn’t like Webster.

Dicky didn’t come off badly either.  You know that we all called him
"Dear Little Dicky", all except Jim, who flatly refused to obey the
Sub’s order, and had been caned twice by him for not doing so.  He was
let alone afterwards.

Dicky hated it; it had made his life absolutely miserable; and now Mr.
Langham, as soon as he got back, held a Court of Enquiry down in the
gunroom about our losing the junks.  I didn’t care a snap what he
thought or said about it, nor did Jim.  The whole thing was only got up
for his amusement—his and Hamilton’s (the big Engineer Sub) and
Webster’s; but one of their "findings" was this.  I copied the "rot" off
the notice board in the gunroom:


COURT OF ENQUIRY,
Held in the Gunroom, H.M.S. _Vigilant_,
At Sea, _April_ 7th.

As a result of the Court of Enquiry held last night to enquire into the
loss of H.M.S. _Sally_ and H.M.S. _Ferret_, Mr. Ford commanding the one
and Mr. Rawlings the second in command of the other, these officers have
been adjudged to have borne themselves with credit to the gunroom, but
are cautioned not to do so again.  It has also been decided, affirmed,
and we do hereby solemnly declare, that Mr. Morton, hitherto known as
Mr. Dear Little Dicky, worked a Maxim gun so accurately, and polished
off so many niggers before he was knocked over, stunned, incapacitated,
and otherwise by flow of his blood rendered _hors de combat_, that he is
entitled to some signal reward.

We do therefore proclaim, announce, and order that from henceforth,
evermore, and hereafter he shall be known as "Dicky".

For "Dear Little Dicky" in future read "Dicky". (This was in big print.)

Given under our hand and seal,

BENJAMIN LANGHAM, Sub-lieutenant.
A. E. HAMILTON, Engineer Sub-lieut.
HARRY G. WEBSTER, Senior Midshipman.


Of course it was silly rot.  Still, so much silly rot goes on in a
gunroom, and a lot of it makes a difference—actually, and nothing they
could have done would have made Dicky more pleased.  He still spent most
of the day in his hammock, but was allowed "up" for two hours every
afternoon in the gunroom.

He told Jim, on the quiet, that he quite liked going there now.  He had
hated doing so before, and used to sit for hours on his chest outside,
or wander about on deck, because he so dreaded having his leg pulled,
and hearing himself called "Dear Little Dicky".

He could remember very little about the fight with the junks, and
nothing at all after seeing all those Chinamen struggling in the water
when that first junk sank.  He didn’t even remember Sharpe and me giving
him that hot milk during the night, and nothing till he was carried up
the side of the _Ringdove_.

You may bet that Jim and I had plenty to tell him; and we brought Sharpe
along to back us up, because I couldn’t get him to believe, by myself,
that it was his Maxim gun which had done the trick when the first of the
four junks came along.

"I didn’t fire it myself, though, Sharpe, did I?" he asked; and Sharpe
said, "No, sir, you didn’t hardly do that, but you was a-steadyin’ of
the cartridge belt, and seeing as how it was ’fed’ properly, and
a-knocking back the crank handle, and you was shoutin’ and cheerin’ like
Billy Loo, that you was, sir.  You was about the only one of us who
wasn’t skeared, or—well—if you was, you didn’t look skeared," he went
on, for he saw that Dicky wouldn’t believe him.

"We was all a bit skeared, eh, sir?" and he winked his eye at me.

I knew jolly well that I had been.

The others all wanted to be very civil to him now, but Jim and I boomed
them off.  He belonged more or less to us, and we weren’t going to have
them shoving their oars in too quickly.

Jim and I were very excited when we heard that the Commander was going
to land with the marines and try and blow up the six-inch gun.  We hung
about outside his cabin, and shoved ourselves under his nose up on deck
all the afternoon, so that he shouldn’t possibly forget us.  We expected
that he would take one, if not two midshipmen with him, and we didn’t
see why we should not go, and you can imagine how badly we wanted to go.
Everyone wanted to land with him especially, for he was such a "ripper",
and so jolly pleasant, and was always "smoothing over" things when
everyone was cross and bad-tempered, and felt he wanted to bite everyone
else’s nose off.  He was very strict "service", but he never did small
irritating things, and treated us Mids and Cadets as though we were
human beings; several of the ward-room officers didn’t seem to think so,
quite.  He had a great leathery face like the Captain’s, and was
tremendously popular with the men.  We heard that he had nothing but his
pay to live on, and had a wife and family to keep.  That was quite
enough, the A.P. used to say, to make any man solemn at times.  He did
very often look worried, but when anything was "doing", he was always as
"buckish" as any of us.

Nobody had ever seen him in a bad temper, so no one ever minded having
to report things to him.  If we had to report anything, a light or a
change of course, or anything like that, we had often to screw up our
courage before we tapped at the Captain’s door, for often he would
nearly bite our heads off.  It was jolly different with the Commander,
for time after time I have had to wake him, at night or during his
afternoon sleep, and he would say, "Right you are, boy", as cheerfully
as anything.  I remember once he said, "No trouble to wake me, Ford,
eh?" and I couldn’t help smiling, and he asked me what the joke was, and
I told him that I had just called the Captain, and—well—he hadn’t
enquired very civilly whether I had had trouble in waking him.

He knew all the Captain’s family.  He used to go down there to shoot,
and had met my father and mother there too, so that was probably the
thing that just made the difference when he had to choose a midshipman,
because he did choose me.

Wasn’t that absolutely splendid?  And Jim was to go with Mr. Whitmore;
so we were both simply wild with delight, and rushed down to tell
everyone.  He had sent for us in his cabin, and he looked very grim and
sad when we went there, but he didn’t look quite so serious when we
left.  He was so amused at our being so jolly excited, I expect; but we
couldn’t help that.

He had shown us the map thing which Mr. Hoffman had drawn, and explained
exactly what he was going to do; and told us to take revolvers, not
dirks or cutlasses, as they would only get in the way, and to wear the
boots with the broadest soles, as we should have to wade through mud;
and as they would be slippery afterwards, to get big nails put in them,
because we should probably have to do a lot of scrambling.

We were the only two midshipmen who were going to actually land; but
Withers was going inshore in the barge, Jones in the first cutter, and
Webster in the steam pinnace.

Webster was to tow us in as far as he could go, and the cutter and the
barge were to wait for us after we had landed, and in case they should
be wanted to cover our getting aboard again, a Maxim gun was mounted in
the bows of the barge, and another in the bows of the cutter. The others
were rather jealous of Jim and myself, because, of course, we had only
just joined the ship.  We didn’t care a tuppenny "rap" about that,
however.

We sent for our bandsman servant, and he took our boots away to one of
the bluejackets who mended boots. He hadn’t the proper kind of
nails—none left, at any rate—but the ones he did put in were a jolly
sight better than none at all.

As it got dark, and the rain stopped and some stars came out, and
everything seemed to be promising well, we were too excited to eat our
dinner, and as to sleeping, we couldn’t possibly get a wink, and were
out of our hammocks directly it struck one bell (half-past twelve), long
before the sentry came round to wake us.  We had two bits of candle all
ready, and we dressed by their light, very quietly, not to wake anybody,
and then slipped on deck. But of course we were much too early, and had
to wait a very long time.  However, it made us hungry, and we ate a
whole tin of gingerbread biscuits between us; and when the rest of the
people began turning out, and they brought round hot cocoa, we had a
jolly big whack of that.

Then they began "falling in", and the Commander came up with a sword and
revolver and haversack, yawning and looking tired, and Captain Marshall,
with his eyeglass just showing in the lantern light, pulled on his
gloves and looked jolly much a soldier all over.  He had his long sword
hitched up to his waist, and his cap beautifully on the side of his
head, and his moustache all carefully trained, and he winked at us with
the eye that wasn’t holding the eyeglass.

We heard him start a yarn to Mr. Whitmore and Dr. Barclay, who was
coming with us as well, "When I was the handsomest subaltern in the
British army, my dear chaps——" and they both laughed and "hee-hawed"
till the Sergeant-major came up, jerked his arm stiffly to the salute,
and reported the marines ready for inspection.  This was the time we
often waited to see, because he used to change from being a funny man to
a soldier, and we always watched to see him snap his teeth together,
shove out his under jaw, look very fierce, and walk round his men,
looking as though he’d never had a funny thought all his life, and was
simply thinking of nothing but soldiering.

The Commander’s grimness was gradually wearing off, and when Captain
Marshall had told him one or two funny stories, and he had laughed
several times, he became quite cheerful.  The Captain came up, too, when
everything was ready, and he nodded at me, "Getting more experience,
Ford?" and stood under the quarterdeck lantern, where everybody could
see him, and growled out, "Good luck, men!  Hope to see you all back by
daylight."  The boats had dropped alongside by this time, and we all
began to file down into them.  Jim gave me a parting pinch, and went
down the port side into the cutter, and I went down the starboard side
into the barge, with the Commander and Dr. Barclay and the marines.  The
steam boat took us in tow, we picked up the cutter, and began to move
away from the ship.  I had just thought how jolly it would be to have a
send-off "cheer", when we heard the Captain’s voice roar, "Three cheers
for the Commander and the ’landing party’," and to judge by the noise, I
should imagine that everyone on board had turned out and come on deck.
Without waiting for orders, we started cheering in the boats, and as we
passed the _Sparrow_ her people cheered us too.  It made my heart go
thumping like mad, and just did the right thing for the Commander.  You
knew, by the way he cheered, that he had forgotten all his worries.

The _Goldfinch_ was on the other side of the _Vigilant_, and I don’t
know whether they cheered us or not.  She still had those two dead men
on board, so probably didn’t.

"They won’t hear us ashore, I suppose, sir?" I asked the Commander.

"Too far for that, Ford," he said, and sang out for the men to carry on
smoking.  The steam pinnace seemed to make a tremendous noise ahead of
us, but I expect that that was only "fancy".  At any rate, we seemed to
bubble along jolly fast in the dark.  The stoker in her, like the ass he
was, must have been keeping up a very big head of steam, because once or
twice flames came out of the funnel.  The Commander shouted for them to
ease down, and we had some difficulty in making them hear.  I thought
that they never would, and the funnel was like a big torch, and could
have been seen many miles away; but at last they heard and eased down.
The Commander ordered them to disconnect her fan, and after that no more
flames showed.  You see, the air is forced through the fires by means of
a little fan, worked by an endless belt from the main engines, and when
they are going fast it blows the flames up the funnel.

If it had been the Captain, I know that he would have been frightfully
angry, and punished the stoker later on; but the Commander only said,
"The poor idiot was doing his best", and was quite calm, although, of
course, it might have given the whole "show" away directly.

Although we went along much more slowly, the few lights on shore were
getting bigger and bigger.  Presently the steam boat steamed very
slowly, indeed, and then stopped, and we ran alongside.  It was low
tide, and we had begun to get into the narrow channel, running up the
creek into the town.

Mr. Lawrence was in the steam boat—I had not seen him before—and had
been navigating us.  Then we heard Mr. Hoffman’s voice.

"Good heavens! what are you doing here?" the Commander asked.

"I’m coming with you," he said.  "I will show Whitmore the way up to
that gun."

The Commander told him that he was not well enough, and tried to
persuade him to go back, but he absolutely refused, and crawled across
us into the cutter.  "I’ve taken half a bottle of quinine, and shall be
all right.  You could never find that gun by yourselves."

We could see, even in the dark, how "shaky" he was.

Then Lawrence shoved off back again to wait for us, the steam boat
giving a few swirls with her screws, and slipping away out of sight in a
moment.

It was simply pitch dark, and when I tell you that though Withers was
sitting behind me, and had his knees in my back, and yet I couldn’t see
his face when I turned round, you will understand how dark it was.

We then started to pull inshore.  The oars had been muffled by having
strips of fearnought (thick flannel, almost like felt, which the stokers
make into trousers for stokehold work) bound round them where they
rubbed in the rowlocks, and the rowlocks themselves had more fearnought
nailed all over them, so that they only made a soft noise, with a squeak
now and again.

We were quite close to the shore on our port side, and one or two little
streaks of light—I suppose they came from the fishermen’s huts—didn’t
look more than a hundred yards away.

I was very nervous and excited, and when a dog suddenly began to bark,
and we could actually hear him rushing down a loose stone beach close to
us, my heart seemed to stop beating with a jerk for a little time.

We lay on our oars, he gave one or two angry barks—they seemed to be
just outside the boat—and then we heard him give a whine as though he
was tired and yawning, he scampered up the beach, gave a low growl, and
was quiet.

We went on again, but it was so dark that the Commander crept for’ard
into the bows, and we felt our way very slowly along the edge of the
mud, shoving her off with boat hooks whenever we got too close.

We had passed some of those lights—they were right behind us now—so that
I knew we were well up the creek. We couldn’t see where the water ended,
but farther away it was blacker still, and I knew that this was the
steep beach and the shore behind it.  I tried to remember that drawing,
and hung over the side and tried to make out those fishing stakes.  We
seemed to go on like this for a very long time—we were pulling very
slowly against the last of the ebb tide—and then the blackness on our
left seemed to get nearer and more upright, and I knew that we must be
almost abreast of the battery.  I couldn’t see Mr. Whitmore’s cutter,
and could very seldom hear it, although we knew that it was very close
behind us. A few dogs were barking somewhere inland.  There was one,
away on our right, howling every minute or two, a most creepy kind of
howl, and there were two who answered him on our side of the town.
Sometimes others would join in, and you would almost recognize the
different barks.  I longed for them to leave off.  That was the only
noise, except the slight splash as the oars dug into the water, and the
soft thump against the sides of the row-locks as they dragged them out;
but now that we were listening so hard, and were so excited, even this
seemed to be very great.

Then something scraped against our bows and knocked the low oars, and
the noise seemed awfully loud and startling. A lot of the men let out
"Oh!" under their breath; they were so excited and jumpy.  I don’t
wonder either, because the marines were simply sitting on the thwarts,
with their rifles between their knees, and they had nothing to do except
to prevent them rattling against anything.

We hauled ourselves up, and the Commander came aft, leant over the side
and felt it, and the coxswain, who had been there before with the
Captain, felt it too, and he whispered to the Commander that it was one
of the fishing stakes.

We pulled to the side and came across some more, so felt sure.

The dark mass of the cutter came quite close to us.

"I’ve found the first line, the second is fifty yards farther on; you go
back about thirty yards," the Commander whispered across to Mr.
Whitmore.  There were a few click, clicks, and the cutter disappeared
again.  We started to pull out round that first line of stakes, but we
had made more noise with our oars, knocking against them—the men
couldn’t help that—and suddenly, right over our heads, it seemed,
someone yelled out.

I clutched hold of Captain Marshall’s arm—it was the first thing my
fingers touched—and I heard him give a gulp; but the Commander "hissed",
and we lay on our oars and held our breath.  It must have been a sentry
or a watchman, and he sang out again, and I felt as if I was throbbing
all over.  Then we heard him muttering to himself.  The tide had taken
us clear of the stakes, and the Commander whispered "to give way", and
we pulled round the end one without hitting it; but the sentry could
hear the oars, and sang out again.  The men began to pull faster, and
the oars made an awful noise. More Chinamen began shouting—one quite a
long way in front, and then several more.

"Starboard!" I heard the Commander say; "starboard, hard!" and then knew
that in another half-minute we should be scrambling ashore.  I crept
along to the bows with the Commander, to be ready to follow him.  We had
hardly got there when the bows ran into the mud with a jerk, and I had
to hang on to the gun mounting to prevent being knocked over.  "Keep on
’giving way’, Withers!" the Commander sang out, and slipped down into
the water without the least hesitation.  It was up to his waist, and he
held out a hand for me.  I fell in after him up to my armpits, with my
feet sinking in the beastly mud at the bottom.  I was so excited, that I
didn’t notice how cold it was; but it just flashed through me how
Captain Marshall could do it, with all his beautiful uniform on, and
then I found myself wading after the Commander, and pulling my feet out
of the mud.  There was enough noise now to wake anybody.  No one could
help the rifles and everything else knocking against the side of the
boat, and the splashing, and the men cursing under their breath. There
were some frightened cries above us, and a rifle was let off (it sounded
like a six-pounder), and all the dogs in the town seemed to start
barking; but we were all too excited and busy getting through the water
and mud to notice much.  In half a dozen steps the water was only up to
my knees, and in two or three more I dragged my feet out on to firm mud,
and started to break into a kind of "splodgy" trot to keep up with the
Commander—I could only just see his dark figure, and had to keep close
for fear of losing him.

Then the beach began to slope up, and was quite hard, and we ran over a
lot of shells and loose stones, the water running off me and squelching
inside my boots.  I was out of breath and panting, and my clothes had
all stuck to me, especially my trousers over my knees, and the Commander
wouldn’t stop, and never once looked back to find out how many men were
following.  He seemed to disappear in a very black shadow; but it was
only a bank about four feet high, with stiff grass on the top, and he
helped me, and someone shoved me, and I got a lot of sand or earth in my
mouth, and spat it out.  The Commander stopped for a moment, and I was
only too glad to get back my breath. We could see some lights moving
backwards and forwards, and appearing and disappearing at regular
intervals, and knew at once that men were running about inside the
battery, and that they shone out when they passed one of the gun
embrasures.  There was any amount of calling and shrieking going on.
The Commander drew his sword, I saw Captain Marshall close to me with
his sword drawn, any number of dark figures kept scrambling over the
bank; the Commander yelled, and we all yelled and rushed straight ahead.

Several people behind me fell—I heard them—and I heard Captain Marshall
cursing, and asking "Where the blooming buttercups his eyeglass was?"
and then there shot out from the dark wall a most tremendous flame, with
an awful roar—they had fired one of the guns.  It seemed as if it was
almost in our faces, and I turned my head half round, and the flame
lighted up the men’s faces just for a moment.  It showed us all the
outline of the battery as well, and, what was better, a little path, and
we raced along it, cheering like mad.  I think that they must have been
firing at us with rifles as well, but I don’t know, and the next thing I
remember was clambering up a stone parapet, with someone’s feet in my
face, which I hardly noticed at the time, digging my nails into some
cracks, and then getting my arms round something hard and round.  I
"muscled" up, and found it was one of the little guns, and knew I was in
one of the embrasures. "Get along, curse you," someone yelled; "give me
a hand with this rifle," and scrambled up after me.  I couldn’t get down
for a second, because there were so many in front, and the man simply
took a flying leap past me.  He didn’t know who I was in the dark.

I got down somehow or other, and then hunted for the Commander, heard
him shouting away to the left, and got close to him again.  We were
right inside the battery, and we followed the wall—inside—all round, and
not a Chinaman was there.  We were all cheering like mad, or panting for
breath, and then we saw some lights from huts fifty yards away, and
crowds of Chinamen running backwards and forwards in front of them, and
heard more yelling.  Without waiting for any orders, everybody rushed
towards them and carried me along too, doing my best to keep with the
Commander.

There weren’t any Chinamen there when we got to the huts, and the men
were for rushing on, but the Commander managed to halt them, and we
could hear the mob running away and making a squealing, frightened
noise, but couldn’t see them.  Three yards away from the lighted huts
everything was simply pitchy black.

"Get back to the battery, boys!" the Commander shouted; "they’ll be
coming back soon."  The men had to fall "in" just inside the battery
wall, behind the little guns, and we found that no one was missing.

I don’t think that the Commander knew quite what to do then.  I heard
him telling Captain Marshall and Dr. Barclay that he wished the Chinamen
had made a fight of it instead of running away, because he feared that
they would simply bolt back to the six-inch gun, and that Mr. Whitmore’s
party would never get to it.

Whilst we were waiting like this, I had time to notice all the noises.
Talk about dogs!  I should have thought that all the dogs in the world
wouldn’t have made so much noise.  There must have been simply thousands
of them barking away all over the town; and some came running out of the
darkness into the light from those huts, and we could see their eyes.
It was something for me to do to throw stones at them, and the bugler
boy—Wilkins—helped me; they would howl if a stone went near them, and
rush away yelping.  It was jolly good fun doing this. All of a sudden
there was a dull crash behind us, as if a heavy weight was rolling down
outside the battery.

"What was that?" I heard the Commander shout, rather nervously, and he
went across, and I followed him.

"Very sorry, sir," the Sergeant-major said.  "Some of the men chucked a
gun over the wall, sir.  I’ve taken their names, sir."

"Let ’em chuck them all over, sir," Captain Marshall suggested; and we
did.  We had them all—five there were—tumbled in the ditch in no time.
Four men could lift a gun, and if they couldn’t heave it out of its
wooden carriage, another two would help them, and heave it over, gun and
carriage too.  The men enjoyed it, and so did I, and we began pitching
over the little round shot which lay there in heaps, and some grape-shot
done up in basketwork.

There was another wait after that, and we all were bitterly cold.  My
nose was running, and below the waist I felt like ice.

The Commander still didn’t seem to know what to do. He had put a few men
out past the huts to warn us in case any Chinese came along, but it was
so dark that he couldn’t see how the ground lay, or the best position to
take up, in case we were attacked.

Then Dr. Barclay had a brilliant idea, and suggested setting fire to the
huts.  "They’ll light the place up and dry our clothes, sir," he said.

"Right O!" the Commander chuckled, and it didn’t take many minutes
before they were all of them blazing away like fun.

The Commander said that I could help, so Wilkins and I ran over to the
huts, turned over a funny old lamp burning inside one of them, and set
fire to a lot of shavings and straw.  The smoke drove us out, but then
we set fire to the outside in half a dozen places, and soon had a grand
blaze going.  It was jolly comforting to stand there and feel our
clothes drying, though the wind would puff the smoke back into our eyes
sometimes.

"Fifth of November, almost, ain’t it, sir?" Wilkins said.

"And there go the fireworks, too," he shouted; and there was a banging
and spluttering in the hut next to ours, and little bits of it flew
about.

"Those are cartridges going off," the Commander shouted, running up.
"Clear out of it, men."

They had begun to move away, and, when he called, moved faster; we’d
hardly got clear before there was a tremendous "hurroosh", and the whole
hut seemed to go right up, and burning planks, strips of thatch and
matting, went flying along through the air, and began blazing away
wherever they fell.  My aunt! it did make a smoke, though there wasn’t
much noise, only a very loud "poof", and everyone went scampering back
to the battery with his head down, trying to dodge the bits. We did
laugh.

"Funny place for their magazine, eh, Commander?" I heard Captain
Marshall chuckle; and we all kept pretty clear of the others.  The
explosion had made the dogs stop barking—just for a few seconds—just
time for us to hear noises as if the townspeople were waking up at last.

"They’re getting ’busy’ over there," Captain Marshall said.  "That
sounds as if our friends would be coming to call on us shortly."

I think that the Commander and he wanted them to come very badly, and I
didn’t mind either, because I wasn’t so cold now, and the flames lighted
the place all round grandly.

They walked all round the lighted-up part, and decided that the best
position for the men would be standing on the shore of the battery wall,
firing over that, and for some men to stand on the beach, farther along,
at each end, and fire over the bank which we all had to climb over. We
couldn’t hear a sound of Mr. Whitmore’s party; but there was another
strange noise like the quacking of thousands of ducks—you could hear it
even with the flames roaring and crackling and the dogs barking.

"Whatever is it, sir?" Wilkins asked me; but I didn’t know, and asked
Dr. Barclay.

"Bull frogs, down in the paddy fields below the six-inch gun," he told
me, and I didn’t say any more, because I thought that he was pulling my
leg.

A few minutes afterwards, the Commander and Captain Marshall and Dr.
Barclay all went along past the huts—they were having a look round—and
Wilkins and myself followed behind them.  The flames were between us and
the sea, and suddenly something whistled past me, and I jerked my head
round, and then there was the noise of a rifle going off—and another—and
another, and flick—flick—flick—flick, the bullets went whizzing past us.

I put my hands up to keep them off.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                    *Midshipman Ford on his Mettle*


    Ford Sees Red—Close Fighting—"Where are we?"—Comparing Notes—A
    Strange Reception—The Captain’s Letter—The Chinese
    Doctor—Investigating—The Mob Attacks—To the Rescue


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


Directly they started firing we all ran back to the huts, because we
were in between the Chinese and the flames, and of course made splendid
targets.

Captain Marshall sang out, "Run, Ford, run!" and I did, and jolly fast
too; but he and the Commander and Wilkins, the bugler boy, only came
along at a jog trot, and "miles" behind me, and Captain Marshall was
"hee-hawing" as if he had never seen anything so funny before in his
life.  He asked me whether I had done the hundred yards in ten seconds,
or some rot like that, and before all the men, too, which made me get
very red and simply furious.  It was all his fault for shouting out
"run", and with those bullets kicking up the ground and flying past, I
jolly well couldn’t stop myself when once I had started.  I don’t think
anyone could.  Do you? I caught Wilkins grinning, and this made me more
angry still.

"Don’t you worry; it was only Marshall’s joke," the Commander said.  He
meant to be nice, but I knew that he thought I ought not to have run,
and I simply hated myself.

I was so mad at being such a coward, that I think I would have run
straight at them if they had gone on shooting, just to show the men that
I could run just as fast that way; but they had left off, and were only
shouting at us from the darkness behind the huts.  I felt most horrid,
and wondered what the Captain would think when Captain Marshall told
him.  I knew that he would tell him—"hee-hawing" like a grampus, and
thinking it a tremendous joke.

"May I take six men out there, sir, out to the right, creep round in the
dark, and see if I can find them?  Do let me, sir!" I blurted out,
almost before I thought of it.

He looked at me very grimly, and must have seen that there was something
the matter (there was, very much the matter—everything inside me was
working), thought a few moments, smiled at me, and said: "Right you are,
if you can get volunteers.  Don’t go far, and come back when I sound the
’close’."

Get volunteers!  Why, they all would have come, and I just took the six
nearest, I didn’t really care who they were, or if none of them came, I
was so mad, and we dropped over the battery wall, and then behind the
bank to the beach, and crept along in its shadows.  I could just see the
water jacket of the Maxim in the bows of the barge lighted up by the
flames, and they must have seen our shadows and thought we were
Chinamen, because I heard Withers sing out some order, and if I hadn’t
given the gunroom "whistle", I do believe he might have tried to shoot
us.  We crept along till we were clear of the firelight, and then I told
the marines what I was going to do, extended them to three paces, and
started to make inland.  I knew pretty well where those rifles had
fired—I’d seen the flashes—and I didn’t think that there were more than
seven or eight altogether, and meant to get behind them, get the
Chinamen between me and the fire, and try and bag one or two.

I don’t believe anything would have frightened me. That silly "hee-haw"
of Captain Marshall, and thinking of running back so fast, simply shoved
me along.  I wasn’t going to let that story get to the Captain and to
Mrs. Lester, and my mother and Nan, and all over Upton Overy, without
something else tacked on to it.

We crept up to a deserted hut, made a great noise breaking our way
through a fence behind it, and were bothered by a lot of beastly dogs
rushing at us, till I gave one of them a jolly good "welt" in the head
with my boot, and they all ran off yelping.  We went scrambling over
rough ground, and stumbling over what seemed like heaps of broken
crockery, and then we came to a ditch.  I was so "mad" angry, that I
simply slid straight down into it, and had to swim one or two strokes,
and nearly got my feet caught up by weeds; but I didn’t care in the
least, and only worried lest my revolver cartridges were not
water-tight.

Two of the men wouldn’t face it, and went along the side to find an
easier place, and I never saw them again. At the other side there was a
high mud wall, and we skirted along it till it came to an end, and then
we suddenly turned a corner and came upon four or five men standing
watching the flames.  They yelled and fled, and we went after them as
hard as we could go; but they were running away from the flames, and
were not the men we wanted, so I pulled up, and waited till the marines
had got their breath.  Right away inland we could hear a lot of
rifle-firing and then some volleys.

"That’s the Gunnery Lootenant an’ ’is little lot, sir," one of the men
whispered, and I recognized his voice.  It was Martin, one of the
sentries in the gunroom "flat". We used to plague the life out of him.

We couldn’t see the flames now, only a few sparks rushing up, and
thought that the fires must be dying down; but I felt certain that we
were right behind them, and that those brutes who had made me run must
be close to us now.

[Illustration: CLOSE FIGHTING]

I don’t quite know why—it may have been because we couldn’t see the
flames, or because I was wet through and cold again, or because we could
hear people running about near us in the dark, without being able to see
them—but I forgot all about being so brave, and felt frightened, and was
jolly glad when I heard the bugle sound the "close".  I wasn’t certain
which way to go, for I funked that ditch, and didn’t think we could have
found our way back there.  Whatever it was, we found ourselves going
straight towards the sparks, came up against another wall, turned round
the end of it, and then found that that was what had prevented us seeing
the flames. They were still making a great light, and in between them
and us there was a crowd of Chinamen.  We could see their heads showing
like black discs, and they were all jabbering together, with their backs
to us.

I don’t know who started—I didn’t—but we all began shouting and charging
down at them.  They had just time to turn round before we were on top of
them.  The men let off their rifles, and I pulled the trigger of my
revolver, and haven’t the least idea whether it went off or not.  They
must have thought that all the demons in the world were after them, for
they opened out and let us through; but directly we had rushed past and
came into the light, they saw that we were only five, and came howling
after us.  Right in front of me a man jumped up with a rifle and let it
off almost in my face.  He didn’t touch me, but probably hit some of his
own people, and before he could fire again I had hold of the barrel with
one hand, and was banging him in the face with my revolver, though that
didn’t seem to hurt him.  He was just going to pull the rifle out of my
hands, when I heard Martin curse and swing his rifle down on his head,
and he fell so suddenly that I fell on top of him.

Before I could get up again, someone had thrown himself on top of me,
and began clawing hold of my windpipe. I felt my ears beginning to sing;
but then he gave a gurgle and a squirm, and his fingers loosened, and as
I crawled out I saw Martin trying to pull his bayonet out of him,
holding him down with his foot whilst he tugged at the rifle.  Before he
could get it out, a huge fellow sprang at him with his rifle clubbed.  I
sang out, and he just managed to turn his head in time, but got an awful
blow on his shoulder which knocked him over.  The man jumped at him
again, but one of the other three marines was on him in a moment, struck
at him with his bayonet, and caught him just under the armpit.  There
was a frightful yell and he fell, and I seized his rifle, pointed it at
the crowd, and pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened.  Hardly knowing
what I did, I shot the bolt backwards and forwards and pulled again.
The magazine must have been loaded, for it went off then and hit a brute
who was running at me, somewhere in the leg.  I know that it hit him
there, because he stumbled, and sat holding on to it, and I quite well
remember thinking that it served him jolly well right.  The other three
marines were close to me, and Martin scrambled to his feet, trying to
twist his bayonet off his rifle to use as a dagger, because one arm was
useless.  The others were jabbing with their bayonets, springing out,
thrusting, and springing back again, and parrying and trying to keep a
circle clear.  One of them (Tuck) threw up his arms and fell face
downwards.  I saw his fingers dig into the earth.  Then something struck
me on the left arm, just as if it had been struck by a wooden hammer,
and the Chinaman’s rifle fell out of my hands.  I stooped down to pick
it up, but couldn’t—I remember that perfectly.

                     *      *      *      *      *

I don’t remember anything more till I woke with a splitting headache,
feeling as if I wanted to be sick and couldn’t be.  It was almost dark.
I thought that I’d had a nightmare—I often did, after too much gunroom
tinned salmon—and wondered why the lanterns had gone out.  You know how
you often wake up and think that you are in some strange place, and
gradually work things out till they come right again.

That’s what I tried to do, but I couldn’t fix things, and one eye didn’t
seem to work, and I wondered why I had my boots and my uniform on, and
why it was all so wet. I put out my arm to feel if Jim’s hammock was in
its place, and then I let out a yell and rolled back pretty quickly.

That yell seemed to blow away the cobwebs, and I lay back and began to
make out that I was lying on a funny kind of floor, in a small room with
whitewashed walls and a broken-down roof, with straw hanging through the
cracks.  The walls seemed to be made of bricks and mud, and one had a
door in it and a small square opening above it, through which a little
light came.  Someone close to me began to move, and then sat up, very
slowly.  It was Martin, the gunroom "flat" sentry, and then I remembered
that he had saved me from being choked, and all the things that had
happened came back to me all at once.

"Where are we?" I asked.

He gave me a startled look.  "Crickey, sir, beggin’ your pardon, you
does look a awful sight!"

"What’s the matter?  What’s happened?"  I felt that it was awkward to
talk, my lips felt uncomfortable, and I put my hand up to my face and it
felt all raw and swollen.  I couldn’t see at all if I shut my right eye,
so knew that my left one was closed up.

"Kicked you in the face, sir, and dragged you away afore we could stop
’em."

"What!" I said, very alarmed.  "The Commander not here?  Where am I?"

"I don’t exactly know where we be, sir, but them pirate chaps ’ave got
’old of us, and Old Tinker Bill too; ’e was brought in ’ere after us."

Then I saw that there was a bluejacket lying asleep on the other side of
him, and he dug him in the ribs—"’Ere, wake up, Tinker!" and he sat up
growling.

I saw that it was Miller, one of the armourers, and I remembered that he
had gone with Mr. Whitmore’s party, and I forgot all about worrying
about where we were for a second.

"Did we smash that gun?" I cried, and tried to sit up in my excitement,
but fell back again pretty quickly—my left arm was so painful every time
I tried to move.

Miller yawned and shook his head dolefully: "We never got nowhere near
it, sir.  Jerusalem!" he gasped, "you do look a fair ’knock-out’, sir,
that you does."

"Well, tell me.  What happened?  Did Mr. Rawlings get hurt?"

Then he told me that Mr. Hoffman had guided them all right, but they
made a goodish deal of noise themselves, and our party (the Commander’s
party) had given the alarm too soon, and they simply found themselves
running into hundreds of Chinese, and had to fall back again.

"You see, sir, it was like this.  We went along all right till those
huts began a burnin’, but the light from ’em just gave the show away,
and let ’em see where to fire.  Mr. Rawlings was knocked over, an’ a lot
more, sir, an’ the last as I seed of ’em was going back, very slow,
a-carryin’ some people, an’ stoppin’ and firin’ back—occasional."

And all the time we had thought how jolly comforting those flames were,
and that they might help them to find their way back.  I tried to get
more from him about Jim, but he didn’t know any more, except that there
had been a lot of firing, and he had seen him fall, and two men lift him
up.  But that was enough to make me feel frightfully sad, though I
didn’t really seem to imagine that it was all quite real; and the pain
in my head was so bad, and my arm was so painful, and I was so stiff and
cold and cramped all over, that nothing could make me much more
miserable, not even knowing that we had been captured by the pirates, or
Jim had been badly wounded.

"I fell into a ditch or something," Miller went on, "an lost my way and
got be’ind’and, and tried a-takin’ a short cut, and something ’it me on
the head and fair dazed me, and them ugly devils came up and collared
me—came up from be’ind, they did.  I never got a chance.

"I’ve got a bit of a scratch ’ere, sir," and he crawled over to me, and
stooped to show me a groove across the top of his head.  A bullet must
have done it, and the hair was all matted together with blood.

"How did they catch you?" I asked Martin.

"Well, it was like this, sir.  I saw ’em a-picking of you up—that not
being so difficult, beggin’ your pardon—and, not thinking, I slipped
along arter you, forgettin’ that I’d only got one arm that ’ud work.
Well, sir, I got separated from them two others, and had ’em ’eathens
all round me, and they got the best of it, sir."  He was very gloomy,
and lifted his left arm a little way from his side. "Ain’t no good, sir!
Somethink’s broke in my shoulder."

Miller had found a bowl full of water, and that made me remember how
thirsty I was, and he knelt down and gave me some too, holding my head
up.  It was jolly difficult to drink, my lips were so swollen, and a
good deal of it ran down my neck, but it was jolly refreshing.

"What’s the matter with my arm?" I asked him.  "I think it’s broken."

He took hold of it very gingerly, whilst I held on to the wrist and
jammed my teeth together, and then I saw by the funny way the sleeve
bent up halfway above the elbow that it must be broken.  I felt the
broken ends grate together when he tried to move it.  Oh! it was so
painful.

He knew something about bandaging and splints, and tore down some of the
thin rafters and lashed them on each side of it with his black silk
handkerchief, and that made it more comfortable, and I managed to get on
my feet. I felt an awful wreck, and was as weak as a mouse.

We were all plastered with mud and green slime, and were wet and horrid.
I had lost one of my gaiters and my cap, and my revolver, lanyard, and
cartridge belt were gone; but I didn’t really worry, because I felt too
ill, and my head throbbed so much that I had to lie down again, and it
was impossible to think properly, because everything was going round and
round inside it.

There was a noise on the outside of that door, and it opened very
slowly, whilst we all stared at it, and a Chinaman put his head very
slowly in, looked at us, saw me turn to look at him, drew it back again,
and shut the door. I suppose he must have heard us talking.  I think
that I must have gone to sleep after this, because the next I remember
was a tall, gloomy-looking man standing over me.  "You’re an officer,
aren’t you?" he asked me, and I told him that I was a midshipman.

"Come down with me," he said, and helped me to my feet, and supported me
down a spiral wooden staircase.

He got me into a room below, which was fitted up with European
furniture—a writing-table, some cane easy chairs, and a camp bed.  He
made me sit down, and began pacing up and down the room.  There was a
clock on the table, and I saw that it was nearly midday.  He went on
pacing backwards and forwards, and I wondered whether he was the
Englishman who had stolen Mr. Hoffman’s yacht.  I hadn’t the least idea
what was going to happen.  Then he took down a shaving glass and held it
in front of me.

My aunt!  I was a sight, if you like.  All the left side of my forehead
and face was black and blue, and my left eye was quite shut up, and my
upper lip was tremendously swollen and cut.  No wonder that Miller and
Martin had been surprised when they saw me.

He smiled grimly, put the glass down, and just then a Chinese servant
came in and spoke to him.

"I have some food ready for you; come and take some, it will do you
good," he said, and led me into the next room, where there was a big
bowl of hot soup.  The sight of it made me feel ill; but I swallowed a
little, and found that it was doing me good, and managed to get through
it all.  It was jolly painful to put the spoon in my mouth.

He told me that he had sent some food up to Martin and Miller, and that
an old native who "doctored" for him was coming soon.

He seemed strangely worried, and couldn’t sit still.  I should think
that quite a dozen Chinamen must have come in whilst I was getting
through that soup and soaking bread in it.  They all seemed very excited
when they saw me.  Most of them scowled at me.  Several of them were
plump, prosperous-looking men, jolly well dressed, but others looked
more like soldiers or sailors, great bony, leather-skinned,
fierce-looking fellows.  He seemed to have trouble with them, and once
or twice spoke very angrily. I noticed, too, that whenever any of them
came in, he put his hand to his pocket.  I think, from the bulge, that
he had a revolver there.

He didn’t look in the least fierce, except when he was angry—not at all
like a man who could have done all those wicked things—and I began
wondering whether he could really be the man everyone had been cursing.
I suddenly thought of Mr. Travers, and blurted out, "We’ve got Mr.
Travers back—that lieutenant you caught"—and, like the conceited ass I
am, said, "I found him."

"I know," he said bitterly; "I never wanted to take him along; it was
either killing him or taking him prisoner, just as it was with you and
those two men.  He fought like a demon, simply threw himself on us, and
had a revolver, too.  I had to knock him on the head and take him along.
You’d better not let those people you’ve just seen know that you were
the one who found him.  They’ve vowed to torture every one of those
junks’ crews who fall into their hands."

I wished then that I hadn’t spoken.

He began working himself into a passion, and his face did look wicked.
He was tall and lean and very good looking, and he clenched his fists,
and jerked his arms about, and began cursing everyone—Captain Lester,
the Admiral, Mr. Hoffman, himself, and Mr. Hobbs.

"How are they?  How’s Sally?" I asked; but he didn’t seem to hear the
first time, and raved about his cursed bad luck.  Presently I asked
again.

"I wish to heavens I’d never set eyes on either of them."

"Why don’t you send them back to us?" I asked.

"Send ’em back?  I daren’t; my life isn’t worth an hour’s purchase now,
and they’d never let me.  They’d kill them first, and me too.  I don’t
run this show—not really; it’s run by some of those Chinese
mandarins—two or three of those who’ve just been in here.  They think
that as long as Hobbs and his daughter are in their hands they can get
theer ransom, and that your old fool bull dog of a Skipper don’t dare
touch them.  They want me to marry the girl—to make it more certain."

"We thought that you were trying to marry her," I said stupidly.

"That’s nothing to do with it—nothing to do with you," he jerked out
very fiercely.

"If your fool Captain will run his head up against us, I shall have to
marry her to save her life and mine too."

"That’s what those fat, oily-looking beasts want to do, and want me to
do; and those other bloodthirsty rascals want to cut their throats and
have done with them, say they’ve only brought us trouble, and wish to
get back to their old established pirate business," he added, sneering.

"I’ve got them in the only strong walled house in the town, and I’ve got
a hundred of my best men to guard them, but I can’t trust ’em."

"If I’m caught I hang," he began shouting—I really thought that he’d
forgotten me—"and if she knows that it will save my life, I believe she
will marry me.  If things go wrong I go, and directly I go, you all
go—Hobbs and all of you, and the poor girl too" (he clenched his hands
across his forehead).  "We’ve the scum of the Yangste here. They’d cut
my throat for a cent if I left off being useful to them, and they’ll cut
all your throats for pure devilment."

He sank down on a chair and stared in front of him.

I had dropped my spoon and was very frightened.

A man came running in with a letter, talking very fast. He gave a horrid
smile when he had read it.  "It’s from your fool Captain.  Wants to know
whether you’re alive, and says if any harm comes to you, he’ll do I
don’t know what."

"Go back upstairs and don’t move till I tell you;" and he sat down at
the writing-table.

"Please tell the Captain that I’m well, all but my arm, and that it was
my fault that I was captured, not the Commander’s," I asked him, because
I had been worrying about that all the time, and knew that the Commander
must have had an awful time with Captain Lester, and that that would be
unfair.  I knew jolly well that I’d made an ass of myself, and made
things worse and more difficult for everyone by getting myself and
Martin taken prisoners.

He nodded grimly.

"Do tell me whether they all got away safely last night?" I blurted out.

"They left one marine dead, no one else."  He began to work himself into
a passion again.  "My men almost got out of hand last night—I’d a hard
job to keep them back—and if that old fool of yours lands again I shall
lose all control over them.  He won’t believe what I wrote to him, so
I’m going to write it stronger this time.  If he comes lumbering along
here they’ll all see ’red’, and kill every white man they can get hold
of—and woman."  Then he suddenly came across and gripped my shoulder.
"A thousand years ago—eight hundred years ago—a girl wouldn’t marry a
man unless he did something to win her—sacked a town and carried her
off.  Now they want flowers, and chocolates, and candies, and pretty
speeches—ugh!"

Then he grew calmer.

"Go along up now—Ford your name is, I see—and wait till dusk.  I’ll try
and get you all over to that walled house. It’s your only chance."

I was just going, when he called out, "In case anything happens, you had
better take this," and he opened a drawer and pulled out a revolver and
a couple of packets of ammunition.  "They say it’s easier to die
fighting," and he turned his back on me.

Feeling very frightened, and not quite understanding what he’d been
talking about, I crawled upstairs, the Chinaman outside the door scowled
at me, opened it and shut it after me, and I heard him swing the big
wooden bar into its hole.

Martin and Miller were asleep—they evidently had had a jolly good
meal—and presently a funny, jovial, fat old Chinaman came along and
looked at my arm.  He took my coat off and cut the sleeve of my flannel
shirt, and the arm was a most horrid sight, absolutely all mottled
purple from the elbow to the shoulder.  He showed me two tiny holes,
made a "poof" noise with his lips, darted his finger as if it was a
bullet, and nodded at me kindly.  Then I knew that it was a bullet that
had broken the bone.  He put on cotton wool and proper splints and
proper bandages, and slung the arm up to my side and across my chest,
under my shirt, and helped me on with my monkey jacket, and sewed my
sleeve to the side.  Really the old chap made me very comfortable.

He woke the others too, and did Martin’s arm—the collar bone was
broken—and cleaned Miller’s head, and then went away, apparently quite
honoured at being able to show his skill.  I quite loved the old chap,
and he made me so comfortable that I lay down, and when my head was
quite still it did not throb so much, and I got in a jolly good sleep.

I woke and found the room quite dark, and Miller and Martin both
snoring.  My head was quite clear now, and I felt much stronger, groped
about, and managed to get hold of that bowl of water, drank a little,
and then propped myself up against the wall and wondered when that
Englishman was going to take us away to Mr. Hobbs and Sally.  It was so
exciting to think that I should see them soon, that I really forgot that
we were prisoners for some time; but then, after waiting and waiting,
and hearing nothing except those snores, I began to feel frightened and
miserable.  I could think now without my head burning inside, and then I
thought how I had muddled up all Captain Lester’s plans, and "washed
out" all that I had done for him.  If I had only been man enough not to
have minded Captain Marshall’s chaff, I shouldn’t be here, with my arm
broken and a prisoner, and with Martin too; and I was so wretched, that
I wished that I had been killed instead of Tuck, that marine whom I had
seen fall and dig his nails into the ground.  After all I had been
longing to do, it had simply come to this, and I snivelled a little, in
the dark, for there seemed to be nothing more worth living for.

Presently there was a loud boom a long way off, and almost directly
afterwards, the sound of a very big shell bursting.  That wasn’t very
near either, but I knew jolly well that nothing could make that noise
except one of the _Vigilant’s_ eight-inch guns, and I could feel my head
throbbing inside again with excitement, and wondered what was happening.
Then more came, and other smaller ones, from quite a different
direction.  I had seen an opening in the wall—you couldn’t call it a
window—just outside the door, and I thought that perhaps the Chinaman
would let me look out; so I groped round until I felt the door, and
rapped on it with my knuckles.  They didn’t make much noise, and I
kicked it with my feet, and then listened to hear if anyone moved; but
there wasn’t a sound.

I tried to shake the door, and it seemed to "give" towards me, and then
to stick in the frame—I felt certain that the wooden beam was not in
place—but I couldn’t make it budge any more.  I woke Miller, and he came
across and got his fingers in a crack and pulled, and the door creaked
and opened, almost knocking me down. We peered through the darkness and
listened, and presently I could hear a clock ticking—it was that old
clock I had seen in the Englishman’s room.

"I’m going down," I whispered to Miller.  "Help me off with my boots."

I got them off, felt that the revolver was still in my pocket, and began
creeping down that spiral staircase, keeping to the outside and feeling
the wall with my one hand.  Every step creaked most horribly, and I
waited, trembling, each time, but nothing happened, and then I had
turned the corner and saw the bottom, and that some lamplight was coming
out of that room.

"Are you all right, sir?" I heard Miller whisper; and I whispered back
and felt braver, and got out the revolver and crept down.  I couldn’t
hear the clock, because my heart was beating so horridly, but I got down
to the door and looked in.  There was a lamp burning on the
writing-table, but not a soul there, and I went through, very softly,
into the room where I had had that soup, and there was another lamp
burning there, and any amount of food on the table.  It looked as if
someone had only just finished a meal—a book and a fork were lying on
the floor, and the chair had been upset.

There was a dark place beyond, with a flickering light in it, as if a
fire was burning; but I wasn’t plucky enough to go in there, ran back to
the foot of the stairs, and could just see Miller’s scared face looking
down.  I beckoned to him to come down, and he did so, making an awful
noise, and Martin came too.  They got hold of one of the lamps, and I
didn’t mind going into the kitchen place then.  It was quite empty;
there was no one there.  A funny-looking kettle hung over a small wooden
fire, on a big flat stone, and was singing very quietly, and there was a
saucepan full of cooked potatoes.  They were quite warm, and I seized
one and began to eat it.  It was jolly good.

Miller and Martin were so hungry, that they forgot everything else, and
ran back to the table and began "wolfing" food.

I had never thought of escape till now; but it flashed across me that
perhaps we could get away, and I went back to the foot of the stairs and
followed a long passage, towards where I felt some cold air, and
suddenly came to an open door, and put my head out.

You know what happens when you open the door of a rabbit hutch, and the
rabbits come and pop their heads out, and swizzle their noses and blink
their eyes, and look as if they didn’t believe it, and run back again?
Well, that was exactly how I felt and what I did.  I ran back to Martin
and Miller and told them, and they left off eating and came along with
me, and we all three looked out.

It was quite dark, except for some stars overhead, and it seemed to be a
small courtyard.  We stepped out very gingerly—I had my revolver in my
hand again—and we searched round, and found a high wall all round, and a
very big door all studded with iron bolt heads, and with several thick
beams across it.

We couldn’t hear any noise near us, but there was a funny murmuring,
buzzing sound some way off, and just like the sound of the mob at
Tinghai that night of the fire, and far away we could hear big guns, and
shells bursting.

"That’s our old eight-inch, sir," Miller whispered, as one especially
loud report shook the door.  "I expects the old man—beggin’ your pardon,
sir, Captain Lester—is coming along to look for us."  The smaller
noises, right in the other direction, he said was probably the
_Ringdove_ and the _Oh-my-eye_ on the other side of the island (the
bluejackets called the _Omaha_ the _Oh-my-eye_). We couldn’t really
quite understand why they were firing, but it was jolly comforting for
all that.

I wondered what had become of the Englishman and the Chinaman who had
been guarding us, and the servant, and wished he would come back to take
us to that house on the hill.  Now that I had a revolver, I thought that
I might still be some use in defending Sally, if once I got there.

I slipped back into the house to see if perhaps he was lying down on the
bed and I hadn’t noticed him, but he wasn’t.  The clock showed a quarter
past eight, and I knew that it must have been dark for more than an
hour, and felt frightened.  The noise of the mob seemed to be getting
louder and nearer too, and I ran back to Miller and Martin, who were
still near the gateway.

Just as I got to them we heard some feet pattering along the street
outside, and then more and more, and they stopped outside it and began
pressing against the gateway, and then began banging at it with
something hard.

The bangs seemed to go right through me.  I was awfully frightened.

More people came rushing along; there was a fearful din outside; we
heard something scrape against the wall, and someone scrambling up.  I
looked up and saw a man’s head just above me.  He was crawling over the
top, and was just getting his legs over.  I let my revolver off and he
dropped back again, though I don’t think he was hit, and the crowd began
yelling like mad.

A rifle went off, the door splintered, and something flew past me.
Martin pulled me to one side.  "Keep out of the way, sir;" and the two
of them hunted round for some piece of wood or other, and came back with
some thick sticks.  Stones began dropping over, and we crouched under
the wall to dodge them.  They came in hundreds all over the courtyard,
and knocking up against the house.  There was a terrific crash against
the great gates, and they sounded as if they were giving way.

"We’ll be scuppered, sir," Martin groaned.

"Run for the house," I whispered; and we rushed back. One stone nearly
hit me, and I heard a thud and Miller cursing; but we all got inside and
slammed the door, and fumbled about to find the bolts.

"Go and get a lamp, sir," Miller shouted hoarsely—Martin was too
frightened to do anything except get in our way—and I darted off.

As I ran along the passage I heard my name shouted, "Mr. Ford, Mr. Ford!
Where are you?" and a short, grey-bearded European came rushing out of
the kitchen place.  I thought at first that it was the Englishman, but
it wasn’t.

"Show us how to bar the door," I cried, and he came running with me.

"Quick, mon, quick!  Bar it up—that way; there’s the lock—not that way,"
and he shoved Miller aside and shot the bolts in.

I was too frightened to ask him who he was, and even to remember that I
hadn’t any boots; but Miller sprang up the stairs and brought them down.
The man, whoever he was, wouldn’t let me put them on, so Miller tied the
laces together and hung them over my neck.

"Follow me!" the Scotchman yelled impatiently—I knew he was Scotch by
his accent—and we ran through the sitting-room to the kitchen, and then
we crept through a narrow door.  He disappeared into the house, but came
back, and I saw him shove a big key into his pocket.

"Be varry careful," he whispered, and we groped our way down some
irregular stone steps.  We could hear them still banging away at the
courtyard door.  I kept on bruising my feet and toes in the cracks, and
stumbling, but the old Scotchman always seemed to keep me from falling;
and at last we seemed to be at the bottom, and near some water—I could
hear it lapping against the stones.  "Hush!" he whispered, and bent
down, stretched out his hand, got hold of a rope, began hauling it in,
and a native boat came sliding up, out of the dark.

"Get in—quick!" he whispered, and we all stumbled in, one after the
other, and he jumped in after us.  Right above us I could see two
lighted windows, and knew they were those two rooms, and as he shoved
off we heard a splintering sound—the big door had given way—and heard
the mob rushing across the courtyard, yelling in the most fearful
manner, and begin banging at the house door.

I had hurt my arm again getting into the boat, and the pain of it must
have numbed me, because I quite well remember that I wasn’t so
frightened then as I ought to have been.

We could just see the strange man standing up in the stern, swaying from
side to side, and working a scull as the boat wriggled through the
water.

"It’s aboot twa hours afore high water, and we’ve the flood wi’ us, the
Lord be praised!" he whispered.  "Keep down oot o’ sight," and we tried
to squirm down into the bottom of the boat below the gunwales.

He stopped and stooped down, and we saw that he was putting on some kind
of a Chinaman’s coat and a native cap.

Then he went on again.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                       *Mr. Ching to the Rescue*


    Just in Time—Too Late!—In Hiding—Mr. Ching Arrives—Death of Mr.
    Hoffman—The Attack on the House—The Vigilant Signals—The Fog
    Increases—Searching for Rifles—Ford finds the Ammunition—Ford
    Saves the Situation—Waiting for Daybreak


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


We went wriggling along through the dark, and presently began to pass
between junks—heaps of them.  You could see nothing but their tall
leaning masts sticking up like slate pencils.  We dodged in and out, and
sometimes a voice would sing out from one of them, and we would huddle
down in the bottom of the boat, whilst the Scotchman replied in what I
suppose was Chinese, and pushed on.

We must have gone like this for nearly twenty minutes, I should imagine,
and then he stopped to take a breath.

"Who are you?  Where are you taking us?" I whispered; but he didn’t
answer, and, changing his hands, went on pushing the scull from side to
side very vigorously, but stopped a minute or two later and looked
behind us, where we could all at once see a great red glow, which showed
up the junks we had just passed.

"They’ve set a light to the boss’s hoose," he whispered; "they’ll be
after seeking the little lass the noo."  And he worked harder and
harder, and the shadows got darker and the water more narrow, and I knew
that we were getting under some high land, and wondered whether we
really were being taken to that house on the hill. Up over our heads we
could hear a lot of talking and wrangling, and suddenly a rifle went
off, and then another, and we could hear cries, and presently all was
quiet again.

My heart was simply thumping against my side.

"God grant we be in time," I heard him say to himself; and he stopped
sculling for a second, peered through the darkness, and then shot the
boat in till it rasped against some stones.

"Get oot!" he whispered.  "Doan’t talk a word, and jest follow me."

We got ashore as quickly as we could.  He had a piece of rope in his
hand, and made us all take hold of it, and we followed him along a steep
path.  We hadn’t gone ten yards when there were more rifle shots and
more yells.

"The Lord be praised! they’re still shooting ’em," he said, and hurried
along all the faster.  I could hardly keep up, and the stones hurt my
feet.

We seemed to be making a long curve away from the noises and the water,
and he kept on losing the path, and we had to shove our way between high
bushes, which scratched us; but then we turned to our right, and could
see the top of a high wall right in front of us.

He broke into a run, we dropped the rope, and ran after him up to a
small door.  He fumbled for a moment with the lock, it opened, we crept
in, and he shut it again.

We were in a garden place now, pitch dark, and he led us across it
underneath some trees with low branches. The noise of rifles seemed to
be right in front of us, and we came to the walls of a house with not a
light showing. He knocked at a door; nothing happened.  We rushed round
to the other side to a smaller one; he tried his key again, and it
opened, and an old Chinese woman with a tiny lamp in her hand, and her
mouth open with fright, was looking down at us.

The Scotchman turned to me.  "Go in there; Hobbs and his lassie are
there.  Get them here in two minutes; I’ll be back then.  We must get
them away.  Quick, for God’s sake, boy!" and he disappeared.

I went in, and heard Sally’s voice singing out—very frightened and very
sad, it seemed, "Who’s that?  Is it Captain Evans?"

"Midshipman Ford of the _Vigilant_," I called out, not knowing the least
who Captain Evans was.  "We’ve come to take you away."  My aunt!  I was
proud then; for it suddenly struck me that, after all, I should be able
to do something for Captain Lester.  Everything had really seemed to
work out right, and I expected Sally to come tearing down, and was jolly
glad that there wasn’t enough light for her to see me; but instead, I
heard a sob and then a fall, and guessed what had happened.

The old woman brought her light, and I saw that she was lying all in a
heap.  I hadn’t the least idea what to do.  "What d’you do for a faint,
Miller?" I asked. "You’ve been through ’first aid’."  I was frightened
again, and didn’t know what to do; but the old Scotchman came rushing
into the house, picked her up, took her into another room, and shook
her.  Miller had got hold of some water and shoved it over her head, and
she tried to sit up.

"Where’s Hobbs?  Where’s your father?" he called to her loudly; and she
pointed through another door. And we found the little man lying in bed,
looking ghastly; he looked an absolute skeleton.

He began to curse the Scotchman, but I stepped between them.  "I’m
Midshipman Ford of the _Vigilant_, sir, come to fetch you and Miss
Hobbs.  You must come immediately; these are two of my men."

I must say that we didn’t look very respectable, but we were good enough
for him, and he crawled out of bed and began to dress.

"I’m too weak to walk much, but reckon I’ll do it if it ain’t far.
You’ve been a tarnation long while finding us," he grumbled.

I don’t think that I liked him very much.

All this time the noise outside was awful—rifles firing, crowds of
people yelling—and stones began to patter against the shutters.  The old
Scotchman couldn’t wait any longer, wrapped the little man in a long
Chinese coat, lifted him off his feet, told Miller to bring Sally along,
and ran out of the house.  "So long as the boss’s people keep firing,
it’s all right," he told me; and then I saw Miller lift Sally in his
arms, in spite of her struggles, and we all followed, stones flying past
our heads and rebounding from the walls.  We went across the garden
under those trees, and made our way back to that small door.  The
Scotchman put Mr. Hobbs on his feet, and I heard him trying to get the
key in the lock; but just as he was going to open it, there was the
sound of a whole lot of people running towards it, and they threw their
shoulders against it and began talking very softly.

I was very frightened again, and I heard the Scotchman moan: "Too late!
We’re done for!" and we all fled back to the house.

The front of it was now all lighted up with a red glare, showing above
the top of the wall.

"They’re setting fire to the huts," he cried; "go up to the top room.
Take them up there, bar the door at the front, and block it up with
tables—anything."  And he rushed off, came back for his revolver, which
he had given to Martin, and disappeared.

"Guess Sally Hobbs ain’t a ten-cent doll," I heard her sob.  "You can
put me down right away."  She led us along some passages, up some steps,
and then to the foot of a ladder.  The little man got up it like a
monkey, and she followed him.

"Draw it up, and let it down when you hear us call," I sang out; and
then we went back and began to pull along tables and benches and boxes,
everything we could find, and piled them up behind the door in the front
of the house.  Before we had finished, the Scotchman came running up
with his hands over his head.  "We’re fair lost!  God be merciful to us!
The boss’s men want to know where he is, and won’t hold out many more
minutes unless he turns up.  They want to open the gates; say they’ll
get their throats cut if they don’t. Jorgensen has been killed—down in
the town—two hours ago—down by that six-inch gun."

"Can’t you do anything?" I asked quickly.

"No, mon, they hate me; and I fear they’ve killed the boss, and no one
else can keep them in hand.  They’re all round us, and they’ve tasted
blood, and the mandarins themselves couldn’t stop them.

"Hark!" he said, "they’re beating down the little door in the garden
wall.  Oh, God, they’ll be right here in a moment!"

I was in an awful funk, though not for myself, I think, but more because
of Sally.  When one isn’t in a funk for oneself it is easier to keep
one’s head.  I don’t think that Miller or myself cared a scrap what
happened to us, so long as we could keep Sally safe.  The Scotchman told
us to bring any heavy things we could find to block up the door at the
back, and then ran off and brought some rifles and bandoliers.

We bolted the door and piled everything we could find against it, and
then ran round, barring the shutters.  We didn’t need any lamp, because
the red glare streamed through the cracks and lighted up the whole
place.  The old woman had disappeared.  Then we picked up the rifles and
bandoliers, and he led us to the ladder, Sally crying out and lowering
it.  We all swarmed up and drew it after us.

The room was a small square place, with stone walls and narrow
openings—you could hardly call them windows—in each wall.  They were
closed with iron shutters, and the one looking over the front was open,
and the whole place was lighted up.  The Scotchman and I looked out, and
it was a most awesome sight.

Down below, about twenty yards from the foot of the house, was the wall
and the big gateway, and behind it were the Englishman’s men, stooping
down to load and then popping up and firing.  They seemed to be standing
on some kind of platform or ledge, and were not taking the trouble to
aim.

Out beyond there were flames pouring up from half a dozen huts, and we
could hardly hear their noise because of the fearful shouts and yells
from a dense crowd of people in between us and them.

They must have seen our faces in the light of the fires, for they yelled
more loudly than ever, and we could see them bending down and then
throwing stones at us. Stones began clattering against the outside wall
all round us, and one came flying into the room, and I heard Sally sob
with fright.  We drew in our heads and closed the shutter, but before I
drew in mine I am certain that I saw one of the Chinamen inside the wall
point his rifle at us and fire.  The room was almost dark now, except
for one streak of light which came through a gap at one edge of the
shutter, and just made light enough for us to see each other.  Mr. Hobbs
was lying full length on the floor near a wall, and Sally was lying down
too, with her head on his chest, and moaning.  I did wish she would
leave off, because it made us all so much more frightened.

Directly we had closed the shutter, stones began clattering against
it—and, I’m certain, some bullets too—and we heard a rush, and the mob
charged the big gateway.

We could still hear the ships firing.  "My God, I wish they’d come!" I
heard Miller mutter; and that was what I had been praying all the time.

The noise at the back of the garden seemed to have stopped; but the
firing from the wall was easing down too, and the Scotchman groaned out,
"They’re going to leave us;" and Sally, who seemed almost "off her
head", kept on moaning, "Why doesn’t Captain Evans come?"

I felt that I should go mad in a minute if I didn’t do something.
Miller must have thought the same.  "It’s no use sitting ’ere to get
killed, sir.  Can’t we do something?  Can’t we fire at them?  We’ve got
three rifles."  But the Scotchman wouldn’t let us open the shutter.

"Keep still, mon; they haven’t all left us yet," and we could still hear
a few rifles firing from inside the wall.

Just for something to do, I began pulling on my boots—they were still
tied round my neck with the laces—and it was awfully hard work with only
one hand, and they were all sodden and stiff; but Miller helped me.  We
had just finished, when suddenly there was a rush of feet underneath us
at the back of the house, and a furious battering noise on the shutters.

"They’ve broken in!" the Scotchman groaned, and Sally shrieked and
buried her head in her lap.  Miller seized a rifle and jumped across,
pushed her out of the way, opened the shutter at the back, and leant
out.  I saw him load it, and he was just going to fire, when there were
cries of "Sally!  Sally!  Open the door!" and more hammering.

[Illustration: "HE WAS JUST GOING TO FIRE"]

We jumped to our feet.  Sally shrieked that it was Captain Evans come to
save her, Miller roared "Who’s there?" and we heard someone sing out,
"Who are you? Is Sally safe?"

I knew the voice; it was Mr. Ching’s, the Lieutenant on board the _Huan
Min_.  I forgot all about my arm, and jumped over to where Miller was.
"Get out of the way!" I cried, and yelled down, "Midshipman Ford of the
_Vigilant_.  There are six of us up here, and Miss Hobbs is all right."

"Come down and let me in."

"Right you are, sir!" I shouted, and drew in my head.

"Isn’t it Captain Evans?" Sally asked me.

"No.  Mr. Ching of the _Huan Min_"

She moaned and began crying again.

We lowered the ladder and scrambled down, pulled the things away from
the door at the back, and opened it, and there was Mr. Ching and twenty
or thirty of his men, all crowding round.

I could only say, "Thank you very much, sir," and should have blubbed if
I’d tried to say any more.

"Hoffman brought us, showed us a path up from the water.  He’s gone to
try and keep order.  Can she come away at once?"

I don’t know what I was going to say.  It didn’t make any difference,
because the noise at the other side of the house suddenly grew fearfully
loud, and we heard the gates give way and swing back with a crash, and
the mob rush through with frightful yells of triumph. Mr. Ching gave an
order, and ran round to the front of the house, and I found myself
following him with Miller behind me.

Some more men joined him at the corner, and then we came out into the
glare and saw the bright gap in the dark wall made by the gates being
open, and a mob sweeping up to the house.  They had torches and blazing
tufts of straw on poles.  A few of the Chinamen inside the wall were
trying to keep them back, but I could see most of them dropping over the
wall outside.

Mr. Ching’s people fired a volley into the mob, and then another, and
some shots came from the room I’d just left—the Scotchman and Martin
firing, I expect.

The mob didn’t seem to have expected any resistance, and stopped and
left off shouting.  I could see many of them throw their hands up and
fall, and there were shrieks and screams, the blazing bits of straw fell
on the ground and were trampled out, and they began to fly back through
the gateway.

I was swept along with Mr. Ching’s men, and found myself in the gateway.
Some of them were swinging back one side of it, and pulling aside bodies
which were in the way.

Someone was trying to crawl away as the big gate swung towards him.  It
was Mr. Hoffman.  I could see him well, and just managed to pull his
legs clear as it swung to.  He didn’t recognize me.

"You hurt, sir?" I asked him.

"Shot through the chest; get me into a corner.  Is Sally safe?"

Miller was nowhere to be seen, and I couldn’t make any of the _Huan
Min’s_ bluejackets understand.  They were too excited.

"Try and get hold of me; get hold of my coat."

He grabbed at my left side; I gave a yell with the pain of it.  "Not
that side; the other, sir," and he got his fingers into the slit of my
other pocket and drew himself on his knees, spitting blood out of his
mouth and coughing.

Supporting himself like that, and with the other hand on the ground, he
managed to crawl back to the house and then rolled on his back.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I’m Ford of the _Vigilant_."

"Thank God you are safe!  I’m dying.  Bring Sally to me;" and he coughed
again.

"It’s not safe for her here; I’ll try and get you round to the back."

I heard my name called, and ran towards the gate, and there was Mr.
Ching looking for me.  "Where is Hoffman? Are you all ready to start?
We can keep them off for a time," he panted.

I pointed to where Mr. Hoffman was lying.  "He’s shot through the chest.
He’s dying.  He can’t move."

Mr. Ching groaned.  "We shall have to stay here till daylight.  I can
never find my way back without him."

I forgot about the Scotchman.

The last of his bluejackets rushed back through the gate, the other half
were swung across, and we were in darkness again, except for the glare
over the top of the wall.  Bullets were now spattering against the front
of the house, and bits of plaster were trickling down, and we knew that
the Chinamen from inside must have joined the mob.  Mr. Ching rushed off
to place his men round the wall, and I went back to Mr. Hoffman.  He was
trying to pull himself up against the side of the house, and I gave him
my right shoulder to lean upon, and we got round to the back like that
and to the door; but he couldn’t drag himself over the boxes and piles
of things heaped there, and lay down with his head on the stone slab,
half in and half out of the door.

"Get me some water and bring Sally," he whispered. "I’m finished.  God
have mercy on me!"

I couldn’t see his face—it was so dark—but his voice sounded awful.

I was trembling all over, and scrambled in and called out for Sally.  I
forgot to call her Miss Hobbs.

She was still in that small room, and I heard her crawling across the
floor.  I heard the Scotchman and Martin firing out of the window too.

"What is it?" she asked in a scared voice.  "Are we safe?  Has Captain
Evans come?"

"Come down with me.  Mr. Hoffman’s dying, and wants to see you."

She wouldn’t come for some time; and when she did come she was trembling
all over, and I had to steady her with my right arm along the passage.

We found a tin with some water in it, and I took her to Mr. Hoffman,
where we could just see him lying.

"Thank God!" I heard him whisper, when she bent over him.

I went away, wanting to cry.

Then I suddenly remembered that the Scotchman could guide us down to the
water, and ran off to find Mr. Ching, but couldn’t.

Miller appeared from somewhere.

"That old Scotchman could guide us back," I said. "Where’s Mr. Ching?"

"That ain’t no good, sir," he said.  "They’re all round us now, ’undreds
and ’undreds of ’em, an’ ’e’s got only fifty men with ’im."  Then I
noticed that bullets were coming from the back of the house as well, and
heard furious firing near the little gate by which we had entered.

"That Chinese Lootenant is over there now, sir."

I went across for him, but couldn’t find him.  His people were outside
the little doorway, firing into the dark, and he must have been there
too, and I didn’t dare to go out.  I couldn’t see a yard in front of me.

I think I must have been too absolutely "done up" then to do anything
more, and I really forget what I did and what happened.  I know that I
sat down on a stone somewhere near that small doorway, and rested my
head on my knees, and squeezed my left arm to change the pain of it.  I
know that rifles were going oft all round me, and people were shrieking
and yelling, and sometimes I heard Miller’s voice shouting; but
everything seemed to buzz round in my head, and nothing seemed to matter
in the least.

I rather fancy that my idea was to wait there till Mr. Ching came back,
and tell him about the Scotchman.

I was roused by hearing the door slammed and being nearly knocked over.
Mr. Ching saw me.  "Get along back to the house," he gasped—his face was
streaming with blood—"I can’t hold the walls any longer.  I have not
enough men;" and he more or less lifted me to my feet and gave me a
push, and I went staggering along with my legs giving way under me.

I remember seeing Mr. Hoffman lying flat on his back, with his face
turned up and his eyes looking at me, and remember speaking to him; but
he didn’t answer.  Sally wasn’t there either, and I stepped across him,
and somehow or other found myself stumbling up the ladder into that
room, and heard Sally sobbing in a corner.  I was shivering, and my
teeth were chattering, and that horrid sick feeling came on again.

Just as I got to the bottom of the ladder a stream of fire shot up
across one of the windows, and I heard a rushing noise, as if it were a
rocket; but I didn’t take any notice of it, for everything seemed to be
going round and round People crowded up after me, and pushed me aside,
and began firing out of the windows, and the room felt stuffy and full
of powder smoke.  Sometimes someone would give a cry, and once someone
fell across my legs, and I tried to pull them from under him, but
couldn’t, and let them stop there, and remember that the weight was
pulled away presently, and I was pushed nearer the wall, and someone
gave me some water.

                     *      *      *      *      *

The next I remember was recognizing Miller’s voice; it sounded muffled
and cotton-woolly and very far away. He was saying: "The Chinese
Lootenant wants to know if you can take in Morse[#], sir.  The
_Vigilant_ is signalling. We fired a rocket an hour ago to let ’em know
that the _Huan Min’s_ men were ’ere, an’ we’ve been tryin’ to take in
their signal."


[#] Morse code for signalling at night by means of long and short
flashes of a lamp.


"I can’t take in flashing lamp," I told him, trying to make my brain
work.

"It ain’t flashing lamp, sir; they’re adoin’ it with a searchlight, and
very very slow, sir, an’ the Chinee signalman what came along with ’im,
sir, is dead, sir.  You’ll ’ave to come along pretty quick too, sir;
there’s a ’orrid fog been shuttin’ everythin’ out ever since, but it’s
just cleared off for a time.  The wind’s gone round to the south, and it
’as been as thick as pea soup."

I told him that I would try, and got him to help me up. I knew that I
could read it if it was slow enough, and my brain would only remember
properly.  We had to go to the other end of the house, and I don’t know
how Miller got me down that ladder.  I know that I slipped and was
caught at the bottom, and my left arm was wrenched again. The pain
seemed to wake me up, but I had to grind my teeth and sing out.

Miller helped me along the passage and made me stoop down when we passed
a window, because the shutters had been thrown back and men were
standing at them firing out, and sometimes bullets were coming in.

"How are we getting on?" I asked him.

"Pretty middlin’, sir.  We’ve only had about three killed and two or
three wounded, and we can keep the skunks out of it when we can see
them, which we can’t always do on account of this ’ere blessed fog."

He helped me up some steps, and then up a short ladder.  Someone hauled
me out of a small square opening, and I saw that there was nothing but
fog all round drifting slowly past.  I heard Mr. Ching’s voice: "Can you
take in Morse?  I’ve forgotten it, and my signalman is dead—shot half an
hour ago;" and he pointed to a huddled-up figure beside him.  "They’ve
been trying to signal through the fog ever since I fired that rocket,
and he got one or two words, but it’s been too thick till now.  They’re
just starting again."

I did my best to pull myself together, and asked him where the
_Vigilant_ was, and followed his finger, pointing through the mist, and
suddenly saw a very faint searchlight beam sticking straight up.

"Don’t stand up; kneel down," he whispered.  "They are firing at us."
So I knelt down very quickly.  Just seeing that beam made me buck up,
and I watched it very steadily.  I had only just knelt down in time, for
a bullet came flying past, and made me crouch still lower.

Then the beam began to wag very slowly—long sweeps down to the ground
for "longs", and short ones only half-way for "shorts".

"Get your knife and scratch ’longs’ and ’shorts’ on a tile as I sing
them out," I told Miller, and heard him do it.

This is what I took in: "... rst ... tenant to Lieutenant Ching (full
stop).  Captain landed with one hundred and fifty men two hours ago
(full stop).  Afraid dense fog has de——"  Then the beam disappeared as a
thicker bank of fog rolled across; but it was grand news, and I wanted
to cheer for joy, and kept my eye fixed on the same spot, and presently
the beam showed again, and I spelt out: "rocket if Midshipman Ford,
Armourer’s Mate Miller, Private of Marines Martin is with you."

"They want another rocket fired, sir," I told him.

"I haven’t any more rockets," Mr. Ching said.  "We only brought one; the
others were left in the boats by accident."

The beam started again.  "First Lieutenant to Lieutenant Ching (full
stop).  Captain has——"  They were repeating the signal, but then the
beam disappeared entirely, and we could see a white wall of fog creeping
along the ground, and even swallowing up the trees underneath us.

"They ought to be here soon," Mr. Ching said, "if only they can find
their way."

He sent a man round with the news, and we could hear his bluejackets
making a funny cheering noise.

I felt ever so much better, and simply being able to take in that
signal, and be of a little use, cheered me up wonderfully.  It was so
grand to know that the Captain had landed with so many men and was
coming to our rescue. I knew he would come just as quickly as he ever
could, and oh! I did so long to see him, whether he was angry or not,
and to tell him that it wasn’t the Commander’s fault—not in the least,
and to know that Sally and all of us should be safe.

"Does Mr. Hoffman know?" I asked Miller.  Mr. Ching had sent me down
again, and had come down too, see how his men were going on.

"He’s been dead this last hour, sir."  He was dead when we had to come
back to the house, and we dragged him in after us.

I did feel so sorry, because we should never have found where Sally was
but for him, and he had done so magnificently; and I knew that the
Captain would be so sorry too, especially as Mr. Hoffman had beaten him
at weight lifting.

"You go and get some more sleep," Mr. Ching told me; but I felt so much
better, that I implored him to let me stay with him, and he did.

"We are doing all right, aren’t we, sir?"

"So far; but this fog makes it difficult for us to see them, and I fear
they may try and rush us.  We have not much ammunition left."

We went all round the house, and he spoke very cheerfully to all his
men.  They were at all the windows with their rifles pointing out, and
peering into the fog. One or two men were wounded, and sitting with
their backs to the wall.

"I am going to tell the news to Hobbs and his daughter," Mr. Ching said,
when we had come to that end of the house.  I had been going to ask him
if I could do this, but he said it so curtly, that I thought he wanted
to do it by himself, so didn’t go with him.

"You have a lot of blood on your face, sir," I told him.  "I hope you
aren’t hurt much."

"Only a stone," he said; but he wiped it off, till I told him there was
no more showing—he wiped it off very carefully—and then went up the
ladder.

Miller hadn’t the faintest idea what time it was—somewhere about
midnight, he thought.  We were standing near one of the open shutters,
and could just see the three or four bluejackets who were guarding it.
Outside there was simply a grey black wall of fog.  It had settled down
so thickly, that you couldn’t see a yard from the house, and was
drifting in through the windows all damp and beastly.  Everything was
pitch dark; I couldn’t see the flames at all (as a matter of fact, the
huts had burnt themselves out, but I didn’t know that); and Miller told
me that everything had been pretty quiet during the last half-hour,
nothing except an occasional shot, and that the Scotchman and Martin
were still in the upper room.  "We had a stiffish bit of business
getting back to the house, sir.  There seemed to be thousands of them on
top of us, but they seem to have cleared off—some of them—and I’m
thinkin’ they may be after going for the Captain’s party."

"Have you heard nothing of them—no firing or anything like that?" I
asked; and when he said "No", asked him if he thought they would be able
to find their way to us.  He scratched his head and wouldn’t give an
answer.

"It’s lucky, sir, you picked up that bit of Morse, sir; it’s put new
life into all of us."

I was so proud and conceited of myself, that I told him to go and lie
down, and that I would look after the lower windows.

"No, I dars’n’t, sir; they’re keeping quiet now; but I’m dreadin’
they’ll be tryin’ to rush us.  I durs’n’t, sir.  We’ve only got about
ten rounds a man left, and it may come to bayonet work, sir, afore we
get through the night."

There really wasn’t a sound coming from outside, and it all seemed so
dark and moist and "creepy", that I really had a most horrid feeling
"inside".

Mr. Ching came down the ladder.  "She’s asleep," he said, and I knew
that he was disappointed.  He began going round the men at the windows,
seeing that the ammunition was distributed equally.  Some men had only
two or three rounds left, and I knew by the sound of his voice that this
worried him very much.

One of his men brought round a huge bowl of boiled rice, and the
bluejackets scooped it out with their hands and stuffed it down.  They
brought another one for Mr. Ching, and he shared it with Miller and me
and the Scotchman and Martin.  It was jolly good and jolly warming, and
I have never forgotten it; and now, whenever the messman has a lot of
scraps left over, and gives us curry in the gunroom, I think of it and
of trying to save the bits of rice that wouldn’t go into my mouth, and
of that horrid fog.

Mr. Ching was talking of the possibility of getting some ammunition by
searching all the dead Chinamen between the house and the wall, but then
he remembered that the bluejackets’ rifles wouldn’t take the pirates’
cartridges.  They were using Mauser, and his men had only a very old
pattern rifle.

"Why couldn’t we bring in rifles too, sir?" I said. "There must be heaps
of them lying out there;" and then, without thinking what I was going to
do, I sang out to Miller to give me a "leg up", and scrambled through
the window, and slid down on the ground underneath.  Miller slipped down
alongside me.

"Come back," I heard Mr. Ching say, but not very determinedly, and I had
such a lot of "leeway" to make up for all the stupid things I had done,
that I would not have gone back for anybody.  You see, I thought that I
might do something useful, and also I was rather ashamed that Mr. Ching
and his men should have done everything and we so little.

"Give me two bags," Miller whispered; and Mr. Ching handed out two
things like haversacks, and he slung one over my shoulder and one over
his.

"Tell your people, sir, that we’ve gone, in case they think we’re
pirates, please;" and then we crept along until we found the door in
front of the house.

"Most of them are in the path to the gate," Miller whispered, and we
groped along it.

We hadn’t gone five yards before my foot struck something soft, and it
was a body, and I felt it all over, but couldn’t feel any cartridges,
and there was nothing either on the ground all round.  I found several
more without ammunition, and then, presently, a couple by themselves,
with two rifles lying on the ground close by.  It was ripping to feel
their cold barrels, and the men had full bandoliers round their waists.
I couldn’t take them off by myself, so whistled for Miller very softly,
and he came over to me.  He had found another rifle and a good number of
cartridges.

"Better take these back," he whispered; and we did, groping our way
through the fog, and handed them in at a window.

I knew that there ought to be a good many on that ledge under the wall,
where I had seen the Chinamen standing to fire over it, and told Miller.

"Right you are, sir!  Let’s try;" and we shoved off into the fog again.

"Is that gateway still closed?" I asked him.

"Been smashed over an hour, an’ they’ve been swarming all over ’ere, up
to ’arf an ’our ago, sir, just where we are now, sir."

Phew!  I’d never thought that the pirates had been right inside the wall
again, and I’m certain that I never should have come if I had—I’m
positive about that.

I was fearfully nervous, and I think Miller was too, and we stopped and
listened, and tried to peer through the fog.

We couldn’t hear a single thing, and started out again. Then I ran into
a tree, and the wet leaves and twigs scratched across the raw part of my
face, and I let out a little "yelp", and we stopped to listen once more.

"We’re too much to the right, sir," Miller whispered, and we both kept
close together and moved towards the left.

We came on the wall all of a sudden, and felt that ledge.  There still
wasn’t the least sound of anyone moving.

"You go that way, sir, and I’ll go the other," Miller whispered, and
left me, and I felt my way along towards where I thought the gateway
must be.  I felt any number of empty cartridge cases, and every now and
again my fingers clutched a loaded one, and I slipped it into the bag;
and I felt a rifle and was awfully pleased, and slung it round my
neck—it was jolly difficult to do it with only one hand, and jolly
uncomfortable too. Presently my foot hit up against some big wooden
thing, and I knelt down and felt it, and thought it must be a part of
the gateway, and that I must be right in the opening.  That made me
frightened, and I crept across and bumped into the other side of the
door; it was simply swung back.  I had kicked another rifle, but hadn’t
the pluck to go back and fetch it.

I just held on, trembling all over, and waited and listened, and then
started again, following the door round till I got to the wall, and
there, the first thing I felt, was a box on the ledge, right in the
corner between the door and the wall.  I felt it all over; it had a
square hole in the top, and my hand went in and—oh! it was such a jolly
feeling—it was nearly full of paper packets of ammunition.

It was too heavy to lift with my one hand, so I began to whistle very
softly for Miller, and waited for him to come.  I heard his whistle, but
almost at the same moment I heard someone moving on the outside of the
wall.  I knew that it couldn’t be Miller, and I do really believe that
my hair stood on end with absolute funk. I couldn’t have whistled again
if I’d tried, and could not have run back to the house, however much I
wanted to, because my feet wouldn’t—absolutely wouldn’t—move an inch.

There were more than one coming.  There seemed to be a long string of
them, and there was a funny rustling sound against the wall, as if they
were carrying something soft, and they began coming round the doorway,
some of them stepping on that rifle that I had kicked, but not picked
up.  The gate door was pushed back on me, and I squeezed myself into the
corner against the ammunition box, and they began running past me, going
along inside the wall—away from where Miller was.  I could hear them
breathing hard, and held my breath, till I thought I should burst, and
thought they must hear my heart thumping—it was thumping away like
anything.  I’m not at all big, and I huddled down so close, that they
went by without finding me, though once or twice something brushed my
face, and knew by the touch and the smell of it that it was straw or
hay, and that that was what had made that rustling sound.

I guessed directly what they were going to try to do—pile it up against
the house and set fire to it.

I waited till the last one had gone, and then I managed to get to my
feet, and heard Miller’s whistle, very close, on the other side of that
door, and that started my legs working, and I ran, stumbling, back to
the house, with Miller after me.  We bumped up against it; I don’t
remember getting inside, but only remember telling Mr. Ching everything,
and that the Chinese seemed to be following the wall in order to get to
the back of the house.

"The left side of the gate door doesn’t seem to be damaged, sir," I told
him; "they swung it back on me."

He made up his mind in no time.  "They’ll try and burn down the door at
the back, there’s no window from which we can shoot them," and he gave
Miller ten men to go and close the left half of the gateway, whilst he
took another ten and slipped round to drive the Chinese across to him.

He wouldn’t let me go.

"Keep the rest of the men at the windows," he said, and disappeared in
the fog.  I ran round the windows to see that the men were there
properly, and then went and stood behind the things piled behind the
door at the back and waited.

It seemed like twenty minutes—it probably was only about one—and I was
trembling with excitement, and when a little piece of mortar or
something fell down the wall, I nearly yelled with fright.  Then I heard
the rustling noise again, and heard a bundle pushed against the bottom
of the door, and then another and another.  All of a sudden Mr. Ching’s
voice shouted, and there were cheers and shrieks, someone fell against
the door with a soft noise, and there was the noise of people scampering
all over the ground outside.  A volley sounded out from behind me—the
crash seemed to come through the windows—and more shouting and yelling,
and I couldn’t think what that meant, because the men with the straw
couldn’t possibly have got round there by that time.

I ran round to one of the windows at the front, and was just in time to
prevent some of the bluejackets jumping out.  We couldn’t see anything,
not even the flashes of the rifles at the gate.  But the firing died
down almost at once, and then people began running past the house, and
we could hear them panting, and heavy blows and shrieks, and knew that
Mr. Ching’s bluejackets were chasing them. It was awfully weird, knowing
all going on round us, and not being able to see anything.

Some of the bluejackets were so excited, that they did scramble out to
join in the killing, and Martin and the Scotchman called out, from the
top of the ladder, to know what was happening, and I heard Sally, very
scared, asking too.

The noises stopped, and we could hear our people calling to one another;
and we all shouted to let them know the way, and they gradually began to
come back, climbing through the windows and panting for breath, several
of them wiping their sword bayonets.

"Did you kill them all?" I asked Mr. Ching.

"Most of them, I think.  You’ve done us a good turn—very lucky that you
saw them."

He had left half a dozen men at the gateway to give him warning if they
made another attempt, but Miller himself came back and brought that box
of ammunition and two more rifles with him.

Mr. Ching was very pleased with these, because we now had altogether
eleven Mauser rifles and seven or eight hundred cartridges.

It was grand, and I forgot all about the mistakes I had made, and my
arm, and only longed for the fog to clear away and to see the Captain
stalking through the gateway, and Blucher—I knew that Blucher would be
there—smelling the bodies and wagging his tail and looking up at him,
thinking he had shot them.  It was splendid to know that it was partly
due to me that we had driven them off, this last time, and that I had
found all that ammunition.

"What were you firing at?" I asked Miller; and he told me that a lot of
Chinamen had tried to rush through the gate—not the men with the straw
bundles, but others from outside.

"We gave ’em ’gip’, sir."  He was very happy.

Mr. Ching told me afterwards that they had some tins of paraffin to
throw over the straw.  Wasn’t it lucky that I had spotted them?

Sally was awfully sweet to Mr. Ching, said that he had saved her life
twice, and was so nice that he ferreted round and got her something
hot—tea, I think.

The old American was still sticking to his corner; I don’t think that he
had moved all the night.

After we had spoiled their little game they let us alone, and all we had
to do was to take it in turns to lie down and sleep, and when we were on
watch, to listen for any sign of Captain Lester.

The ships hadn’t fired since the fog had come on.  We had wondered what
they had been firing at all the time.

You can just imagine how we did long for daybreak, and for that beastly
fog to clear away.

A long time afterwards Miller came up to me; he was very excited.

"Listen, sir!  Listen!  The Cap’en’s a-comin’."

I jumped up; it was still pitch dark, and the fog just as thick as ever,
and then I heard far away the noise of Maxims—tut-tut-tut-tut,
tut-tut-tut-tut.

"Them’s Mary and Jane, sir, right enough."  Those were the names the men
had given the two Maxims which we used to drill on field-gun carriages.

"They’ve been firin’ for the last twenty minutes, sir."

The Captain’s coming at last.  Hurrah!  I couldn’t help giving a shout
of joy, and ran off to tell Sally, but Mr. Ching had told her a quarter
of an hour ago.

"Guess I’m right tired," was all she said to me, and began crying again.
I know she had something she wanted to ask me, but didn’t like to.

She didn’t seem half as pleased as I thought she ought to be; but that
didn’t worry me at all, and I went round the men who were talking and
chattering, and I grinned at them in the dark, and I’m sure that they
grinned back.  I could have hugged them, they were such fine great
fellows, and Mr. Ching squeezed my arm—not the bad one—and said, "We’ve
saved Sally Hobbs all right, Ford."

I was absolutely happy, and felt jolly hungry at the same time.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                       *"Old Lest" takes a Hand*


    Holding on—"Old Lest’s" Sorry—The Marine Lands Again—"Old
    Lest’s" going on—In the Fog—The Fog Lifts—After them!—The Maxim
    Gun—Keeping ’em on the Run—Shelling the Town—Resting—"It’s Boss
    Evans!"


                 _Written by Captain James A. Marshall,
                      Royal Marine Light Infantry_


Fancy me writing a book, or rather, helping to write one. I know a good
lot of people will think the world’s coming to an end, or that I’ve
turned over a new leaf, and am becoming really a credit to the family.
It’s about time I did become a credit to them, poor things!  I should
imagine.

When I was asked to drive the giddy nib, I laughed. Laughed! why, I’ve
never laughed so much since father died, as a dear little girl from
Massachusetts told me once, when I tried to cheer her up, after that sad
event had happened to her family.

We tried to get old "B.-T."[#] to wield the flowing pen, and tell of all
his heroic deeds, but—well—he wasn’t taking any—thank you kindly—and
they got me to take on the job.


[#] Lieutenant Gore-Travers, known as Bored-Travers, or "B.-T."


You see, whilst old Truscott, the Commander, was lying on his downy
couch with a bullet in him somewhere, he couldn’t be expected to know
much of what happened outside him, could he?  Old Mayhew, our boss
doctor man, wouldn’t say where the bullet really was.  Why, bless your
soul, he wasn’t going to give himself away, not he, and hung round
Truscott’s cabin with a face as long as a jews’ harp whilst he was
outside it, and as round and smiling as a Dutch cheese with a slice out
of it when he went in.

It was all because that silly young ass Ford saw "red" that night we
landed with my chaps to have a bit of a plugging match, whilst Whitmore
went off with a No. 9 detonator and something in the gun-cotton "line"
to blow a gun of sorts.

He thought that he was half-back in a "footer" scrum, or something like
that, charged the whole blooming pack of Chinese, got "offside", and was
collared and carried off the ground before we could get the referee to
sound his whistle.

We argued it out with them for a while, but when old Truscott was
doubled up with a bullet in him (you’d better ask Mayhew where), and two
or three of my chaps had had holes made in them, we had to drop back to
the battery, and couldn’t even bring away Tuck, one of my men who’d been
killed.  They were so jolly anxious to make our acquaintance, that it
was all we could do to hold on behind the wall, and the bank on the
beach, till Whitmore had said goodbye to his chums and got aboard the
cutter. Even then we couldn’t have got away, if young Withers in the
barge hadn’t dropped a few gentle hints with his Maxim and emptied a
couple of belts.

We pulled away back to Lawrence, who was waiting for us in the steam
pinnace, and I ought to have been standing up in the stern sheets,
waving my gory, glittering sword over my head and singing, "With a long,
long pull, and a strong, strong pull, cheerly! lads! pull away", to
encourage the sailor men.  The only reason why I didn’t, was because in
the last rush to the boat I’d got a clap over the head which knocked me
silly, had been plumped down in the stern sheets, and didn’t know
anything about it till we’d got aboard the old _Vigilant_.

I opened my eyes to find myself in my own virtuous bunk, daylight
starting the flies skylarking, and Grainger, my servant, the trusty,
faithful and never-to-be-forgotten one, poking me to see if I was still
alive.  I had the dickens of a headache, and at first thought it was due
to the usual cause; but Grainger held up the serge frock[#] which I had
worn the night before, and I remembered what had happened.


[#] Serge frock is a tunic made of serge, worn on undress occasions.


"That were your second best serge frock, sir," he said sadly, when he
had recovered from his surprise at finding me alive.  "Cost you four
pun’, three-and-sixpence—with postage, sir."

It was soaked with mud, and had a bullet hole through one sleeve.  There
was a dark patch of blood, too, just in the centre of my manly bosom,
which Grainger never could wash out.  Whose blood it was I never knew,
and old Mayhew threw things at me when I afterwards asked him if he
could examine it, and see if it belonged to a Chinaman whom I had opened
up a little during the scrap.

"We ’aven’t paid for it, ’ave we, sir?  We couldn’t send it back as a
misfit or some’ow, I s’pose?  I knew you’d being doing som’ut like that,
sir, if I let you wear it, and your third best pair of trouses is all
split over one knee another three-pun’-ten gone slosh, sir—that is, if
they won’t take ’em back, and there’s another of our hye-glasses gone
too."

He shook his head reproachfully at me, and told me that I’d had a crack
on the "nut".  When I pressed him as to who had been so kind as to see
me safely home, he wouldn’t answer, but went on brushing the mud still
more firmly in.

"Beggin’ your pardon, sir, I hauled on your legs—a little," he said at
last.  "An’ I’m feared that ’twas I who split them trouses."  He said it
as if he didn’t think he’d done a very praiseworthy thing in probably
saving my life; possibly he hadn’t.

"I’ll double your pay, Grainger; ’twas jolly good of you.  Hope you came
out of it all right?"

"I came out of it all right.  I don’t go ashore on one of these ’ere
shows with my second best things on.  Thank you very much, sir, but
you’ve forgot to pay me anything for the last three months."

I knew that perfectly well, and it closed the discussion. Financial
matters are peculiarly distressing to me in the early morning.

He roused me presently with "’Ere’s your usual breakfast, sir," and put
down a tray with a bottle of soda water and a biscuit on it, and looked
amazed when I clambered out and demanded shaving water and a bath.  It
was somewhat out of my ordinary routine to turn out much before 9.30,
and he, I saw, thought that that crack on my head had affected my brain.

The old Skipper came in whilst I was dressing.  I had never seen the old
chap so gentle.  "I’m all right, sir, thank you—right as a trivet—my
head’s the only part of me which would have stood it.  Very sorry we
couldn’t do much for you last night.  How’s the Commander?"

"Umph!  Can’t say.  Mayhew can’t say either.  Pretty bad, I fear.  The
others are doing all right.  Ran you up against a bigger thing than I
thought.  ’Old Lest’s’ sorry."

"Fortune of war, sir.  I’m paid twelve-and-sevenpence a day for it by a
grateful country—less income tax."

The dear old chap grunted and went out again.

It wasn’t till I went into the ward room that I heard that, besides
young Ford and Tuck missing, Martin, one of my chaps, and Miller, an
armourer belonging to Whitmore’s party, had been left behind.

The Skipper sent a boat to try and communicate with the pirates, and
find out whether young Ford and these two men were alive and kicking.
The boss pirate man was most polite, wrote back that they were doing
well (we didn’t know whether that meant that they were wounded or not),
and implored the Skipper not to attack the island again, as he was
certain that it would provoke a massacre, or something equally
unpleasant, of all the Europeans there, including little Sally Hobbs
herself.

He added that he was keeping his prisoners, and as they would probably
be the first victims, he thought this knowledge might add force to his
entreaties to be let alone.

He didn’t know "Old Lest"—not by a long chalk.

The _Huan Min_ turned up during the morning, and that chap Ching (he was
a good enough chap to have been a marine, if they had luxuries like that
in the Chinese navy) and the skippers of the _Goldfinch_ and _Sparrow_
came across to the _Vigilant_, and had a regular pow-wow, talkee-talkee
in the Captain’s cabin.

Ching was to land at sunset with some fifty of his men, and Hoffman was
to go with him and guide him across country, straight to the walled
house on the hill.  They were to get through at all costs.  It was
Ching’s own suggestion; he and Hoffman thought they could do it, and I
knew they would, if it was possible.  Whilst he made a dash for the
house, all the ships were to plug shell at two places in the island,
some distance from the town itself, in order to distract their
attention.

Hoffman wasn’t exactly dead, but that was about all you could say.  He
must have had an enormous amount of vitality, or whatever you call it,
to keep "going". He looked most ghastly ill.

It was determined that every man we could fit out with a rifle and other
conveniences for hurrying his "dear brethren" into eternity was to land
from the _Vigilant_ and the four gunboats about an hour after Ching, and
the whole day was spent in communicating with the _Ringdove_ and the
_Omaha_ and completing these arrangements.

I’ve always longed to be a pirate myself, and the next best thing was to
have the job of collaring one.  My detachment were just as keen as I
was, especially after last night’s shindy, and we fell in again and
prepared to land, and have another go at ’em, as cheerfully as ducks in
a thunderstorm.

"Ever shoved it into a ’uman afore, sir?" Grainger asked me, whilst he
was helping me on with my sword and leather gear.  He’d been polishing
it outside my cabin, on and off, all day long.

"Never; nothing bigger than a cockroach."

"Well, sir, it ’ull be some’ut to ’ang up in the ’all at ’ome when we
draws our pension.  Won’t it, sir?"

"If we don’t have to pawn it," I told him, and went off to look at
Truscott.  Poor chap! he was worrying about what would happen to his
wife and kids if he "pegged out", so one couldn’t do much to cheer him.
He was very down on his luck.

We were a goodish bit behind time getting ashore, as the very dickens of
a fog came up from the south and wrapped us in its "blissful mantle of
white", as the young padré would have said if he’d been there.  It was
beastly annoying, and took all the gloss out of my moustache; but old
Lawrence got us round to the back of the island somehow or other,
chiefly by the sound of the _Ringdove’s_ guns, I think.  Of course, he
jolly well pretended that he did it with a boat’s compass and a pair of
parallel rulers on a chart he’d made.  Bless me! I never could
understand why navigators make such a song about their job; it’s easy
enough—shove on till you hit up against the shore—push off again and go
on—that’s all that’s wanted.  I bet I would navigate any ship you liked,
anywhere you liked, if she’d stand a bit of bumping sometimes.  I’ve
often asked Lawrence to let me try, but, funnily enough, he won’t.

I’d had an awful job with Grainger to let me wear my other serge
tunic—my best one—and it was only by telling him that I wasn’t going to
bring discredit on "The Corps" by being found dead in the one I’d worn
last night, that he let me wear it.

"I make it a rule in life," I had told him, "never to wear any serge in
more than one battle," and he had gone away muttering that "he supposed
that they hadn’t either of ’em been paid for, and never would be, so it
didn’t hardly matter, though he was blowed if he knew what I was going
to wear to-morrow".

Some of his statements were remarkably accurate. We had brought along
one of Hoffman’s Chinamen to guide us, but, bless me! by the time we’d
got ashore, with wet feet, we couldn’t see two yards in front of us. The
fog was as thick as pea soup, and it was like trying to wade through
velvet.

I had a pocket compass—we all had—and Lawrence had given us the course
we were to steer, but I’m jiggered if I know how we got along at all.  I
was supposed to be in front, with people thrown out on either flank, as
laid down in the "drill book", but it was all I could do to keep them
bunched up together, touching each other, and the section leaders
bawling out, every minute or two, to give the others a notion where they
were.  My old sergeant-major nearly wept because he couldn’t know
whether they were "dressed" in proper line.

We stumbled through it somehow, going on for two minutes and halting for
five or ten, whilst they hauled one of our Maxims along on its carriage
behind us, and the shouting that went on to know who was there, and
where who was, was enough to wake the dead.

The Skipper landed with us, in an old pair of shooting-boots with huge
soles on them—the two-to-an-acre kind—and with a big oak stick in his
hands.  Young Ponsonby came as his "doggy", and Whitmore had brought
Rawlings as his.  My marines—Langham with the machine gun section, old
"B.-T." with "A" company, and Trevelyan with "B" company—brought our
"field state" up to a hundred and fifty-four, all of them _Vigilant’s_,
and Barclay came along with a dozen stokers as stretcher-bearers. About
two miles to our left, farther along the island, the other landing
party, which was supposed to make for the walled house, with Sally in
it, and join hands with us there, should have commenced their march
already, but we hadn’t the faintest notion whether they’d been able to
find the place to land.  The skipper of the _Omaha_, Captain John A.
Parkinson, U.S.N.[#], was to have been in command, and to have had forty
men from his own gunboat and thirty each from our three with him,
bringing their brigade up to a strength of one hundred and
forty-two—that is, with a few details of stretcher parties.


[#] United States Navy.


We only hoped that they’d been able to find each other and get ashore.

"’Old Lest’ don’t care whether they come or not," the Skipper growled to
me, when we’d run up against each other in the fog.  "’Old Lest’s’ going
on.  Umph!"

Even Blucher was unhappy, and wagged his tail doubtfully. He had never
been on a shooting expedition like this before, and he didn’t know quite
what to make of it, or the fog, and stuck to the Skipper like a leech,
for fear of losing him.

We had heard a lot of desultory firing going on, even before we had
landed, and couldn’t quite understand it, as it came more from the
direction of the walled house than from where Ching should have been;
but we did not worry much about that.

We found ourselves running up against huts and bamboo fencing about two
hours after we’d landed; but there wasn’t a single soul there, and as we
were getting out of them I happened to bump into Trevelyan, who’d lost
himself.  We were wondering what had become of the inhabitants.

"They’ve gone into town to the theatre, and supper afterwards at the
Savoy or the Carlton, I expect," he said jokingly.

"I jolly well wish I had," I said.

That set me thinking of the good times I’d had in London, and I forgot,
for a second, all about the beastly island and the beastly pirates, but
woke up again with the sound of heavy firing—volleys, too—from the same
place from where we’d heard the firing before.

"That’s Ching," I thought; "he’s got his hands full."

We ran into some people ourselves in front of us, heard them yelling,
and heard their footsteps, but never saw them.  There must have been a
goodish lot of them, to judge by the noise they made, and sometimes they
fired rifles, and bullets went by, overhead, but they didn’t worry much,
and we pressed them before us.  Eventually they got all round us,
yelling "blue murder", but daren’t come near enough to be "spitted",
which was a pity, as their noise was very irritating, and made the men
jumpy.

There was no sound of the other little brigade having landed, and in
about an hour after the heavy firing had started, it died down again.
We were rather worried lest this meant that Ching had failed, but an
occasional shot coming from the same direction told us that, at any
rate, he was still holding on.  I don’t believe that we made half a mile
in the first three hours, the fog and darkness were so intense that one
actually couldn’t see one’s hand.

A halt was called—for the hundredth time, I should imagine—and presently
the Skipper came up, singing out for me, and being passed on from one
section to another. "The first bit of firm ground we come to I’m going
to stop there," he growled.  "It’s no use going on like this.  I haven’t
the shadowiest idea where I’m going."

"Not the foggiest, I imagine you mean, sir."

"Umph!" he grunted.

He rather liked my polished wit.

It really was the most extraordinary sensation you can imagine, to go
lumbering along at this snail’s pace, and to hear those fellows just
ahead booing and yelling, and to hear them running towards us, shouting
something rude and unladylike and running away, without ever seeing a
soul.

We ran up against a bank shortly afterwards, and stayed there for the
remainder of the night, the fog sometimes clearing away slightly, but
always shutting down, like a blanket, directly we thought of moving on.
We found a little gap in the bank for the Maxim, and formed more or less
of a hollow square all round it, with my chaps lining the bank.

We let rip a few rounds from it whenever we thought we could hear a lot
of those fellows close together, and thought we managed to wing one or
two.  We certainly found two dead pigs in a sty alongside a hut, about
fifty yards away, when the fog did clear away next morning.  Ask
Whitmore about his Maxim gun and the two pigs; but see that you’ve got a
clear start first!

We made ourselves as cosy as we could—from a "drill book" point of view,
I mean—and had to be on the alert all night.

The Skipper and Whitmore paced up and down behind the Maxim gun, the
Skipper smoking cigar after cigar, and worrying a good deal about not
being able to get on.  Old "Blucher" came across to me presently, to
where I was sitting on the trail of the Maxim gun, eating some
sandwiches which Grainger had brought for me, and telling yarns to young
Rawlings and Ponsonby to pass away the time.  He sat down between my
knees and finished off the gristly parts of the beef inside the
sandwiches, and wanted his ears played with.  He wasn’t at all happy,
and the noises all round us and the yelping of dogs had got on his
nerves.

I had thrown out half a dozen marines as sentries—only ten yards in
front of our bank—and one or other of them kept on letting off their
rifles and scooting back.  I had to lead them out again, firmly but
gently.  It’s bad enough on an ordinary dark night to have to do sentry
business, but in this fog, when you couldn’t see anyone till he touched
you, it was only the steadiest old soldier who could "stick" it.  I was
at last compelled to keep walking from one to another myself, and spent
most of the night doing this.

There were one or two, what you might call, "incidents".

One happened, once, when I’d brought Rawlings and Ponsonby with me, and
stumbled over a Chinaman, crawling along the ground.  He fled like a
rabbit, but the two mids were on him like terriers, I shouting all the
time for them to come back.  There were two or three revolver shots,
which started all my sentries easing "off", and then back they came,
bubbling over with excitement. It was lucky that my chaps hadn’t shot
them.

"Bagged him?" I asked.

"Rather!  Got him with my second; he ran into a tree," Rawlings said,
but Ponsonby was much too excited to speak.

The other incident occurred just before we shoved on again.

I had put one of my "bad hats"—an old villain who spent most of his time
doing "cells" and 10A[#]—on the extreme left of the line of sentries,
and I thought I had heard a bit of a scuffle somewhere in his direction,
and presently managed to find him.  He was standing over a Chinaman,
perfectly unconcerned.  "Killed that ’ere little lot, sir; crawled up to
me and was going to knife me—the dirty thief; did it with this
bagonet—’arf an ’our ago, sir."


[#] 10A.—A particular scale of punishment.


"I wonder you didn’t shoot him," I said.  And he snorted, "There’s
plenty as would ’ave," and gave the body a kick, "plenty as would ’ave,
and waked the ’ole blooming camp."

When he was eventually relieved, he dragged it back with him to show his
pals, and kept the knife as a trophy. The fog began to clear away about
six o’clock in the morning, and as it gradually became possible to see a
few yards ahead, we shoved again.  We had just got up to the hut and
pigsty I told you about, and were chaffing Whitmore about the effect of
his Maxim, when we heard, about a mile off, the report of a gun.  The
Skipper came swaggering up, his fierce old eyebrows covered with fog
(all of us were as wet as drowned rats with it)—"What’s that, Marshall?
What d’you make of that?  Field gun, eh?"

"Sounds like it, sir;" and we heard it fire again, and it went on
regularly at about three or four minute intervals. We could hear
volleys, too, all from the same direction, and felt pretty certain that
good old Ching hadn’t let them have it all their own way.

"It means that they’re shelling that house.  Umph! And that means that
Ching has got inside it," the Skipper growled, rubbing his great hands
in delight.

"Shove on!  They’ve been waiting for us too long already;" and he came
along with me, Blucher yawning behind him, and wondering, I suppose,
when his job was coming on.

Directly we had moved forward we stirred up some Chinamen in front of
us; but they were not giving us much trouble, and we now felt a breeze
in our faces, and saw the fog streaming across our front.  Almost
immediately afterwards we heard firing away to our left, where the other
"landing party" ought to be, and were jolly pleased, and knew that the
fog must have "lifted" over there as well.

"We shall have it clear in another quarter of an hour," the Skipper
growled, and went back to hurry everyone forward, for that gun ahead of
us was firing regularly, and made us all rather dread what was
happening.

We were getting on some high ground now, making fine progress, and
almost before you could tell when it happened, or how long it took to
clear, the fog had swept past us, and, quite suddenly, we saw frightened
Chinamen flying in front of us, to take cover behind a bank somewhere
about a quarter of a mile away.  I couldn’t help laughing to see them
tumbling over each other in their hurry to escape, now that the fog had
uncovered them. We bagged a good many before they got over that bank.

"Don’t give ’em any time; after ’em, Marshall," I heard the Skipper
shouting, and we simply did a record sprint, "Blucher" going on ahead of
us, thinking that his show had come along at last, and barking loudly,
like the useless, untrained, old brute he was.  We were over that bank
before they could fife half a dozen shots, and had bayoneted half a
dozen before you could say "Jack Robinson".  My men were so glad to get
a sight of the fellows who’d been worrying them all night, and were so
keen to pay them "out", that there was no stopping them.  Those few
shots, though, were quite enough for old "Blucher", who went yelping
back to the Skipper, with his tail between his legs, more mystified than
ever.

The ground sloped upwards behind the bank, and we were after them like
redshanks.  I knew that Trevelyan with "B" company was somewhere on my
right, and that "B.-T." was coming along in reserve, and that the Maxim
kept chipping in occasionally; but I had all my work cut out to keep my
marines in hand, and did not pay much attention to anything else.  One
or two of my chaps got bowled over before we got to the top of the
slope; but we were up it and over it in a "jiffy", and saw the cowardly
brutes running down the other side, dodging in between some native
graves and some big boulders, and shooting up at us.

I made my men halt and take cover to get their breath, and waited for
the Skipper.  He came grunting and puffing after me.

After that beastly night, it was grand to be able to use one’s eyes
again, and see where we were and what we were doing.  The ground sloped
down from our feet to a little shallow valley of paddy fields,
intersected by banks and small irrigation streams.  It rose again on the
opposite side to form a ridge about eight hundred yards away, a little
tree-topped ridge, with the walled house, where Ching and Sally and all
the rest of them were, at its right end, and a few huts on its left end.

As the Skipper came up, I saw a cloud of white smoke burst out from
behind those huts, and heard that gun fire again.  I pointed it out to
him.

"There’s someone showing on top of that house, sir," Trevelyan sang out.

"Where’s one of the signalmen?" the Skipper roared. "There you are—are
you—wave something; get on top of that hut and wave your flags."  (We
were standing close to a small mud hut.)

"He’ll draw their fire all right," I chuckled to Trevelyan—there were a
good many bullets flying past us—and when he did scramble up to the top
and begin waving his semaphore flags, they left off firing at us, and
paid all their attention to him, bullets whistling round him and
smacking up against the side of the hut.

"A jolly good ’wheeze’ that," and Trevelyan winked at me.  "You must put
that in your blessed drill book, eh, soldier?"

The signalman stood there with his telescope between his knees, calmly
trying to attract attention, whilst the Skipper stood below and cursed
him, and "Blucher" went smelling up every time a bullet splodged against
the mud wall, and then ran away, thinking people were throwing stones at
him.  He didn’t know what to make of this picnic.

"There’s someone waving on top of that house," several sang out; and we
saw someone "wagging" a long stick.

"’E’s only got one arm, whoever ’e is," the signalman muttered, "an’ ’e
don’t know much about Morse."

"It’s Mr. Ford, sir," he sang out.  "He says, ’All well so far—Mr. Ching
here—gun doing damage’."

"Splendid!" we all shouted; and just then the signalman came toppling
down with a bullet through his leg, and sat there holding it and looking
very white.

Old Barclay was on him in a moment—terrible keen chap he was.

When we looked again, young Ford had disappeared. I expect that he had
found it a pretty warm corner up there.

Old "B.-T.’s" little lot in the rear were having trouble now.  They were
below us, at the foot of the slope we had just climbed, and were lying
down and shooting at a crowd of Chinese clustering round the huts near
that pigsty.

"We must have got round ’em in the fog," Trevelyan chuckled.

"Where’s that darned Maxim?" the Skipper roared. "Get it up here."

Young Rawlings rushed away to hurry it, and it came rattling up,
Langham, who was in charge of it, and his men panting and tugging for
all they were worth.

He was ordered to try and stop that gun firing, and then fat little
Ponsonby was sent flying downhill to tell Travers to leave the Chinamen
alone and come along after us.

The Maxim gun began its "tut-tut-tut-tut", "B.-T." and his chaps came
bounding up the hill, and we all roared with laughter as little Ponsonby
came running after them, his eyes and mouth wide open with fright at
being left behind.  "B.-T." was sent down the slope in front of us, with
his company, to clear out the chaps who were sniping us; and very
prettily he and his two Mids, Jones and Withers, did the job, whilst
Trevelyan looked after the brutes in our rear.

They were simply swarming down there behind those huts, and there was
not the least doubt that we had got round their main body in the fog.
They did not dare to come out in the open, and were keeping up a very
wild fire at us.

Langham couldn’t get near that gun, and just as it fired again, and
someone had sung out that they could see stones and bits of wood flying
from a corner of the house, we saw Chinamen streaming across the paddy
fields on our left, running and turning, and firing backwards.  We could
hear heavy firing from somewhere out of sight, and the noise of another
Maxim and the chip-chip of a Colt automatic gun.

We all knew that it was the gunboat’s brigade driving the Chinese in
front of them.

"The other chaps will be there before ’Old Lest’, if we don’t get a move
on.  ’Old Lest’ ain’t going to be beaten by them," the Skipper grunted,
and sent me and my marines flying down into the paddy fields below us,
after Travers, who had halted and taken cover behind a bank on the other
side of them, just before the ground began to rise gently up towards the
walled house, and where the gun was a little farther to the left.

"Take ground to your left, and both of you ’go’ for that confounded
gun," the Skipper had roared after me. "I’m coming along after you."

It’s all jolly fine to tell one to charge along through paddy fields.
Grainger was just behind me, and I felt sorry for him, because I kept on
going in up to my knees in beautiful, rich, black mud, and knew that he
had his eye on me and my second best pair of trousers.  But we got up to
old "B.-T." all right, and I shouted for him to come along and shove on
for the gun, got my men extended well to the left, gave them a
"breather" whilst he swung his men a little to the left as well (brought
his right shoulder up, as they say in the drill book), and then off we
went, howling and cheering, straight towards two little white huts
behind which the gun was still firing.

Whitmore appeared from somewhere and took charge (he was the senior),
Rawlings and a bugler boy legging it after him for all they were worth.

A good many bullets came whizzing past, and I saw chaps dodging about
round those huts and under some trees.  My men were coming along well,
and old "B.-T." with his long legs was sprinting along in front of his
chaps like a camel.

Away to the left people began cheering—"Rah!  Rah! Rah!"—and I knew that
came from the _Omaha’s_ crowd, and wasn’t going to be beaten by them.
Nor was more either; and though I knew that the "show" was not quite
according to the "drill book", I wasn’t going to let the "U.S.N." or our
gunboats get there first.

Young Wilkins, running just behind me, gave a cry and fell; I heard the
old sergeant-major cursing and hurrying on the men; we got in among the
trees, my chaps half a dozen paces behind me; a chap got in my way and
fell down—I suppose I did it; two or three fellows rushed out from the
side of a hut and came for me with swords; but the well-beloved Grainger
wasn’t going to let them damage my best "serge", if he could prevent it,
and we got rid of them between us.  "B.-T.’s" chaps and mine were now
all mixed up.  There were a few "bickerings" going on round the huts and
among the trees, and then we saw the gun standing by its "lonesome", and
went dashing across to it.

One of "B.-T.’s" able seamen was the first to get to it, Whitmore and
Rawlings close behind, and "B.-T." and I made a dead heat for fourth
place.

"Don’t ’hee-haw’ like a jackass," Whitmore said, when he’d got his
breath.  "What’s to be done now?"

I’m hanged if I could help laughing at the sight of old "B.-T." legging
it, with little Withers, only about half his height, trying to keep up
with him.

"Give us a cigarette, and don’t be an ass, soldier!" "B.-T." sang out.
"Your legs are funnier looking than mine, any day."

"Drill book, Whitmore, old chap!  Drill book!  When you’ve got ’em on
the run, keep ’em on the run," I said, when I could stop laughing, and
he agreed, and "B.-T." agreed, and we got our people together and
followed them. As we left the gun we saw the _Omaha’s_ people "doubling"
up to it.

We must have followed them for the best part of a mile, I should
imagine, but they ran a jolly sight faster than we could.  We were
pretty well "winded", and when we’d driven them back to the outskirts of
the town, they rallied there, and we had to pull up and go back again,
carrying along three fellows who’d been knocked over in the last hundred
yards.  They began pressing along after us, and a lot of chaps—some of
those who had run away from the other brigade—began worrying our flank,
streaming across the paddy fields and firing at us.  We managed to keep
them back, alternate sections lying down and firing whilst the others
ran back fifty yards and lay down in their turn, and covered the retreat
of the first little lot.  A nice little show it was too—all done
according to the drill book—and when we’d got back to within a hundred
yards of the walled house, and were passing through the remains of a lot
of burnt huts, young Ponsonby came running up with orders from the
Skipper to halt there and take up a position.

"He’s pretty angry, sir," he told Whitmore; "he’s been sounding the
recall for the last half-hour."

The fact was that the Chinese hadn’t yet had a sufficient lesson, and
didn’t quite know what it was to run up against us in the daylight, and
were now coming for us "hammer and tongs".

Instead of going back to the walled house, and bending on one knee
before Princess Sally as her gallant knight, who had lost a couple of
eyeglasses, and spoiled serge frocks, two in number, and two pairs of
embroidered overalls—bills not yet paid—in her service, and receiving
her gracious thanks, I had jolly well to dodge beastly bullets for a
couple of hours.

The old Skipper often came round, with "Blucher", to see if things were
going all right, and generally stopped to have a yarn with me.

It was from him I learnt that poor old Hoffman had been killed.

"Jolly hard luck after all he’s done for us, sir," I had said; but the
Skipper only growled "Umph!" and for some reason or other didn’t seem so
sure.

He had managed to get a signal through to the _Vigilant_, and ordered
her and the gunboats to shell the town and that six-inch gun which
Whitmore had tried to destroy.

From my position, looking across the Chinese town and the little creek
crowded with junks, I could see them steaming slowly inshore, and
presently they began firing very deliberately.  (Of course they had only
a few seaman ratings left on board to man the guns.)

Their shells burst all over the town; but it takes a lot of shells to
set fire to a house, and it was some time before they got a good fire
going.  A few shells which didn’t burst ricochetted over our heads, and
one or two fell pretty close to the house; but the Skipper didn’t worry
about them now.  He had lowered little Sally down a shallow well,
somewhere in the garden behind the house, and so long as she was safe,
he didn’t worry about anyone else.

His idea was that if we set fire to the town, most of the people would
go back there to try and extinguish the flames, and that then we would
tramp back across the island to where we had landed last night.

Certainly a good number of fellows did go back, and except from that
hill on the other side of the paddy fields, from where we had seen
Ford’s signal, we were not much bothered with rifle fire.

It was at the back of the house, where the ground fell steeply towards
the creek, and was covered with scrubby bushes, that the Chinese seemed
now to be trying to force their way in.  The lower slopes were simply
swarming with them, and more kept moving up the creek in boats to assist
them.

The Skipper came across to me.  "Umph!" he growled. "You’re a soldier,
aren’t you?" and when I had acknowledged the soft impeachment, "Umph!
What would you do?  I’m not a soldier.  ’Old Lest’s’ not much good
ashore except after ’birds’.  How’d you get out of this mess! Ugh!" and
he growled at me as if he would have liked to eat me, and so fiercely
that old "Blucher" thought he was in for a row, and cleared off to have
a yarn with his chums, the marines.  He took me across, behind the
house, to have a look at the state of affairs there.

Don’t think that he wanted advice.  He only wanted someone to talk to,
and everyone else was too busy.  I wouldn’t have suggested anything to
him for "worlds".

It was then that I saw Hobbs and Sally for the first time since they had
been "burgled".  They had fished her up from the well, and she had come
across to the Skipper, looking like a ghost, her sad little face all
pinched and careworn, hardly the princess I’d all my life been longing
to rescue, and throw myself and all my unpaid bills at her feet.  She
was a most distressful little object, and when the Skipper put his great
hand very gently on her shoulder, and told her we were going to start
off almost directly, she began crying, and said she didn’t want to go.

"She’s gone daft about that man Evans," Hobbs whispered to me.  He
looked more like a monkey than ever.

So that was it, was it?  And our little princess didn’t want to be
rescued!  Poor little princess!  I just noticed that the front of the
house had been pretty well battered in by the Chinese gun, and then
caught sight of Ford and Rawlings looking like long-lost brothers.  Ford
was a pretty ludicrous spectacle, with one side of his face black and
blue, one eye closed, and his left arm slung up inside his monkey
jacket.  This was the first time I had seen him since we had landed to
destroy that gun, and he got very red; I remembered that he hadn’t taken
my jokes in very good part, so went across to make my peace with him.

"We all saw you signalling to us this morning, Ford, on the top of that
roof.  You must have been under a very hot fire, eh?"

He wasn’t quite certain whether he was going to make peace, but he
couldn’t stand out against a little delicate flattery, and we made
friends again, and he went off with Rawlings, looking very conceited and
happy.

Fat little Rashleigh was there, too, buzzing about like a bumble bee,
and offering everyone a drink from his flask, and patronizing Ching, and
talking about the gun he had captured.  I never realized what he meant
till afterwards.

Old Ching was pretty well played out, but looked proud and happy, and I
gave him one of my last three cigarettes, and told him one or two yarns,
though he didn’t take much interest in them, and kept his eyes fixed on
little Sally.

The Skipper had given him the job of escorting her down to the coast,
and jolly well he had earned it too.

Parkinson, the _Omaha’s_ skipper, had a yarn with me. "Guess I shall be
a flag officer before I’m sixty.  Reckon they’ll have my picture in all
the journals in the States, and maybe they’ll remember John A. Parkinson
is still alive and kicking, up at Washington.  They seem to have
forgotten him awhile."  He was "talking sarcastic".  He was a fine
grim-looking chap, without an ounce of spare flesh on him, and as old as
most of the rear-admirals in our navy, though only in command of a small
gunboat.

There was an old Scotchman who had helped Ford and the two men escape
from the town to the walled house, and had been helping to defend it all
night.  He was a funny old bird, and didn’t quite know where to "place"
himself, and wasn’t looking particularly happy.  Old "B.-T." had
recognized him as the chap who’d run the show at the other island, when
"B.-T." was a prisoner, so he knew that we had sufficient evidence to
hang him, and was only too jolly anxious to escape being killed by
Chinamen in the meantime.

He thought that our best plan would be to go back the way we had come.
It was more open country, and, except for the first three-quarters of a
mile, better "going" and more open than if we attempted to work round
the outskirts of the town itself, where the ground was nothing but
swamps.

It was now about half-past one o’clock, and the Skipper thought that it
was about time to be starting back.

The great trouble was the number of wounded who would have to be
carried.  Of Ching’s original fifty men only forty-two could walk, and
the two landing parties now had six men too badly wounded to walk.
Young Wilkins, my bugler, and a seaman belonging to the _Goldfinch_ were
the only two Englishmen killed so far.

These two, Hoffman, and five of Ching’s people had been buried during
the morning, under the trees in the garden, behind the house.

The Skipper also wanted to go back the way he had come.  He told me that
I should have the first job—to seize the hill opposite us across the
paddy fields and hold it whilst he, Trevelyan, and "B" company and
Ching’s bluejackets brought along Sally, her father, and the wounded.

Parkinson, the _Omaha’s_ skipper, was to stay behind with the gunboat’s
brigade and act as rearguard till the Skipper had got safely across to
me, and then I was going to do "rearguard", whilst they all went on.

He hoped to get in touch with the _Ringdove_ and _Omaha_ a mile from the
shore and obtain some assistance from their guns, if he was much pressed
by the Chinese.  He was just going to give the order to "carry on", when
we saw a little party of people approaching with a white flag waving
over their heads.  It was headed by a most respectable-looking old
"josser" beautifully dressed in silks, with a mandarin button on his
cap, and a most benign, fatherly expression on his face.  He was brought
along to the Skipper, and the old Scotchman acted as interpreter.

He had come to offer to let us go back to our ships without being
molested, if we would only leave off shelling the town, and was very
surprised when the Skipper refused to do so.  Then he called up a man
who was standing behind him with a bundle in his hand, and made him
empty it on the ground, looking at us and expecting to see us beam with
delight.  Ugh!  I was nearly sick, for out rolled the head of a white
man.

"It’s Boss Evans!" I heard the Scotchman mutter under his breath.

We all involuntarily stepped back in disgust, and the old gentleman
opened his eyes in amazement when he saw that we were not pleased, and
explained that it was the Boss Pirate himself, the chap who’d done
everything he ought not to have done, and that now they had killed him,
and that we had seen that he was really dead, and had got Hobbs and the
girl, "it all makee end—all belong plenty too much bobberie—no can
do—vely good—vely good", and he rubbed his hands together, and bowed and
beamed at us again from behind his great horn-rimmed spectacles.

"Chuck him out!" the Skipper roared, and walked away.

The poor dear old Chinee chap was almost in tears when he was led home
again, and wasn’t allowed to take the head with him either.

We buried it alongside the other dead.

Someone must have told my poor little princess, because she was now only
too anxious to get away, and looked more mournful and heartbroken than
ever.

It was half-past two before this little business was concluded, and
Whitmore and I were jolly anxious to start.

"The old man’s wasting daylight with a vengeance," he said to me, but
had hardly spoken before young Ponsonby came running up—"From the
Captain, sir; you’re to carry on."

As I hurried past the Skipper, he sang out, "Drive those fellows off
that hill!"—pointing with his big stick. "Travers will go with you, and
I’ll send a Maxim along after you, and am coming on directly."

"Very good, sir," and I saluted and went off to tell my men what we had
to do, and sang out to Travers, "Come along, old ’B.-T.’, bring your
people along."

We started off.

[Illustration: U.S.S. Omaha and H.M.S. Ringdove shelling Hector Island.]



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                             *The Retreat*


    Old B.-T. Wins—A Hard Retreat—A Case of Speed—A Race against the
    Fog—Hand-to-hand Fighting—Captain Marshall is Wounded—The
    Captain’s Life Attempted—Round the Fire—Ford is Indignant—On
    Board Again


       _Written by Captain Marshall, Royal Marine Light Infantry_


Old "B.-T." and I extended our people, ran down towards the paddy
fields, crawled and dodged across them, and prepared for the "do-or-die
business" up the farther slope.

It was a bit of a rush, and old "B.-T." looked "bored" when we met again
at the top.  The blighters had never given us a show, but had cleared
out, pretty well most of them.  A few had run into "B.-T.’s" little lot
by accident, and been polished off, that was all.

I don’t suppose that they were expecting us to go at ’em so soon.

The Maxim came along after us, and we helped Langham up with it, and
spread ourselves out, to cover the retreat of the Skipper with the main
body, which came along almost immediately in a long line, slowly
trailing down the side of the hill from the house.  We could see that
they were carrying the wounded, and they had got halfway across the
paddy fields before the Chinese seemed to "tumble" to the fact that we
were clearing out, and began to pour back from the outskirts of the town
and open fire at them.

"B.-T." and I managed to keep them in check, and the Skipper got across
without any casualties, "Blucher" coming galloping up the hill, wagging
his long whip of a tail when he spotted me.

But by this time a number of Chinese had crept along behind the banks
intersecting the paddy fields, and we couldn’t get at them with rifle
fire.  They were right in between us and the walled house, cutting off
Parkinson’s retreat.

We could hear that he was having trouble—he was firing very heavily—and
directly the Skipper and his little lot had got across safely, we saw
his people begin leaving the house and falling back down the slope.  We
saw them turning and firing back, and retiring by alternate companies,
and natives were swarming round the house and among the trees at the top
of the ridge.  We knew that they must be having a pretty warm time of
it.

Those fellows who had crept round their rear began firing at them too;
but one of their companies simply charged down at them, broke right
through, and, opening out to left and right, swept them on one side.
They were the _Omaha’s_ men.  We could tell that by the peculiar noise
they made and by their uniform.  Langham was able to let rip into the
Chinese as they sprinted out of reach of the Yankee bayonets, and
hurried them along "pretty considerable", as Parkinson told me
afterwards, we were also able to stop the people swarming down that
ridge after him, and gave him time to bring along his Maxim and Colt
guns, and to extricate himself from rather an awkward position.  He made
a wide sweep, so as not to mask our fire, and came across; but I saw
that he had to carry four or five men, who had been knocked over in the
open, and they delayed him much.

That is always the rotten part of a retreat, especially when fighting
semi-barbarous natives.  One dare not leave the wounded behind, and each
one who cannot walk requires two able-bodied men to carry him.

From where "B.-T." and I were standing, I should think that we could see
at least seven hundred Chinamen, and away on the left, we could see any
number more hurrying: from the town.

"Buck up, old chap!  Don’t look so blooming bored!" and I slapped him on
the back.  "We’ll have our work cut out in the next half-hour, when we
are doing rearguard."

"Keep your beastly fists to yourself," he growled.

Old "Blucher" had bounded back to the Captain directly our Maxim had
begun firing.

"Old Lest" and his little lot were in the rear of our hill—at the bottom
of it—waiting for Parkinson to go on past them, farther back.  We saw
Parkinson drop his wounded people and sweep past and away towards two
small rising bits of ground, about four hundred yards in the rear, and
the Skipper, picking up his wounded, followed slowly.

Then came our turn as rearguard.

My Christopher Columbus! we had about all we could do to keep the
beggars back.  The heathen Chinee was simply seeing "red", and came
charging across the paddy fields, rushing up towards the slope in front
of us, and getting round both our flanks. They thought that they’d got
us in a hole, I expect, and they spared a couple of hundred fellows to
sneak away to the right, behind some banks, hoping to catch the Skipper
in the open.  They would have done it too, and got right on top of him
before he could have spotted them, had not "B.-T." taken half his
company down the hill at a run, and posted himself behind a couple of
broken-down huts and a bit of another bank, and given ’em "beans" as
they went doubling along below him. It was really a race who should get
to the bank first, and old "B.-T." won.

They were now actually crawling up the hill in front of my chaps,
dodging among the "scrub" and among the grave mounds, and they were
getting round my left rear as well.  There must have been four or five
hundred of them, and they were taking cover so well, that it made it
confoundedly difficult to hit them.

Langham caught a few of them in the open with the Maxim; but it’s such a
jolly extravagant kind of weapon as regards ammunition, and puts a dozen
cartridges into a chap before another can take his place, and get his
own share.

Young Withers was in command of the other half of "B.-T.’s" company of
bluejackets on my left.  I sent one of my chaps across to him to tell
him to retire, and he began to fall back steadily.  He was keeping his
head, but looking very white.  Langham’s Maxim section began to haul
their gun back, and everyone was a bit flurried.  Two men got bowled
over.  One sprang straight up, with one hand clawing the air, and I knew
that he was shot through the heart.  I’ve seen a good many men do that
in my time, and they all had been shot through the heart.

I had a funny feeling in my right arm, too, and guessed that it had got
in the way of a bullet, but could move it all right.

I looked back to see whether the skipper had got safely across yet, and
saw that he was just disappearing between the two little hills or ridges
which Parkinson was holding; so it was time for me to be off, and we
began to retire according to the laws and regulations of the dear old
drill book.  I sent the Maxim downhill with a run, and Withers and his
half company with it, to get behind a bit of a bank two hundred yards in
the rear, and held on with my marines, dropping a few Chinese who were
brave enough to stand up and show themselves; but most of the skunks
were simply wriggling along from one bush or grave mound to another, and
I’m jiggered if you can hit a man who’s crawling and dodging—that is,
when you are excited, and your heart is trying to thump its way out of
your chest, and you are expecting the order to retire and have one eye
on the rear.

They began to get round my right flank then, and I was beginning to
think that "little James" was in a pretty tight corner, when old "B.-T."
saw them and came back, just in time, cheering as if he was winning the
battle of Waterloo and Trafalgar all rolled into one, and went careering
right into them.

This checked them for half a minute, and gave my people time to drag our
wounded man—I had to leave the dead one—down the hill, and for the rest
of us to fall back together halfway down the slope.

"B.-T." came along after us, and we faced round and walked backwards
very slowly, and they didn’t like the look of our bayonets and wouldn’t
charge down, though they were swarming up above us and yelling like
stuck pigs.  (If they had charged they would have swept clean over us.)
We managed to bring along two more of my chaps who were hit and couldn’t
walk, and sent them on to the rear, and when we got to level ground
again we opened out, and bolted for where the Maxim and "B.-T.’s" other
half company were.  They gave them blue blazes as they came screaming
after us, and dropped dozens.

I saw one of the bluejackets fall forward, his head striking the soft
ground, and go slithering along.  The Chinese were not twenty yards
behind, so "B.-T." and two of his chaps stopped and tried to bring him
with them.  Old "B.-T." had to do a bit of work with his sword and
revolver for a minute or two; but we’d got our breath behind the bank,
came along to his rescue, and beat ’em back, Langham picking the fellow
up like a sack of corn and carrying him to the rear.

"Look at that rotten thing," "B.-T." panted out, as he got behind the
Maxim, holding out his arm and showing me where his sword had broken
off, about twelve inches from the hilt.

"If you _will_ do the V.C. act, old chap, with a rotten tailor-made
sword, what can you expect?" I told him.

The Chinese daren’t face our fire in the open, and funked it, so that we
were able to fall back again all serenely.  It wasn’t the fear of seeing
any of our people getting killed that worried me then; it was the dread
of seeing them wounded so badly that they had to be carried, because, as
I told you before, each one so wounded meant two sound men to carry him
away, and handicapped us so tremendously.

We were behind Parkinson now, and gave our wounded to the Skipper’s main
body.  I caught a glimpse of "Old Lest" standing, with his great feet
wide apart, and of "Blucher" squatting between them.  He was watching
the Chinese through his glasses, and young Ford and Ponsonby were
standing close to him, looking white and nervous.  He shouted out, "Well
done, rearguard!" and we hurried past and came to a group of Chinese
bluejackets, standing shoulder to shoulder.  In the middle of them, I
knew, was my poor little princess and her miserable little father.  You
see, bullets were still coming past pretty thickly, and Ching was
shielding her with his men’s bodies.

That old Chinese gun was there too, with some of the _Ringdove’s_ people
to drag it, and a few yards farther along half a company of Trevelyan’s
men were sitting on the ground resting till they had to move on again.

They gave us a cheer as we passed them, jumping to their feet and waving
their caps, and off we went at the double for a low ridge about a
quarter of a mile farther to the rear.  We expected to be able to see
the gunboats from there, and were ordered to try and attract their
attention.  They had been told to keep a lookout for us.

This bit was only a case of speed, and we were all blowing like
grampuses when we stopped, and the men flung themselves down and faced
round, my little lot about a hundred yards from "B.-T.’s", with Langham
and his Maxim between us.

Some of his people had tied their silk handkerchiefs to their bayonets
and were waving them to attract the gunboats.  I heard "B.-T." yell
something, and saw him pointing away towards the sea.

It was there all right, but, buttered crumpets! a beastly fog-bank, like
a solid wall of cotton wool, was creeping down from wind’ard.  When I
first looked I could see the _Omaha’s_ one mast and tall funnel, but
three minutes afterwards the fog had blotted her out of sight, and I
could watch it creeping towards the shore. Great bluebottles!  I didn’t
like it; another night like last night would about send me off my
"crumpet".

I was just thinking that it would have been better for me to have gone
into the Church, as my old dad always had wished, when Withers came
running across to ask if I could lend "B.-T." a cigarette.

"You might get your pater to give me one of his livings," I told him.
"I’m going to be a parson if we ever get out of this."

"He’s very particular, sir," the cheeky young rascal grinned, and ran
back with my last cigarette.  Old "B.-T." would have borrowed my
matchbox, but I sent Withers to tell him to _rub two sticks together_
and light it that way; it would be good exercise, and the cigarette
would last longer.

I saw him shake his fist at me when he got the message, and then walk
down his line of men to try and borrow a match from one of them.

The main body was coming past now; Whitmore and Rawlings, at the head of
the little column, were just passing Langham’s Maxim; then Trevelyan’s
right half company, a dozen Chinese bluejackets in a circle round Sally
and Hobbs, with Ching and the old Scotchman walking behind them.  Then
there was a gap, a long string of Chinese bluejackets carrying their
wounded, the rest of Trevelyan’s chaps carrying ours, the _Ringdove’s_
people dragging the little Chinese field gun, and Trevelyan with a few
men bringing up the rear.

They came to a halt behind us, and laid down their wounded very gently.

"There’s no one behind us, I think," "B.-T." shouted to Whitmore.  "But
just look at that fog!  It’s hidden the _Omaha_ since we’ve been up
here."

"Where’s the Skipper?" I asked him.

"Taking charge of the rearguard.  This job isn’t exciting enough for
him.  They’ll have all their work cut out to get back to us, and I don’t
know what will happen if we get many more wounded."

I had to go back to my men then, as I saw the rearguard already on its
way, fat little Rashleigh toddling along in front of two companies from
the left of the two little hills, and the Maxim section rushing their
gun towards us.  From the right the rest of the rearguard commenced
their retreat, and I saw "Old Lest’s" great broad shoulders swaggering
back, with Parkinson, as thin as a lamp-post, striding along beside him,
and "Blucher" slinking between them.

Contrary to Whitmore’s opinion, they had very little trouble in
extricating themselves, because the ground was so flat on the other side
of those two little hills, that the Chinese had not dared to come to
close quarters, and they were more than halfway towards us before the
enemy occupied the slopes they had just evacuated, and stayed there,
contenting themselves with opening a very heavy but miserably directed
fire.  They made rotten shooting.

I felt that we had now got over by far the worst part of the show, all
except the beastly fog part, which had already hidden the line of the
shore a mile away, with its advance guard of feathery mist quickly
creeping along the ground towards us.

The Skipper came along grunting and growling, lighting another cigar,
and highly pleased with himself and everything else so far; but when he
saw the fog he stormed and cursed.

"’Old Lest’ won’t worry about those chaps behind him.  He’ll march
straight for the shore," he grunted, and sent Parkinson and the
gunboat’s brigade straight ahead, and ordered my marines and "B.-T.’s"
bluejackets to remain in the rear.  He took charge of the rearguard
himself, but practically gave the job to me.  I suppose that he knew
that I had conducted many skilful retreats across the exercise ground at
Forton Barracks, so would know all about it.

Anyhow, it was a great compliment to me, and old Whitmore was as sick as
a cat with a fish bone in its throat, only he tried not to show it.

No one troubled us in front, and we marched along quite quickly—as
quickly as it was possible to carry the wounded.

It was really a race against the fog.  Everyone knew that, and we got
over the first half-mile without difficulty.

The Chinese were not worrying the rearguard much; but of course they saw
the fog almost as soon as we did, and many of them began streaming away
to the left and right, and I knew that they would scoot round our
flanks, try and get in between us and the sea, and hem us in as they had
done during the night.  I didn’t like the idea of that—not a little bit.

But with only another half-mile to do, the moist tongues of fog began
drifting overhead, and in five minutes we couldn’t see fifteen yards.
We recognized the huts with the dead pig’s near them, and some of my
chaps had a brilliant idea, and brought them along on their bayonets.
"Wat ’o!  Bill, for a bit of the Gunnery Lootenant’s sucking pigs when
we gets aboard," I heard one of them sing out.

The advance guard halted to let the main body get up to them, and threw
back their flanks to overlap it, and as we came up we threw forward our
flanks, and this meant that we practically formed a hollow square round
the main body and the wounded.  Like this we marched very slowly along,
keeping in touch by shouting to each other.  The Chinese were now
beginning to draw up to our rear, and we could hear them yelling and
firing rifles at us, the bullets seeming to make much more noise in the
fog.

They didn’t venture close yet.

In another five minutes the fog was so dense that I couldn’t see the
third man from me in the ranks.  The skipper made a bugler with the main
body in the centre sound two "G’s" every half-minute, and that was a
great help to us to keep in station.  All round us I could hear the
non-commissioned and petty officers singing out: "Not so fast on the
right!  Keep up on the left!  Close towards the bugle, you on the
flanks!  Where’s No. 1 section? Don’t get ahead too far!"

These cries, with the howling of dogs and the yells of Chinamen, who had
got all round us now, were extremely discomposing.  When presently they
did leave off yelling, and we had no idea where they were gathering or
where they did intend to attack us, I must admit that it was still more
disconcerting.  But we could hear the sea beating on the shore, and
smelt the decaying seaweed, and knew we should reach it in a few
minutes.  The Skipper must have been a little nervous too, for his
bugler sounded the "halt" and the "close", and everyone drew in towards
the centre till our little square was as complete as we could make it in
that horrid yellowish-grey fog.

We were just preparing to move on, when there was a most hideous uproar
on our right flank.  People began firing; there was the noise of
hundreds of feet rushing towards us through the fog, a fearful din of
yelling, shrieks of pain, then the noise of bayonets at work, and I
could feel that the right side of the square was giving ground and being
pressed back, and could hear the strange, choking, grunting noise men
make when they are fighting hand to hand, and being overcome by numbers.

I had heard it once before with General McNeil’s column in the Soudan,
when our zareba had been rushed, and it was touch and go for a few
moments whether we were entirely wiped out or not.  I was only a newly
caught subaltern in those days, and I shall never forget that rush.

Old "B.-T." ought to have written about this one, not I. He would have
done justice to it.  I know that I can’t.

It all happened in a moment, and we had the yelling brutes all over us,
pushing a thin fringe of struggling bluejackets in front of them.  They
looked huge as they rushed at us in the fog, but the first two or three
who came my way must have been pretty sorry that I hadn’t forgotten to
load my revolver.  It was a regular pandemonium for about sixty or
seventy seconds, I should fancy.  Ching’s men were making a strange,
squealing, hissing sound; the Yankees had a different row; and our
people were grunting and cursing.  I could hear the Skipper roar: "Close
on the centre!" and his bugler kept on sounding the two "G’s" to let us
know where the centre was.  I found myself near him.  He had his
coxswain, and a couple of signalmen, and the two mids—Ford and
Ponsonby—close to him, and was laying about him with his big stick, and
punching fellows in the face with his fist.  His coxswain knocked over
one brute who was coming for him at the back, and I helped him get rid
of another and then lost touch with him, and came across the wounded
trying to scramble up and defend themselves with their bayonets,
Trevelyan’s men standing over them, clubbing their rifles and making a
grand fight of it.  I saw that they were holding their own, and with a
dozen of my own marines at my back, ran and forced my way into a lot of
fellows who were trying to cut down Ching’s men.  I suppose they hated
him and his jackets even more than they hated us.

My Christopher Columbus! we did give ’em beans, and I’m precious glad
that my sword was the best that could be bought (well, perhaps bought
isn’t the right word; so I will say obtained), for their heads were as
tough as iron, and the wadded cotton coats they wore made it jolly hard
to use the point.  For all that, though, it tickled one or two of them
considerably.

Old Grainger clung to me like my shadow.  He always seemed to be handy
when I’d got two people to manage at the same time, and we always
managed to scoop the pool.

We eased off the pressure round my princess, especially when Parkinson’s
First Lieutenant, a man nearly forty, came along from the left with
twenty or so of his people, shouting, "Rah!—Rah!—Rah!—O!—Ma!—Ha!" and
burst in among them and began clubbing.  Little Rashleigh suddenly shot
into view with a broken sword in one hand and a revolver in the other.
His scabbard got between his legs, and he fell sprawling, and would have
been killed if Langham hadn’t suddenly sprung out of the fog and run a
chap through who was standing over him and just going to jab him with a
bayonet.

The three machine-gun carriages and the little Chinese field gun were
all rallying places for our people, and I suppose I must have got into
the "focus of disturbance", as they say about earthquakes, because,
although the fog was so thick, I saw nearly all our officers at one time
or another, and we got so jammed together—Chinese and marines and
bluejackets—that we could hardly move.

I nearly came to grief near that Chinese gun.  A wretched chap thought
he could prod people from beneath it in comparative comfort, and tried
his hand on me, but wasn’t quite quick enough.  He got me a beastly rip
in the leg just above the knee.

Then "Old Lest" seemed to elbow his way along.  If you’ll believe me, he
still had a cigar between his teeth (Whitmore saw it, and his coxswain
swears that it was even then alight).  He had broken his stick over the
heads of two big ruffians, and they bungled against the gun carriage,
and just as I thought that it was my turn to do something prompt, he
caught them by their pigtails and "wanged" their heads together.  That
knocked them out of time, and his coxswain saw to it that they were
dead.

Well, that was my little show, and I felt dizzy, and Grainger lowered me
on to that gun wheel.  The old sergeant-major came up streaming with
blood and loaded my revolver for me, and Grainger wiped a lot of blood
stuff off my face, which was interrupting the view of the surrounding
scenery.  People seemed to be leaving off fighting; our fellows were
cheering like mad, and the buglers began sounding the "fall in" and the
"cease fire".

I was all right in a second or two, and went back to my old place in the
rear, and my people began limping back, calling each other and falling
in, talking twenty to the dozen, and wiping their bayonets with tufts of
grass.

My sergeant-major got them into something like order again; there were
only twenty-seven on their feet out of the thirty-nine who had landed,
and only about four of these who had nothing in the way of cuts or stabs
to show for it.

Presently the bugler sounded the "still", and the coxswain piped,
"Officers commanding companies report to the Captain," and I groped my
way across the ground, simply littered with dead bodies, and found him
and Parkinson.  "Blucher" was sitting behind the Skipper, and looking
extremely ashamed of himself.

Gradually all the officers commanding companies came up, except "B.-T.",
who had a bayonet wound through his thigh and couldn’t walk, and the
_Omaha’s_ First Lieutenant, who had been killed just after I had seen
him charging with his men.

Young Jones reported "A" company, and that Withers was missing; but then
someone came up to say that he’d been found with his head cut open, and
quite dead.  Poor little chap! he was one of the brightest and most
gentlemanly youngsters on board, and I and my marines owed him a great
deal for the way in which he covered our retreat to the barge two nights
ago.

The doctors were singing out to let people know where they were, and I
ran up against old Barclay.  He seemed to have had a bad time of it
himself, but was busy dressing people and fixing them up.  Old "B.-T."
was sitting with his back to a Maxim carriage wheel, waiting his turn
and holding on to his leg.  He wanted to borrow another cigarette, but
he’d had my last half an hour ago.  I managed to get one for him,
however, and then found Whitmore.  He’d had one of his thigh bones
smashed by a bullet, and was in great pain.  The whole place was nothing
but a shambles.  The _Sparrow’s_ people, who had borne the brunt of the
first attack, had come off worst, and after them Ching’s bluejackets;
but you will see by the list at the end what the actual casualties were.

Ching himself had a slash over the head, but looked as though he was
treading on air, he was so proud and happy, and I knew that there was a
good deal more than the love of fighting to account for that.

"How’s the little lass?" the Skipper said, and I followed him across to
the Chinese gun, and found my poor little princess bending over it with
her head buried in her hands, and Hobbs sitting on the ground beside
her.

The Skipper took her up in his arms and carried her off to a place where
there were not so many dead bodies. Then happened something which,
though disgraceful, is true.  He was stalking along with her in his
arms, and had just made a long step across a body, when we were
horrified to see the apparently dead Chinaman spring up and raise a
sword above his head to strike the Skipper. He would have been killed
for a certainty, because the sword was a very heavy one—an executioner’s
sword—had not young Ford, who luckily had his revolver in his hand,
placed it against the man’s back and shot him.

[Illustration: "THE SKIPPER TOOK HER UP IN HIS ARMS"]

The Captain turned round and growled out "Umph!" but took no further
notice.  However, the word was passed round that a wounded Chinaman had
attempted to kill him, and the men were so enraged that they made
certain that there were no more wounded pirates left inside the square.

This is a fact, whatever you may say about the rights and wrongs of it.

The Chinese had had enough fighting to last them for a "month of
Sundays", and let us alone after that, and gave us time to look after
the wounded.  The men, of course, all had their little packets of field
dressings with them, and did a good deal of amateur doctoring, whilst
Barclay, Hibbert of the _Ringdove_, the doctor of the _Omaha_, and their
stretcher parties looked after the more seriously wounded.

Then we staggered down to the beach, wading through the fog with our
wounded.

When I say staggered, I mean staggered.  Our people had been fighting
for practically twenty-four hours with no rest, and they were done to a
"turn".  After that strenuous sixty or seventy seconds’ struggle, and
the square had been re-formed, and the wounds had begun to pain, and
arms and legs and bodies to feel stiff, reaction set in, and if you had
seen them walking that last three hundred yards, you would have thought
that most of them were drunk.

Lucky indeed it was that the Chinese let us alone till we could get the
wounded down on the beach behind a bank, light several fires to comfort
them, and gradually warmed our fellows up again.

I suppose that if they had charged out of the fog again, our men would
have roused themselves and put up just as good a fight; but I must say
that I felt most extremely anxious till we had the sea at our backs, and
that bank at the top of the beach with a deep ditch below it in front of
us.

We had hoped to find our boats lying off waiting for us, and tried to
attract attention by shouting and firing rifles. Eventually we heard one
of the gunboats begin firing a gun every half-minute.  It turned out to
be the _Omaha_, and presently she began to make a signal with her fog
siren.  We knew that she was feeling her way in towards us, by the sound
of the blasts coming nearer; but of course we could see nothing
whatsoever through that maddening nightmare of dirty fog, and out of it
came the moaning blasts of the _Omaha’s_ siren with the message: "Have
seen nothing of your boats since this morning. _Omaha’s_ boats have been
sent down the coast to where gunboats’ brigade originally landed, and
have not come back."

We well knew that that meant a night to be spent on the bleak shore till
the fog should clear away and allow the boats to find their way to us.

It was then that the tired men were set to work collecting drift wood
and making fires under the bank, whilst Rashleigh and Trevelyan had to
line the bank itself, and guard our two flanks across the beach.

Although the fires were fairly large ones, they could not be seen
fifteen paces from the far side of the bank.  That will give you some
idea how dense was the fog, so that we were quite safe in making them,
and we brought the wounded across and settled them as comfortably as
possible.  When I talk about the wounded, I mean, of course, the badly
wounded, men who were obliged to lie or sit perfectly still; but besides
these, nearly everyone was slightly wounded, but could still handle a
rifle.

Trevelyan had brought a tin of tea tabloids—he always had some dodge up
his sleeve—and with the water in our bottles, we made enough tea to give
the wounded and my poor little princess a hot drink.

Old Grainger "managed" to find another packet of sandwiches for me, and
was very disgusted when I gave them to Sally.  A strange old chap he
was.  I suppose that I owed my useless life to him half a dozen times
that day, but he would have been offended if I’d even suggested thanking
him.  He had been my servant for nine solid years, and treated me as if
I were a helpless idiot, and that his whole business in life was to turn
me out on parade a credit to "The Corps".  (I don’t mean to infer that
he was the only one who treated me as an idiot.)

Even during the night, when after a couple of hours’ sleep the marines
had to take their turn on top of that bank, he began bothering me about
my clothes.

I had noticed him looking at me as I stood warming myself in front of a
fire, and he began: "Them clothes won’t be no blooming good again, sir,
I’m thinkin’.  Two serges and two pairs of trouses in three blessed
nights! We ain’t got enough gear to turn you out proper now, sir."

"That’s all right, Grainger; we’ll be at Hong-Kong in a fortnight," I
said to cheer him.

"’Ong-Kong!" he sniffed.  "They knows us too well there, sir.  They
wants ready money from us there, sir, and we ain’t got none.  ’Ow’s your
arm, sir?  You never showed it to the Doctor."

I hadn’t, I know; but he wouldn’t be satisfied till I had pulled up my
sleeve, and he had found a bandage and stuck round it, to cover up the
two little marks where a bullet had gone in and out.

It really didn’t trouble me much, except to make my arm stiff.

Then Ford and Rawlings came up to me.  They ought to have been asleep.
They were like two little cock sparrows with all their feathers ruffled.

"Would you mind telling us, sir, who captured that gun?" Rawlings burst
out very angrily.

"As far as I remember," I told them, "one of ’B.-T.’s’ people was first;
beat you and Whitmore by a short head."

"There!" they both burst out, looking at each other joyously.  "Do you
know, sir, that Mr. Rashleigh says it’s his, and that he captured it?"

"Stuff and nonsense!  That’s all my eye!  His people were nowhere in
sight!"

"Well, he’s got it, sir, and the _Ringdoves_ dragged it back, and they
say they’ve got it, and are going to keep it."

"Come and ask Mr. Whitmore," young Ford said; but I told them that they
were not to wake him, and not to be blithering idiots waking the whole
camp.

"Wait till the morning; no one can take it away to-night."

I knew that if it belonged to anyone it belonged to our Skipper, and
that it didn’t matter a tuppenny biscuit who claimed it now, for "Old
Lest" would have it in the long run.

Our two hours’ watch passed without any serious trouble, a few shots
occasionally whizzed overhead, that was all, and before daylight the fog
lifted a little, as it had done the previous day.

As soon as they could see us, the Chinese made a very half-hearted
attack, and the whole brigade had to stand to arms and line the bank;
but we had no difficulty in driving them off and keeping them at a
respectable distance.

As the sun rose the hateful fog swept away altogether, and it was a most
blessed sight to see the sun glittering on the muddy water, and the
_Omaha_ and _Ringdove_ close to one another, and only about half a mile
from the shore.

Little Sally looked such a forlorn, draggled little woman in the damp
daylight, that I thought she’d be only too glad for anyone to say
something kind to her, so old "B.-T.", moving in a very "dot-and-go-one"
manner, and I went over to say "how d’ye do" to her and give her a
treat. We were the best-looking fellows in the _Vigilant_, but old
"B.-T.", what with his limp and a forty-eight hours’ beard round his
aristocratic chin, wasn’t looking his best, I thought, however, that the
bandage round my noble forehead (to cover up a cut someone had given me)
would just about "fetch" her, and that she would be interested in about
a dozen different specimens of paddy-field mud which were plastered over
me.

However, she "bristled" up when we came along to pay her homage, and
"guessed she didn’t want anyone fooling round her—just yet awhile".
Poor little princess!  She was so miserable, sitting on the beach behind
that bank, with the Skipper’s overcoat buttoned round her.

About an hour after daylight, and the fog had swept away, our boats
managed to find us.

Old "Blucher" had had enough shooting expeditions to last him till he
got home, and jumped into the very first _Vigilant’s_ boat that had run
up the beach, got under the thwart in the stern sheets, and never moved
till she got alongside the ship.

The Skipper gave me the job of covering the embarkation, and it wasn’t
all "beer and skittles" either, for the Chinese kept up such a
persistent and annoying rifle fire, that we had to get the _Omaha_ and
_Ringdove_ to shell them out of some paddy fields and clumps of bamboo
trees. They tried to steal round the beach and cut a few of us off, and
just as we were getting "busy" with them, young Ford and Rawlings came
rushing up again, right in the middle of everything, and squeaked out
that fat little Rashleigh was taking that wretched Chinese gun aboard
the _Ringdove_, that he had actually got it aboard one of his boats, and
was just going to shove off, and that as Whitmore was on the sick list,
and "B.-T." had gone off to the _Vigilant_, couldn’t I do something?
They wanted me to go to the Skipper, or something like that, and tell
him that it really belonged to the _Vigilant_.

"My dear young gentlemen," I told them, when we’d stopped a bit of a
rush, "if you’ll be so obliging as to go out there and ask about five
hundred Chinamen, who are very anxious to obtain specimens of our
livers, to cease firing and stop where they are till we’ve decided who
shall own their toy cannon, I’ll do the best I can to help you. Tell
them that the matter won’t admit of delay, and no doubt they will oblige
you."

They looked angry, and rushed away to try and interest someone else in
the important question.

Gradually everyone was withdrawn from the shore, till there was no one
except the Skipper, myself, and my marines remaining.  We kept the
fellows at bay till the barge came along for us, and then we bolted down
to her and scrambled in, the Skipper being actually the last to embark.
We had hardly begun to shove off, before the Chinese had lined the other
side of that bank and began firing at us; but two can play at that game,
and we had another boat and the steam pinnace lying off, to cover our
retreat, and they peppered them pretty severely.

The _Vigilant_ had come round to meet us, and we got away out of range
all right and alongside her by seven bells in the afternoon, just in
time for afternoon tea.

As soon as I could manage to do so, I slipped away to Truscott’s cabin,
and found him much more cheerful.

Old Mayhew had said that he couldn’t tell what would happen till the end
of the third day, and this was the third day since he was wounded, and
he had no bad symptoms.

"To tell the truth, soldier," he whispered, "I’m as hungry as a hunter;
tinned milk and soda water ain’t very filling, and Mayhew won’t let me
have anything else, and precious little of that."

I felt pretty well "done up", now that everything was finished, so
Grainger got me a steaming hot bath, and I turned in and slept till next
morning.

Before I went to sleep, Grainger came back looking very cheerful.  He
held up my two damaged pairs of trousers. "We can do ’em all right, sir;
one pair ’as a slit in the right leg, and the other a split over the
left knee.  We’ll ’ave a try at taking ’em to pieces, and makin’ one
good pair out the two of ’em, sir."

"All right, Grainger; it will be better than having nothing to wear at
all, won’t it?" I told him, and went to sleep.

I copied this list of casualties from somewhere or other, and think that
it is pretty accurate as far as our own ships and the _Omaha_ are
concerned, though I cannot guarantee the figures given for the _Huan
Min_.

The "slightly wounded" were those requiring some treatment, and most of
those who were on the sick list only a few days.

     CASUALTIES DURING OPERATIONS ROUND HECTOR ISLAND.

                                                                            Captured
                                                                            and
                                                                            subse−
                              Slightly    Severely              Died of     quently
    Name of Ship.  Landed.    Wounded.    Wounded.   Killed.    Wounds.     rescued.

                   Offi−      Offi−       Offi−      Offi−      Offi−       Offi−
                   cers  Men  cers  Men   cers  Men  cers  Men  cers  Men   cers  Men

    Vigilant,       15   145    8    75     4   27     1    9   ...     2      1    2
    Ringdove,        3    34    2    23   ...    5   ...    2   ...   ...    ...  ...
    Sparrow,         2    39    2    20   ...    9   ...    6   ...     1    ...  ...
    Goldfinch,       2    32    1    16   ...    3   ...    3*  ...   ...    ...  ...
    Omaha,           4    41    2    27   ...    8     1    2   ...   ...    ...  ...
    Huan Min.        1    56    1    29?  ...   16   ...    8   ...     1?   ...  ...

    Totals,         27   347   16   190     4   68     2   30   ...     4      1    2

    * This includes the two men killed by the six−inch projectile
      which struck the Goldfinch.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                     *Ford saves "Old Lest’s" Life*


    The Vigilant to the Rescue—Rushing the Gun—Ford is Miserable—The
    Ringdove Steals the Gun—Ford Bucks up Again—Mr. Rashleigh and
    the Gun—The Burial at Sea—Letters from Home—A Letter from Nan


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


Before I tell you anything else, I must tell you this—it is the only
thing I can think about at present, and has wiped out all the silly, and
idiotic, and bad-tempered things I have ever done—I have saved Captain
Lester’s life.

But for me—Dick Ford, a midshipman only just out of the _Britannia_, a
worm, I suppose you would call me—he would be dead now, and Mrs. Lester
and Nan and his other girls, and all Upton Overy, would be awfully
miserable, and everybody else who had ever known him.

I just look at him when he’s striding up and down the quarterdeck, and
think that now, in a way, he belongs just a little bit to me.  I know
that his coxswain, and the signalman, and any number of others who were
near him when the Chinese broke our square, saved his life a great
number of times; but you have read what Captain Marshall wrote, and know
what happened, and what, by good luck, I was able to do, so I don’t mind
in the least sharing him with all of them, so long as I know that a bit
of him does belong to me.

You see, I knew all the time that I’d really only made an ass of myself
when I was captured, and had my arm broken, and all that, and that
instead of helping him in any way, I really had only muddled up his
plans.  Just before we began the march back to the coast, Jim and I had
a long yarn about what was best for me to do, and the only thing he
could suggest—you know, of course, that I only had one arm to use—was
for me to keep as close to the Captain as he would let me, and always
have my revolver handy, in case any Chinese did get near him.  Jim said
that there was always the chance of some chaps trying to rush us, and it
was the only thing he could think of, and as the Captain only had his
big oak stick, and never thought of danger to himself in the least
little bit, I might make myself useful.  Well, that is why I am so
absolutely happy—I feel now as though nothing can ever make me feel
really miserable again, for long—because if anything does begin to do
so, I just think about Captain Lester, and that stops it.

When I finished telling you about that awful night in the walled house,
we had heard the sound of the Maxim gun firing, and knew that the
Captain was coming along to rescue us.  That made us all "buck up"
tremendously, and the fog lifted a little, and it began to grow lighter,
and we could just see the wall and the half-closed gateway, and some of
the dead people lying about, and presently we heard the sound of firing
coming nearer, and began to think that another half-hour would bring
them to us, and that Sally would then be absolutely safe.

The pirates were not worrying us at all—there had hardly been a shot for
the last two hours—and we guessed that most of them had gone away to try
and stop the Captain coming.

We even walked about the space inside the walls and counted the dead
bodies—there were forty-seven—and peeped through the two gateways, and
collected some more Mauser rifles and any amount more ammunition. We
made a fire too, and found some food in the house, and tried to make
Sally eat some breakfast, but she couldn’t touch anything, and went to
sleep again.

[Illustration: "We even walked about the space inside the walls and
counted the dead bodies."]

We thought that everything was going on jolly well. My arm was not
nearly so painful—I had had some sleep; Mr. Ching was very cheerful;
Sally and Mr. Hobbs were both sound asleep; and Miller and the old
Scotchman were coiled up asleep as well.  Martin, the marine—well, I’m
not certain whether I cared much for him—kept on grumbling about his
arm, and reminding me that he wouldn’t have broken it or been taken
prisoner but for having tried to save me.  That rather irritated me
after a time.  Mr. Ching and I were listening to the sound of the
firing, and looking through a window in the direction from which it
came, watching the fog clearing away from the low land on that side,
when all of a sudden there came a roaring noise out of the fog, and
something struck the house close to us with a crash, and we heard stones
falling on to the ground below.

We ran to where it had struck, and found holes big enough for me to
climb through in both the front and back walls.

Mr. Ching gasped out, "They must have brought up a field gun;" and we
looked, but the fog wasn’t thin enough yet for us to see anything.  He
was very frightened, and ran up to that little square room with the iron
shutters, and came down with Sally in his arms, took her out of the
house and laid her down behind the wall, where it was very thick.  He
was only looking frightened because of her, I know that, and that he was
just like Captain Lester in never being frightened about himself.
Martin and Mr. Hobbs came scooting out too.

They kept on firing that gun, and sometimes they hit the wall and
sometimes the house; and presently Miller, who had woke up, peeped over
the wall, and said he could see the gun, and he lifted me up to look
over, and I saw it as well, under some trees, about five hundred yards
away, along the ridge on which the house was standing.  He and Mr. Ching
and the bluejackets began firing at the men round it; but they couldn’t
see it clearly because of the smoke it made and the fog, and as they
didn’t really know how to sight the Mauser rifles properly, they didn’t
seem to be able to hit anybody.

At any rate, we couldn’t stop it firing, and it was knocking the house
to pieces.

Then a shot struck the top of the wall, and made a gap in it, and stones
went flying round, and one struck a bluejacket sitting down, not far
from where Sally was, still asleep, struck him on the head, and killed
him.  Mr. Ching didn’t know what to do, because he was so worried lest
she should be hurt; and two or three more came along, all hitting the
wall, and it was jolly unsafe to stay anywhere near it, so we made her
go and lie down behind a very big stone or rock behind the house, and
leant some planks of wood against it to make a kind of roof to keep off
falling stones.

Her father crept under them too.

If the firing became more dangerous, Mr. Ching did think of lowering her
down a shallow well in the garden under the trees, but that was never
wanted.

The rifle and Maxim firing became very heavy, and we could hear it
coming rapidly nearer, and the fog, which was still lying very dense
below the house, now swept away, and we could see that there were flat
paddy fields there with a small hill on the other side.  It was glorious
to be able to look all round again, and suddenly Chinamen went flying
down our side of that hill opposite, and we could hear cheering, and
then, in a minute or two, some dark figures, waving their arms over
their heads, came on to the sky line, and we knew that they were our
people, and we all cheered tremendously.

You can have no idea what we all felt like, because, although we were
expecting them, it was quite a different feeling when we actually saw
them.

"Look there, Miller!" I shouted.  "There’s a dog there running backwards
and forwards;" and Miller spotted it too, and I knew that it must be
jolly old "Blucher", and that the Captain must be there.

Mr. Ching asked me if I could signal to them, and I managed to do so,
climbing up to the top of the square room, and getting out through a
hole which the field gun had made in the roof.  I was so fearfully
excited and happy, that I forgot all about the danger from the gun, and
Mr. Ching helped me up and steadied my feet, and I waved a long bamboo,
and signalled in Morse that we were all well, but that the gun was doing
damage.  I saw some tiny little flags waving to say that the signalman
with the Captain had read it, and then Mr. Ching pulled me down, and
only just in time, because the field gun made two more holes close by,
almost immediately afterwards.

I was too much excited to worry about the gun in the least—we all
were—and went and watched them over the wall at the side, and saw some
dark figures come racing down the hill, and presently others whom I knew
were marines came along after them and joined up in the paddy fields,
and I thought I could recognize Mr. Travers and Captain Marshall by
their long legs.  It made me go just a little hot all over to see
Captain Marshall, because I hadn’t forgotten what he had said when I had
run away from the bullets, near those burning huts, and didn’t quite
want to see him.

There was a lot more rifle firing and machine-gun firing farther to the
right, and the field gun stopped shooting; but we couldn’t see the
marines and those others now, because they had got across the paddy
fields and were under the brow of our ridge.  We could hear them
cheering, however, though they were out of sight, and the noise seemed
to be going towards the gun, and we knew that they were charging it, and
simply held our breath and watched Chinamen dodging about, round it, and
under the trees, and firing downhill.

Then they began bolting away out of sight—we knew what we should see in
a moment or two, and held our breath—and almost directly afterwards a
whole crowd of our people went dashing across the open space, and swept
round the gun.

We all jumped down, made a rush for the gateway, cheering like mad, and
waving, and then I saw someone jump on top of the field gun and wave his
cap, and knew that it was Jim Rawlings.  I was certain of it, and Miller
said he thought it was too, and this simply added everything to the joy,
because I had been wondering and worrying whether he was killed or badly
wounded—ever since Miller had told me that he had seen him knocked down
two nights ago, when Mr. Whitmore’s party was retreating, and just
before he himself had been captured.

I felt all "bubbly" inside, and didn’t quite know what to do, and felt
very "sniffy", and ran towards the gun, with Miller and Mr. Ching and a
lot of his men.  Before we could get to it, the first lot of our people
had gone off after the Chinese, who were running away; and the next lot
of people I saw was a company of American bluejackets, with their long
thin Captain in front of them.  He gripped my hand and said he was
"right glad to find us alive", asked after Sally, and rushed on to the
house, his old-looking First Lieutenant shouting out, "Guess things are
real bully," as he followed him.  Then Mr. Rashleigh and the "Ringdoves"
came running up, clustered round the gun, and began cheering.  Dr.
Hibbert gave me a cheery wink, and Mr. Rashleigh patted me on the back
and hurt my arm, and I hadn’t forgiven him for that unfair report of
his, and hated him touching me.

I heard him tell his coxswain to take the gun back to the _Ringdove_,
and I thought that he couldn’t possibly have known that our people had
captured it first; so I told him about it, and that they had only gone
in pursuit of the Chinese, but he took no notice of me, and I forgot all
about it in the excitement of seeing Captain Lester coming striding
along, puffing and blowing, "Blucher" barking and prancing ahead of him,
running up and smelling the gun and one or two dead bodies very
gingerly.  Then he spotted me, and came wriggling up to be patted.

The Captain looked very sourly at me and growled out, "Where’s that chap
Ching, and the little lass and Hobbs?" and wanted to know whether Martin
and Miller were with me.  I must have looked a most awful sight, I know,
because I could still only just manage to see out of my left eye by
lifting up the lid with my fingers, and of course I was covered with
mud, and my left sleeve was dangling down, and my arm was inside my
monkey jacket, where the old Chinaman had bandaged it.  But, for all
that, he didn’t even ask me how I was, and that made me miserable.

"Pongo" came panting along after him, and when he had recovered his
breath, I asked if the Commander had landed with them.

It was then that I heard that he had been shot through the body, and
that Dr. Mayhew didn’t know whether he would live or die.  That made me
feel even more wretched, and the Captain, hearing me ask about him,
turned round and growled: "If you hadn’t been such a blamed little
idiot, he’d never have been shot.  Umph!  His little finger is worth
more than all you confounded young midshipmen—umph!—put together;" and
he stalked off to meet the American Captain.

"Pongo" told me that Dicky was going on all right, and then wanted to
know all about my arm, and my face, and everything that had happened;
but I wanted to be left alone and be miserable, and went away and hid
somewhere—I didn’t care what happened; and wanted to run away and get
killed, or something like that, till I heard Jim’s voice calling for me.
And he found me and comforted me a little, and said that Dr. Barclay did
not think that the Commander would die, but that Dr. Mayhew wouldn’t say
for certain till another day had gone by.  But all the joy and the
excitement had gone out of me, and I felt wretched and ill, and had a
bit of a "weep", and didn’t mind Jim seeing me, not in the least, and he
cleared out and left me, and went away to Mr. Whitmore and presently
came back, and told me all about Mr. Whitmore’s party, and how they’d
had a pretty tough job getting back to the boat, and never got halfway
to the gun.  He hadn’t been wounded at all—he didn’t even remember
falling down—so Miller must have made a mistake.  He was awfully keen to
see over the house, and went everywhere, and before I could stop him he
poked his nose into the little room place where they had put Mr. Hoffman
and five dead bluejackets, and that made him feel rather ill.

Everybody seemed to come up after this.  Dr. Barclay had a look at my
arm, and I saw the corners of his mouth go down.  "’Twill be a long
job," he said, and did it up again as comfortably as he could.  Miller
had coiled himself up behind the wall, and was fast asleep, and so were
Mr. Ching and most of his bluejackets—I would have done anything in the
world for them.  Old Sharpe came up to have a yarn, and cheered me up a
little, and Captain Marshall caught sight of me, and came along and said
something nice, and I knew that he was sorry, and I was so longing for
someone to be pleasant that I made friends.  He didn’t "hee-haw" either,
as I expected he would, when he first saw my face, and he told me that
the Commander knew that I had sent off that message in the letter which
the Englishman had written, and was pleased about it.  This cheered me a
little.

But the Captain took no notice of me, and every time he passed, my heart
just felt like lead inside me, and everyone seemed to know that I was in
disgrace, even old "Blucher".

It seems silly to say so, but I did fancy that he was not so
affectionate as he usually was, and it hurt me.

Then they brought a dead man along with his face covered up, and someone
told me that it was Wilkins, the marine bugler, who had helped me to set
fire to one of those huts, and throw stones at the dogs, and that made
me sadder than ever again.

Both of the landing parties must have managed to slip through in the fog
without really running up against many of the Chinese; but now they were
swarming all round us, and there was so much to do to keep them off,
that I was left alone, and got into a safe corner, and watched the ships
firing at the town and the six-inch gun.  Sally had been put in a safe
place, so the Captain didn’t care in the least where their shells went;
and a good many did come pretty close to us, and one of the _Vigilant’s_
eight-inch shells didn’t burst, and came roaring overhead, and fell into
the paddy fields below.

Presently a number of houses in the town caught fire, and a lot of the
Chinese ran away to try and put the fires out, so that we were not so
much worried with them.

I wasn’t there when the mandarin came to see the Captain, and didn’t
hear that he had brought the Englishman’s head with him till afterwards,
and by that time so many sad things had happened, that I did not feel so
very sorry for him.

Then we began our retreat, and it was just before we started that Jim
suggested that as I only had one arm, the best thing that I could do was
to stick quite close to the Captain.  He offered me his revolver, but I
still had that one the Englishman had given me, and a good many
cartridges for it were still in my pocket, so I got him to load it for
me.  He said a lot of things to buck me up before he went away, and I
tried to feel happier, but it wasn’t much of a success, at any rate
whilst I was near the Captain.  You see, he didn’t even notice me.  I
thought that perhaps he would send me away from him, but not noticing me
hurt me almost more, and I didn’t want to talk to "Pongo", because he
was nearly as much an idiot as "Dicky", and though he tried to buck me
"up", he only made me want to kick him.  He would keep going at it, too,
and I was jolly glad whenever he had to run on a message for the
Captain, and left me alone.

I saw Captain Marshall and Mr. Travers rush the hill opposite us, and
then we had to follow them across the paddy fields, very slowly, because
we had eight wounded men to carry.  Eight men from the _Ringdove_
dragged that Chinese gun along behind us, and Jim came up when we were
halfway across.  He had caught sight of the gun, and was simply furious,
because it wasn’t their gun at all, and we both told Mr. Trevelyan so,
and he was just as angry.

"Have you said anything to the Gunnery Lieutenant?" he asked.

Jim had told him, but he wasn’t going to do anything. He thought that
the Captain had probably given Mr. Rashleigh permission, so wasn’t going
to be mixed up with it, and we couldn’t speak to the Captain himself.

We got across all right, but Captain Parkinson lost a lot of people in
the rearguard when he left the walled house, and that meant more wounded
for us to carry, and then we dragged on again, and Mr. Travers and
Captain Marshall had a fearful time when they tried to leave their hill.
They did it splendidly, and it was grand to see their men walking
backwards down the hill, with their bayonets all sticking out at the
brutes above them, and when they ran back, Mr. Travers and Captain
Marshall and two or three men had to stop and keep the Chinese from
killing a wounded man who had fallen almost in front of their feet—they
were so close behind them.  We saw Mr. Langham rush back from the Maxim
gun and pick him up and carry him along, whilst the others kept the
Chinese off, and we all cheered.  It was a grand sight, and it washed
out a lot of silly things Mr. Langham had done to us in the gunroom.

After that we had seventeen people to carry, which meant very slow work,
and then the Captain took charge of the rearguard, because it was the
most dangerous place, and I kept close to him and saw that my revolver
was all right; but nothing much happened, and we cleared out back to
within half a mile of the shore, where that beastly fog began.

I never even saw Sally all this time, because Mr. Ching’s bluejackets
stood in a ring all round her, touching shoulders, so that none of the
bullets that were always coming along should touch her.  I did see her
skirt once when we were halted, and she was sitting on the ground in the
middle of them; but that was all.

We all joined up together then, and went as fast as we could, and the
fog rolled all over us and shut out everything.  It was perfectly awful,
and we seemed to lose each other and then find each other again, time
after time, and there were all our people shouting, and trying to form a
square all round us, and farther away in the fog Chinamen were yelling
and gradually getting round our flanks, and at last they were even ahead
of us.

It was then, that the Captain spoke to me for the first time, and
ordered me to try and find Captain Parkinson, and tell him to close his
men on the centre, so as not to have too broad a front, and to go very
slowly. I did manage to find him, after stumbling into a ditch and
hurting my left arm, and very nearly losing my revolver, and was only
able to get back to the Captain because his bugler kept on sounding
"G’s".

Just being taken notice of bucked me up again very much, and when the
Chinese suddenly rushed against our square, making a most awful noise, I
wasn’t really frightened—I didn’t want to live unless I could do
something to wipe out everything that I had done wrong—and this was my
chance, I thought.  I was shoved about from side to side, and jammed in
among a lot of our men, and was so small, that the brutes perhaps didn’t
see me, and somehow or other I managed to keep near the Captain, and his
coxswain, and the signalman, and I think I helped them keep the Chinese
off him.  I know that my revolver was empty when the fighting left off,
and I had tried very carefully not to fire except when a Chinaman was
almost touching.  I had been knocked over by our own men just before the
finish, and lost the Captain, but found him again, and got one of the
signalmen to reload the revolver.

I have often been asked whether I was frightened, and people think that
I am only putting on "side" when I tell them I was not.  But I wasn’t,
not in the least, because, as you must understand by now, from all I
have written, I was too frightfully miserable and too ashamed of myself.

Well, you know what happened, and that I managed to kill a brute who
pretended to be dead and tried to kill the Captain, as he was carrying
Sally away from those dead bodies round the Chinese gun.

The Captain did not say anything about it at the time, but that didn’t
stop me being happy in the least.  I didn’t want thanks, I was simply
satisfied to have done it—all by myself, too—with lots of people looking
on, so that there could not be any mistake about it.  Jim soon heard
about it, and found me, and gave my good arm a squeeze and went off.  I
had heard Captain Marshall "hee-hawing" about Ching looking as if he was
walking on "air", and I didn’t know what he meant at the time; but now I
knew, for I felt that I was walking on air too, and forgot my arm and my
face and of being so tired—forgot everything except having saved the
Captain—and I’m certain that Mr. Ching could not have felt more happy
than I did.

I still stuck to the Captain, although he didn’t say anything to me, and
even when I heard that Withers had been killed, I couldn’t feel as sad
as I ought, though he was really a chum of mine.

Presently, when all the terrible number of wounded had been patched up,
we brought them and the dead down to the sea, and when we got that
signal out of the fog from the _Omaha’s_ siren, we settled down to spend
the night on the shore, behind a damp bank, and made some fires, and
tried to make the wounded comfortable round them.  When the Captain had
seen to everything, he went over to one of the fires and sat down to
light a cigar, as he had run out of matches.  I think that he must have
been a little tired.

I sat down behind him, with "Pongo" and "Blucher", and presently he
turned round—he could see my face by the light of the fire, and I was
trembling all over for him to say something—and he growled out, "Haven’t
improved the look of your face, Dick!"

Well, I simply ran down towards the sea and hid in the fog, and sat down
in the mud and cried for joy.  No one else could see me, and I didn’t
much care if they did, for I felt too happy to describe it to you.  I
knew that everything was wiped out at last.

Of course he never cared a little bit about himself, so probably never
thought it was such a splendid thing to save his life, or worth the
trouble of thanking me for doing so.  That is why he hadn’t done it, in
so many words; but just that "They haven’t improved the look of your
face, Dick!" was all I wanted, and I was too shy to go back for a long
time, till I got so cold that I had to, and found Jim there and told
him, and he squeezed my arm again, and I know that he was as happy as I
was.  He hadn’t got hurt all day, not even in the fight in the square.
He’d been knocked under a Maxim carriage whilst he was trying to help
Mr. Whitmore get into some safe place, after his leg had been broken,
and had nothing but a few bruises to show.  He really was rather worried
about having nothing else to show for it.

He was still bubbling over with anger about that gun. He disliked Mr.
Rashleigh even more than I did, and he hated him having it.  We couldn’t
do anything, although Captain Marshall said that he had no right to it
whatsoever. Mr. Travers, with his leg jolly painful, didn’t want to be
worried about anything, and Captain Parkinson was too sad about his
First Lieutenant having been killed to think of anything else.  He did
say, "Guess your marines had gone by when my boys came up, and that
little fat chap was behind me—some."

"I actually stood on it, sir!  Didn’t you see me, Dick?"  Jim told him,
and I told Captain Parkinson that I had seen him, too, from the gateway
with my own eyes, and that was a long time before anyone else came in
sight.

He wouldn’t say anything, so we went away and sat down close to the
Captain, and began talking about it—you know what I mean—talking just
loudly enough for him to hear, if he wanted to; but we were both too
frightened to talk too loudly, and I don’t think that he did hear.

It was grand to see the fog rolling away in the morning, and to see the
gunboats showing up, and when it cleared away altogether, it was grander
still to watch them peppering the Chinese with shells whenever they came
out in the open.  Then the boats came along, and you should have seen
old "Blucher" scrambling into the first _Vigilant’s_ boat that ran up
the beach.  It made everyone laugh.

I was sent back with the second batch of wounded, and Dicky met me at
the gang-way, looking awfully white and scared.  He told me that the
Commander was doing all right; but I wasn’t allowed to see him, and Dr.
Mayhew was almost off his head with worry and work, and hadn’t time to
talk to me.

When I saw my face in the looking-glass I didn’t wonder why people had
smiled whenever they saw me.  The left side was all purple and black,
and my forehead was raw, and my left eye and upper lip all swollen.

Old Ah Man burst into tears, when he saw me—he was a funny old chap—and
went away and kicked his Chinese stewards and "makee learn" boys, and
brought me some beef tea and custard, and cried again when he heard that
Withers had been killed.

Then I had a hot bath, Dicky helping me, and turned into my hammock, and
it wasn’t till next morning that my arm was properly dressed and put
into plaster of Paris.

I knew, even before I went on deck, by the noise of the bell being
struck every two minutes, that the fog had come on again.  It was denser
than ever, if that was possible, and we had to switch on the lights all
over the ship to see our way about.

At midday we buried Withers and the five men belonging to the _Vigilant_
who had been killed—buried them overboard.  Captain Lester had brought
them off from shore, because he feared that if he buried them there the
Chinese would dig them up and mutilate them.

It was most awfully solemn and depressing, in that damp, raw fog, with
our bells tolling and our colours half-masted and dripping down limply.
Out of the fog, on each side of us, the gunboats’ bells were tolling,
for they were burying their dead too, and the noise seemed to throb
right through you.  The Chaplain read the funeral service over the six
bodies, covered with Union Jacks, and lying in a row on the quarterdeck,
Withers being the smallest and being placed farthest aft, because he was
an officer, and the Captain stood behind them, without moving a muscle,
and looking terribly stern.

The marines fired three volleys, and "A" and "B" companies fired another
three volleys, and then the two bluejacket buglers sounded the "Last
Post" six times, and each time, as the last note died away, there was a
splash, and I felt as if something icy cold had struck me right in the
middle of the back.

I did not dare to look at anyone except the Captain. Then the band
played a cheerful march, Mr. Lawrence sang out—"Ship’s company!  Right
and left turn!  Quick march!" and the men marched for’ard into the
battery, very silently, looking over the side at the water as they went
through the battery screen door.

"Hoist the colours!" the Captain said, and went below. His lips were
very tightly squeezed together.  No one could eat any lunch, we were all
so miserable, and no one even heard Captain Marshall "hee-hawing" for a
long time—not for days and days.

But the Commander’s third day had gone by, and Dr. Mayhew and Dr.
Barclay, both of them, said that he would get well, and that cheered us
all; and in a couple of days or so the Captain began to get angry again,
and to grunt and growl at everybody, which was another good sign, and
cheered us up a great deal.  He was fearfully angry about the fog; for
it settled down and never lifted for four days, and was so thick that we
could do nothing all that time, and of course the Captain had only half
finished his job, and wanted to burn the town and the junks and
recapture the yacht.

It did lift on the fifth day, and when the gunboats stood inshore and
the Captain landed, with everyone who was well enough to land, there was
no one there to oppose him, and only about twenty small junks still
remaining in the creek.  The pirates had simply cleared out in all the
big junks and escaped in the fog, and before they left they had set fire
to the yacht and the tramp steamer, and these were simply complete
wrecks.  Jim told me that they were nothing but bent and warped iron.

The Captain was in a terrible rage about it; but I don’t see how he
could blame himself, and it was only lucky that the fog had lifted
during the morning on which we had all got off.

He burnt the rest of the town and destroyed the six-inch gun; and the
Chaplain went ashore, with a firing party, and read the funeral service
over the graves of Mr. Hoffman and Wilkins, the marine bugler, and fired
three volleys, and the bluejacket drummer-boy used Wilkins’s own bugle
to sound the "Last Post".  When this was done, and when the _Huan Min_
had towed away some of the junks and burnt the others, we all steamed
back to Tinghai.

The _Ringdove_ was sent up to Shanghai to communicate with the Admiral,
and took with her our mails.  I wrote a most gorgeous letter to my
mother, and you can imagine what tremendously exciting letters we all
had to write home.

Jim was in charge of the boat that took the mail bags across to her, and
he came back red with anger.  "They’ve got that gun all burnished and
polished, just abaft the mainmast—I saw it;" and that made us all,
everyone in the gunroom, angry again.  We had almost forgotten about it
in the excitement of getting back to Tinghai and writing home.

Sally and Mr. Hobbs went in her, but before they went Mr. Langham coaxed
her down into the gunroom to cut those ribbons across the piano.  She
was very nervous and uncomfortable, and just as she was going to do it
with Webster’s dirk, someone suggested that Withers’s ought to be used,
so we went away and fetched it from his chest. When she knew whose it
was she cried, and we all felt horribly "snuffy", and then she opened
the piano and sat down, but only touched one note and burst into tears
again.  Mr. Langham pulled out his big handkerchief, shoved it into her
hands, and she ran away.

Directly she had disappeared Mr. Langham locked the piano and threw the
key through the scuttle into the sea.

When the _Ringdove_ came back she brought six weeks’ mails, and that was
the first thing that really cheered us up.  We were quite happy.

I had six long letters from my mother, the first I had had since leaving
home, and I sat on my chest in a corner by myself and read them, and it
was very jolly to hear all that had happened at home; but they made me
miserable, for although she tried to write cheerfully, I knew that she
was really very worried.  You see, my father would put all the little
money he had into silly swindly things which he saw advertised in the
papers, and my mother often told me that some of the religious papers
had more swindling advertisements in them than ordinary daily papers,
and of course my father, being a parson, often saw these.  I don’t know
much about it, but she used to tell me that if he saw an advertisement
telling anyone to send, say, five pounds to a man and he would be sure
to make it into ten or twenty pounds in a week—by some certain plan he
had invented for dealing in stocks and shares—my father would nearly
always do it, if he could manage to scrape any money together.

I know that my mother often cried about it, and I’ve often heard him
say, "Well, my dear, they seem to know what they are talking about.
They can’t be all swindlers, or else the editors wouldn’t print their
advertisements, so I’ll just try, this once."

He always lost his money, and I know, for a fact, that my mother only
had one new dress all the time I was on the _Britannia_, so as to have
enough money to pay for me there.

I know that this is rather a "sniffy" chapter, but I can t help it, and
I’m telling you just what happened, and how I felt about everything.

The Captain sent for me before I had read my letters more than twice,
and I shoved them into my chest and ran aft to his cabin.

He was sitting at his knee-hole table in his shirt sleeves, smoking a
cigar, with heaps of letters all around him, and "Blucher’s" head close
to his elbow.

"Good news from home, I hope, Ford?  Here’s something for you from my
girl Nan," and he gave me a folded-up piece of notepaper with "Dick"
scrawled across it.

I was running out again when he gurgled: "Arm all right?  Let me see you
move your fingers.  Umph. You’ll be all right.  Umph!  I wrote to the
missus to tell her you’d shot that chap who tried to cut me down; wrote
to your mother too, to tell her you were going on well—told her about it
as well.  Umph!"

"Did you really, sir?" I gasped.  "Thank you very much indeed, sir!"

"Umph!  Do you know where we are going? Yokohama!—to-morrow; got orders
to-night; off you go."

I rushed off to tell everybody, and was awfully happy again—everyone
was; but what made me so happy was to know that Captain Lester himself
had written about me saving his life, and that everyone at Upton Overy
would know about it.  I knew how my mother would love her letter, and
keep it, and read it over and over again. Nan wrote an awfully spidery
kind of a fist, and wanted me to bring her a whole lot of "curios" when
we came home.  She said that I had promised to do so, and that this was
just a "reminder".  It was jolly to hear from her, and she sent her love
to old "Blucher", and wanted to know whether he had had any of his
"fits" lately.

My face was nearly all right again by this time, but the forehead was
darker on the left side, and Dr. Barclay said that he thought it would
always be like that.

I didn’t really mind, because it would always be something to show, and
to remind me of everything.

As a matter of fact, I was rather pleased about it, but had to pretend I
wasn’t.



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                       *Goodbye to the Huan Min*


    Out of Danger—Goodbye to Ching—Mr. Rashleigh’s Report—at
    Hong-Kong


                    _Written by Commander Truscott_


I thank God that I am not lying under the muddy water rolling round the
Hector Group, with Withers and those other poor fellows of ours.

It was to Marshall and his marines that I owe my life, and I wish that
it was in my power to repay them. In attempting to rescue young Ford
that night he was captured, I had been shot clean through the body,
below the left ribs, and two of the marines—I do not know which two, and
they have never come forward to tell me—carried me back to the walls of
that battery, whilst Marshall kept the Chinese at bay.  It was Barclay
who told them to carry me as gently and smoothly as possible, as this
was my only chance, and they carried me as if I had been a baby asleep,
although the Chinese were closing all around them.  They got me down the
mud shore, and into the barge, only just in time, and it was whilst I
was being lifted in that Marshall received the blow on the head which
knocked him over.  There was a most desperate fight to save him, and
then poor young Withers managed to drive them off with his gun.

When they got me aboard the _Vigilant_, Mayhew would not give me any
opinion as to what my chances were. "Look here, Mayhew!" I told him,
"I’m not a baby; tell me;" but he only said, "Wait for three days, and
eat nothing till then.  I cannot tell you before."

I had to be content with that, and to lie in my bunk, with the pictures
of my wife and my two boys smiling at me out of their frames, and watch
the hands of the little clock she had given me crawling round its face,
and wondering, whenever I had a twinge of pain inside me, whether the
trouble which Mayhew feared had commenced, and whether the end was near.

Mayhew used to come to my cabin half a dozen times a day, feel my pulse,
and take my temperature.  "Hungry still, Commander?" he would say, and
smile and go away, and each time I would watch his face to see if the
smile was only there to cover his real feelings.  No one who has not
been through a time like this can imagine how awful is the suspense.

On the morning after the Skipper had come back with the landing parties,
bringing Sally, her father, young Ford, and our missing men with him,
Mayhew found my temperature and pulse normal.  He gave a whoop. "You’ll
live to enjoy your pension all right, Truscott," and told me that I was
practically out of danger.  Barclay came in and confirmed his opinion.
I lay back, too filled with emotion to speak.  Those photographs seemed
to smile even more at me—they represented all I had to live for—and life
seemed very good.

Neither of the doctors had had any sleep during the night, as they had
been busy with the wounded, and Barclay looked pretty ghastly.  He had
had a blow on the head during the fight in that square, but fortunately
the sword edge had been turned by his cap.

The Captain came in almost immediately afterwards, growling very
fiercely to hide his feelings.  "Umph!  I’ve kept back the _Ringdove_
till I heard about you from Mayhew this morning.  Going to send her up
to Shanghai at once.  I’ll be off and write a letter to your missus.
Umph!  You want shaving—badly;" and he gripped my hand and went out
again.

I finished my letter home—as you can imagine I finished it—the sentry
outside was waiting for it, I heard the boat shove off to take it to the
_Ringdove_, and I thanked God once more and felt inexpressibly at peace.

At the same time that she heard the news of my wound, my wife would hear
that I was out of danger, and this, too, caused me to be very thankful.

Some little time afterwards the curtain was pushed aside, and young
Ford’s extremely disfigured face peeped through. I smiled at him, and he
gave me a frightened cheerful smile and drew it back again.

Poor little chap! he’d been pretty badly knocked about. I ought never to
have let him go on that "fool" errand of his.  But he was as happy as a
lord, because he had saved the Skipper’s life.

In a week’s time I was allowed to sit up for an hour or two a day, and
in ten days’ time to walk about a little.

Then the _Ringdove_ arrived with six weeks’ mails, and orders from the
Admiral to proceed at once to Yokohama with the gunboats, to land all
the wounded still requiring hospital treatment, and to join the flagship
somewhere off the coast of Corea.  We were to proceed with "despatch",
as political complications in Europe threatened war with a country which
maintained a considerable fleet in Chinese waters.

The Captain of the _Huan Min_ had received orders by the _Ringdove_ as
well, and had to continue the search for the remainder of the
pirates—those who had escaped in the junks.

Ching and his Captain dined with our Skipper that night, and, for him,
"Old Lest" was extraordinarily gentle.  He felt, I am sure, that he was
leaving them in the lurch, with all this work still in front of them,
and thought it was hardly "playing the game", after the magnificent way
in which they had helped us.

I heard him tell Ching: "Umph!  But for you, Ching, we should never have
done it, never have rescued the little lass" (I saw Ching wince), "and
everyone would have called ’Old Lest’ a silly old fool.  I only wish
that we could stay and help you; but we can’t.  There’s trouble comin’
along, and the Admiral wants every ship he can get hold of, so we’ve got
to be off."  He grunted and growled a few times, and then burst out
fiercely with, "’Old Lest’ will never forget you."

He gave Ching a photograph of himself, and a silver cup he had won years
ago as a midshipman.  It was the Admiral’s cup for the Channel Fleet in
the old days, and he valued it more than anything else he had in his
cabin.  I told Ching so afterwards, in order that he should appreciate
it all the more.

He had written to the Foreign Office as well, about Ching, and we all
hoped that eventually he would get his promotion.

To continue the search for the fugitive and scattered pirates was like
hunting for the button in a Christmas pudding after the thimble and
sixpence had been found—a good deal of trouble, and not worth the bother
when you did find it.

Little Sally was the thimble, and the yacht and the tramp steamer the
sixpence, and we all knew well enough that Ching wanted the thimble, and
didn’t care in the least for anything else.

He had told me that he was hoping to be sent back to Shanghai, and I
know that he wanted another chance of seeing Sally, and that the
prospect of cruising alone among those bleak, fog-bound islands, now
that she had been rescued and had gone out of his life, was very dreary
to him.

Before he went back to his antiquated old tub, he was taken into the
ward room, where they gave him a great "send-off".  Everyone knew that
but for him Sally would not have been rescued, everyone on board admired
his pluck and gallantry, and everyone was extremely sorry to part with
him.

At daybreak next morning the _Huan Min_ got up her clumsy anchor and
steamed away, and we all manned ships and cheered her as she passed us,
and waited on deck till she had disappeared round the island, out of
sight, and nothing of her remained but a dense cloud of oily black
smoke.

"Umph!  There goes a confounded fine chap", the Skipper growled, as he
went below.  We ourselves, with our gunboats, left shortly afterwards
for Yokohama, and Parkinson in the _Omaha_ came along too.  There are
small English and United States naval hospitals still kept up in this
Japanese town, and all the bad cases were sent ashore to them.

Parkinson, after having landed his, left for Chemulpo in Corea, and we
gave him and his officers a great farewell dinner to commemorate the
termination of the expedition.

I did not take part in this, however, because Mayhew forced me to go to
hospital with Whitmore, Ford, and seven others of our men.

I was very loath to go, because I felt as fit as a fiddle, and war
troubles were brewing, and my place ought to be on board.  However much
I dreaded a big naval war, there was always the chance of some
promotion, and I hated to be left behind.

However, Mayhew wouldn’t hear of my coming, and we had to watch the old
_Vigilant_ steam away past the breakwater without us.

I rather fancy that the doctors were a little too careful about me, for,
as a matter of fact, I never felt better in my life.

Before the _Vigilant_ sailed, the Skipper brought "Blucher" up to the
hospital to say goodbye to us, and told me many things.  One was that he
had allowed the old Scotch engineer, whom we had brought with us from
the island, to go ashore and disappear.

"Umph!" the Skipper growled.  "Had enough evidence to hang him a dozen
times; but he helped our people in that house, and Ford and those two
fellows would have been scuppered but for him, so I sent him ashore at
night, gave him a ten-pound note, and told him to clear."

The ten-pound note was out of his own pocket, I knew well enough.

He was asking my opinion as to whom he should mention by name in his
despatches, and, just as he was going, said, "Umph!  Truscott, I sent
that Report of Proceedings back to Rashleigh with a copy of Trevelyan’s
and young Ford’s.  Told him to rewrite his.  Told him that I wouldn’t
forward it to the Admiral till I was satisfied with it, and he’s written
quite a different yarn.  Umph! I told him what I thought of him—pretty
plainly."

Young Ford had been bothering me, time after time, to do something about
that Chinese gun which Whitmore, Travers, and Marshall had captured, and
which Rashleigh had claimed and kept.  From all that I had gathered,
especially from Whitmore, there was no doubt that Rashleigh had no
earthly right to it.  I took this opportunity of mentioning the subject.

"Umph!  I know the fat little beggar’s got no right to it.  Thought he
had when he asked me for it, so gave it him, and let him take it away;
but when ’Old Lest’s’ given anything away—umph!—he don’t go back on his
word.  It belongs to me, I suppose, and I can do what I like with it,
eh?"

After he had gone I let Ford know what he had said about that Report,
and he was extremely delighted; but the possession of that gun still
rankled very deeply, and I felt sure that he would not be content whilst
it remained aboard the _Ringdove_.

From a few things Ford said, more or less under his breath, I had a dim
suspicion that if it wasn’t handed over to the _Vigilant_, the gunroom
meant to do something or other.

"What’s the game?" I asked him; but he wasn’t going to give away any
secrets.

For four weeks we were left to ourselves, and young Ford and myself were
able to have many pleasant little excursions up country, and each day’s
excitement was the arrival of Reuter’s telegram at the English Club on
the Bund, with news of the gathering war clouds.

As war seemed to be becoming imminent, both of us felt our position very
keenly.  Poor Whitmore with his smashed thigh was, of course, totally
helpless, but, as I said before, I was as strong as a horse again, and
Ford’s arm did not entirely incapacitate him.

Just, however, as we thought that war was only a question of hours, the
war clouds disappeared, to our intense relief, and presently the
_Vigilant_ came back to pick us all up again, the Skipper having orders
to proceed to Singapore, and to act as Senior Officer there till it was
time for us to go home and pay off.

I was fit for duty now, even Mayhew couldn’t deny that, and right glad I
was to get back to my work and to my own bunk.

We called in at Nagasaki for coal, took in four hundred tons, and then
left for Hong-Kong, where we arrived in the middle of June, just before
the hot weather had commenced, and made fast to one of the buoys off
Murray Pier.

It was very pleasant being back there, and we were obliged to remain for
a whole week, whilst the dockyard made a few slight repairs.

The only other man-of-war in the harbour besides the _Tamar_ and the old
_Wyvern_, moored off Kowloon, was the _Ringdove_, secured to another
buoy farther inshore.

Young Ford can tell you better what happened there during that week than
I can.

As a matter of fact, I am not supposed to know anything about it, and
don’t _officially_.

[Illustration: The ’Huan Min’ steaming eight knots]



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                         *A Midnight Adventure*


    Sent to Hospital—The Subscription—The Sub’s Plan—An Exciting
    Moment—Mr. Rashleigh Rages—Jim is Safe


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


I was very sorry indeed to say goodbye to Mr. Ching—we all were—and, of
course, I had had such a lot to do with him in that walled house, that I
ought to have been more sorry than anyone else.

The day before we separated from the _Huan Min_, Mr. Lawrence and I went
aboard her and had lunch with him.  It was a funny kind of meal, and
with only one hand I couldn’t help myself very well, so Mr. Ching cut my
food up into little pieces, and sent for a pair of chopsticks.  If you
have ever tried chopsticks, you will know that the first time you try
them you cannot do much, and I could hardly pick up anything at all, and
didn’t do more than taste anything before the others had finished
theirs, and my plate was taken away.

They thought it was jolly amusing to watch me, and though I was as
hungry as a hunter, I had to pretend that I wasn’t, and that I didn’t
mind.  There were all sorts of curious things there, and I had so wanted
to eat them all.

Afterwards, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Ching began yarning about old times
when they were midshipmen together in the _Inflexible_ years and years
ago, so they didn’t want me, and I slipped away and went round the ship,
and when I saw any man who had been in the walled house that awful
night, I shook him by the hand, because I was so glad to see him again.

I think they liked me doing it, and they all grinned and saluted very
smartly.

Mr. Ching gave me one of the gold-lace dragons from the sleeve of one of
his uniform coats.  I wanted that more than anything, and still have it,
and I gave him my stamp album.  It only had a few stamps stuck in here
and there, but there was a dark-red English penny stamp which, I
believe, was rather valuable, and I had nothing else worth giving away.
He seemed very pleased with it, and made me stick my name in it, so that
he could remember me.  I did hope that he would.

Mr. Hobbs and Sally had not given him anything at all. Wasn’t that nasty
of them, after all he had done?  But he still kept that tam-o’-shanter
she had worn; I saw it in his cabin.

Then the _Huan Min_ went off, to carry on hunting for pirates by
herself, and we went up to Yokohama, and when we arrived, the Commander,
Mr. Whitmore, myself, and seven of our men were sent to hospital.

I rather liked going, because it was so uncomfortable on board, with
only one useful arm; but then we heard that there might be a war, and it
was perfectly horrid to see the _Vigilant_ steaming away without us.

Still, I Was jolly happy, because, after she had gone, the Commander
told me all that the Captain had said about Mr. Rashleigh and his Report
of Proceedings.  That didn’t square up everything, not by a long chalk.
We wanted that gun, and we were going to have it, too, and before I’d
been sent to hospital, Mr. Langham and everyone else in the gunroom had
sworn to get it back, and had begun inventing plans for doing so.

Then three weeks went by, my arm had been put in plaster again, and back
the _Vigilant_ came.  There wasn’t to be any war, and she took us all
down to Hong-Kong, and we found the old _Tyne_ there, which made me
think of the first time I had seen her, and of how miserable and happy,
in turns, I had been on board her.

But just ahead of the _Tamar_ was the _Ringdove_, quite close to where
we made fast to one of the outer buoys, and when she was swung by the
tide in one position, we could see that Chinese gun just at the foot of
her main mast.

That made us all "bristle" up again and get most frightfully angry.  We
had almost forgotten all about it in the excitement of knowing that we
were going south to Singapore, to wait for our relief ship to come out
from England, and then go home to pay off.

At dinner that night we were as hot about it as ever, and we made up our
minds again to get it, somehow or other.  It was jolly difficult to know
how we could manage it, and nobody seemed to have any good schemes to
suggest.  Webster’s idea was to run alongside during the dinner hour,
when probably only the quartermaster would be awake, but that was silly.
We couldn’t possibly do it in the daytime, and we couldn’t even think of
a plan for doing it at night without being discovered. We knew jolly
well that if we were found out, there would be a most awful fuss, and we
should get into hot water with the Captain.

We made such a jolly row, all shouting and suggesting things, and
calling each other silly idiots, that Mr. Langham stuck his fork into a
beam overhead.

That is a signal for all the midshipmen and cadets to clear out of the
gunroom, and as the last "out" always had his "extra" bill stopped for
three days, so could not get any sardines or pickles from Ah Man, we
were all out in a jiffy, and left Mr. Langham, Mr. Hamilton the big
Engineer Sub, and the "A.P." to work out a scheme between them.

They wouldn’t let us come back again, and I know that they didn’t decide
upon anything; but during the middle watch that night something happened
which showed us the way.

It was Mr. Langham’s "watch", and at about five bells there suddenly had
been a lot of shouting under the bows, and he, the quartermaster, and
the signalman had all run for’ard to see what was the matter, and found
that a junk had fouled the buoy, drifted down against our bows, and
carried away a mast.

They got her clear, but it took a quarter of an hour to do it, and, of
course, during that time there had been no one aft at all, and anything
might have happened there without anyone knowing of it.

Now, don’t you see what the idea was?

Mr. Langham didn’t tell us what he was going to do exactly, for fear
that we should be asses enough to talk about it to everyone, and that
the "Ringdoves" would hear about it as well; but he went aboard the
_Ringdove_ in the morning to see the navigator, who was a pal of his
(except for the "gun question"), and came back again very excitedly.

"I had a good look at that gun, you chaps, without pretending to do so.
The wheels are simply lashed down to some ring bolts, lashed down with
rope, and we could cut them adrift as easy as winking."

He and Mr. Hamilton went ashore together and came off late at night, and
we all waited for them, and knew that something was in the "wind", but
they wouldn’t say what, and only told us that they wanted twenty pounds.
Mr. Langham said that he would give ten (he was very well off) if we
would subscribe the rest, and you may bet your best waistcoat we got
that other ten pounds pretty quickly.

We hadn’t the faintest notion why he wanted it till two nights after,
and then, just before "lights out" in the gunroom, he sent for us all
and told us.

My aunt! it was jolly exciting.

He had bought a sampan—one of the Chinese sailing boats which used to
bring us off from the shore if we missed the ordinary ship’s boat—and
had had two large holes made in the bottom, with plugs fitted in them
and ropes made fast to each, so that a jolly good strong jerk would pull
them out.  He had had her loaded with stones, so that she would sink
quickly after they’d been pulled out.

"I’m going to sail her across the _Ringdove’s_ bowsprit," he said, "and
shall get my rigging foul of her, if possible. If I can’t, I have a
grapnel, and shall catch hold of her cable, and when the sampan can’t
drift away, I shall pull out those plugs and begin "hullabalooing" like
a Chinaman.  When she sinks I shall hold on to the buoy and go on
squealing till the quartermaster comes along, and when he hears where I
am he’ll probably get into the dinghy to pick me up.

"I sha’n’t be there when he comes," he added, grinning. Of course, in a
small gunboat the only man on watch at night is the quartermaster, and
if there wasn’t much of a row, he probably would not call anyone else.

"Now, what you have to do is this"—we all got fearfully excited—"I’ve
asked the Commander for his gig to-night, told him I wanted it for a
special purpose, and he played the game and didn’t ask for what, and
said she needn’t be hoisted out of the water.  She’s quite big enough to
take the gun and carriage, and Hamilton and the ’A.P.’ and six of the
strongest of you mids have to go away in her at about half-past two in
the middle watch.  You must be down astern of her, not close enough to
let her spot you, by a quarter to three, and then wait till you hear me
start squealing.

"The _Ringdove_ has her dinghy made fast to the starboard boom to-night,
so you’ll have to pull alongside her port gangway as ’gingerly’ as ever
you can, get aboard and bring back the gun, and the carriage too, if
you’ve got time.  The trunnions of the gun are only secured in the
carriage by bands, and there are pins in them which can be pulled
out—well, a good many of you have seen them already.  Don’t worry about
me; I’ll swim back."

That was the scheme which he and Mr. Hamilton had worked out between
them, and it was jolly exciting. Mr. Hamilton was to go in charge of the
gig, and as he was very strong—nearly as strong as the Sub himself—he
had to do the lifting with Mr. Moore (the A.P.). Webster, Jones, and Jim
Rawlings and three of the others were told off to pull the oars, because
they were the strongest of the mids.

"Dicky", who was quite all right now, wasn’t to go, because he was too
excitable, and "Pongo" was too fat and useless.  I wasn’t going either
at first, but I implored them to let me steer.  I could manage with one
hand, if they fixed up the wooden tiller the Commander used when he took
the gig away sailing, and I said that I had some right to go, because
the gun had fired at me so often.  Jim backed me up, and Mr. Langham
agreed that I had some right, but told me that I should have to sit on
the gunwale, behind the stern sheets, so as not to crowd the boat too
much.

You may jolly well imagine that I didn’t care where I sat or what I did,
so long as I could take my share in the job.

Presently Mr. Langham compared his watch with Mr. Hamilton’s, and went
ashore in a very old flannel suit; and we had to turn in and pretend to
sleep, though that was impossible, and we kept on running up on deck to
see what kind of a night it was.

It turned out to be jolly dark, which was splendid; but there was only a
very little breeze, and that was blowing from Kowloon, on the mainland,
straight towards Hong-Kong.  This was a nuisance, because it meant that
Mr. Langham would have to beat off shore in the sampan, and as there
would be a jolly strong tide running, it would be very difficult to just
hit off the buoy and the _Ringdove’s_ bows, especially as he was going
to do it single-handed.

Mr. Hamilton was rather worried about this, and just after midnight he
came along to Jim and told him he had better go ashore, find Mr.
Langham, and help him sail her.  Jim was about the strongest swimmer of
all us mids; that was why he chose him.  And Jim was jolly keen to go,
and Mr. Hamilton pulled him ashore in the skiff, told him where he would
find the sampan, and pulled back again.

Well, I never thought the time for starting would ever come; but at last
"four bells" struck, and we all dressed, Dicky helping me because of my
arm, and we sneaked on deck like mice, and there was the gig waiting for
us alongside.

Mr. Trevelyan was the officer of the watch, and I heard Mr. Hamilton say
to him, "Going for a little exercise, Trevelyan;" and heard him reply,
"Well, good luck! I’ve got everything ready to hoist it in."  So of
course he must have known all about it.

We crept down into the boat; I squatted in the stern, jammed my feet
against the ribs there to prevent myself falling overboard, and we
shoved off without making a sound, and pulled away till we were some way
astern of the _Ringdove_, catching hold of the next buoy to hers and
hanging on to it.

Then we waited in the dark.

We couldn’t see a single light in her except her "riding" light for’ard,
and a very faint glimmer amidships, where the quartermaster ought to be.
Presently five bells were struck aboard the _Vigilant_ and aboard the
old _Tamar_ astern of us, and a few moments afterwards we saw a light
moving for’ard aboard the _Ringdove_, her funny, "tin-kettly" bell was
struck, the light came aft again, and we knew that the quartermaster, at
any rate, was awake.

"Old Langham ought to be shoving off now," Mr. Hamilton whispered.  It
was so dark round us that we couldn’t see twenty yards; but the shore
lights lighted the water close in under Murray Pier, and we all kept our
eyes turned that way, and presently saw a sail show out for a moment,
and whispered, "There they come," and got terribly excited.

One always forgets how excited one has been before, when other things
happened, but really I do think that I was fearfully excited now—as much
as I have ever been.

We waited and waited, and got the oars ready, and then, all of a sudden,
we heard a sound from the dark, as if something was knocking up against
a buoy.  I almost fell backwards overboard, but saved myself by
clutching the tiller, and then there were most piteous yells, two
different kinds, so that I knew Jim was there, and we shoved off and
pulled very quickly.

"Port gangway!" Mr. Hamilton whispered to me, and I steered for it; and
as we gradually crept under the stern, we saw the quartermaster’s
lantern moving for’ard and then saw it on the fo’c’stle.

Mr. Hamilton had to help me steer her, there was such a strong tide
running; but we were fearfully careful, and got the gig alongside, and
Jones held on in the bows, and Mr. Hamilton and the "A.P." and Webster
disappeared up the gangway in their bare feet, with a tackle the Bo’s’n
had given us.  We could hear them very softly getting the gun out of the
carriage, and the Chinese kind of yells were still going on, only more
gently, and we heard the quartermaster sing out, "Who’s there?" and
presently he sung out, "Hold on, and I’ll fetch the dinghy!"—though how
he thought Chinamen could understand him I don’t know.

The lantern was thumped down on the fo’c’stle, and he climbed along the
starboard boom, and in a very little while there was a splash of oars,
and we knew that he was pulling to the buoy.

I knew that we were all grinning, although we couldn’t see each other,
and imagined Mr. Langham and Jim swimming away out of sight; and I was
rather nervous about Jim, because the tide was so strong, and it was
quite five hundred yards back to the _Vigilant_.

However, there wasn’t time to worry, as Mr. Hamilton and the "A.P." were
coming down the ladder with the gun in their arms, and the gangway
creaked at every step, and we were very frightened because the noise
seemed so loud.  They slid it down into the stern sheets on to a
gymnasium mat we had put there to deaden the sound, and back they went.
We heard something drop on the deck, and it seemed to make an awful row,
and presently they came to the gangway again, and all of them were
lifting the gun carriage, and they began lowering it into the boat with
the tackle.  You see, it was such an awfully awkward thing to handle,
though it wasn’t really very heavy.

Then we were absolutely petrified with fear, for suddenly we heard Mr.
Rashleigh’s voice bawling for the quartermaster, and could hear him
coming along from under the poop, cursing, and wanting to know where he
was, and what all the noise was about.

The gun carriage was only lowered halfway down, but Mr. Hamilton sang
out very softly, "Stand clear!" and dropped the whole thing into the
boat on top of the gun (I don’t know how it was that it didn’t break
anybody), and they all jumped down in a heap, making a most fearful row.
Jones slipped the boat rope for’ard, and we slid astern just as Mr.
Rashleigh ran up to the gangway and began singing out and cursing,
asking who it was, and what it was, and "Where’s that quartermaster?"

He was in a towering passion, and we could imagine what a jolly funny
sight he must be in his bulgy pyjamas, with his round red face and his
bald head, but were jolly glad that there wasn’t any light for us to see
him or he us. We hadn’t moved a muscle—not even those who had fallen in
a jumble on top of each other—and simply let the tide take us down right
under the stern, where it was tremendously dark, and he couldn’t
possibly see anything.

I don’t think that he had discovered at first what had really happened,
and kept cursing into the dark, but then must have found our tackle, for
he was absolutely silent, and we guessed that he must have found that
the gun wasn’t there.

By that time the quartermaster had come back, and the last we heard was
a glorious row going on.  My aunt! you should have heard him storming.

We were well astern now, and Mr. Hamilton and the "A.P." and Webster
disentangled themselves, and we got out the oars and pulled a roundabout
way back to the _Vigilant_.  She was pitch dark, even the quarterdeck
gangway lamps were turned off, and we had to feel our way very gingerly
to the side.  This was so that we shouldn’t be seen getting the gun on
board.  The rest of the gunroom and most of the ward-room officers were
up there, and had a tackle rigged, all ready, and got the gun and the
carriage on deck in no time.

They carried them for’ard to hide, and put the gun in the sand tank,
covering it up with sand, and the carriage was taken to pieces and
stowed away in one of the gunner’s storerooms.

We were all so excited, that I forgot all about Mr. Langham and Jim till
Mr. Langham came dripping up the gangway, asking if everything was all
right, and if Jim had turned up, as he had lost sight of him after
leaving the buoy.

"A jolly strong tide’s running, and it was about as much as I could do
to get here," he said, rather out of breath, and rather anxiously.

We all peered over the side, and tried to see his head coming along; but
it was too dark to see anything at all, although Dicky and I went down
to the foot of the accommodation ladder and looked along the surface of
the water. Poor Dicky was almost off his head with fright.  He kept on
squeaking out: "Jim!  Jim!" but daren’t do it too loudly.  And we
listened, but there was no answer, and I, too, was quite frightened, and
wished that we could do something, only it was so jolly difficult to
know what to do, and no one dare make a great noise, or run a
searchlight, or anything like that, for fear of having to wake the
Captain or the Commander, and giving the whole show away.

But Mr. Langham—just as he was, wringing wet—the "A.P." and Mr. Hamilton
and four mids went away in the gig.

"He’ll probably have drifted down with the tide, and will try and get
hold of a buoy," Mr. Hamilton told me, and they disappeared in the
darkness.

I could not go down below, because I was so worried, and had the most
horrid feelings inside me, which Dicky made worse by asking such silly
questions.  Everything was so horribly dark, and the tide was running so
strongly, and I knew that Jim must be in fearful danger, although Mr.
Trevelyan kept saying that he would turn up all right.

I had forgotten all about the wretched gun, till someone—"Pongo", I
think it was—said to Mr. Trevelyan, "Jolly to have the gun all right,
sir, and the carriage. Isn’t it, sir?" And Mr. Trevelyan answered, "What
gun?  I don’t know anything about a gun.  I’ve been forward with the
quartermaster for the last quarter of an hour, and haven’t seen
anything."

I believe that the silly ass would have begun telling him, if Mr.
Trevelyan hadn’t said, "What the dickens are you doing up here at this
time?  Go and turn in at once!"

I really wasn’t quite sure, then, whether he was "pretending" or not.

We waited for nearly half an hour, we all were fearfully nervous, and
Mr. Trevelyan kept on saying, "I shall have to wake the Commander if he
doesn’t come back in another three minutes," and would wait, and say it
again. And at last he actually started to go down to the Commander’s
cabin, but before he had got halfway down, the _Tyne’s_ masthead signal
lamp began winking and blinking.

"She’s calling us up, sir!" the signalman sang out; and oh! it was such
a relief, for she signalled, "Mr. Rawlings is aboard", and I was awfully
thankful.  She was right astern of us, quite half a mile, and he must
have been drowned if he had missed her, as there was nothing astern of
her, no buoys, or ships, or anything to hold on to.

Dicky ran down below.  He is such a soft-hearted chap.

We signalled across that we would send for him, and three of the ward
room officers, in their pyjamas, fetched him in the skiff, and I almost
blubbed with delight when he came alongside, looking like a drowned rat,
and pulling at an oar to warm himself.

We got him down below and out of his wet things, and presently Mr.
Langham and the others came back in the gig.

They had pulled round all the buoys astern of the _Ringdove_ and tried
to find him, and alongside the _Tamar_, hoping to find him there, and
then, as a last chance, in a terrible state of fright, to the _Tyne_,
and had got the good news that he had just gone back in our skiff.

"I thought it was all U P," Mr. Langham said, and changed into dry
things; and then we all had a sardine supper in the gunroom, and most of
the ward-room officers came down too, and we were awfully happy and
contented, and Jim and Dicky and I "whoofed" two whole tins of sardines
between us.  Jim told me that he was pretty nearly "done" when he
managed to grab hold of the _Tyne’s_ gangway, and couldn’t drag himself
out of the water till he had sung out, and someone had come down and
given him a hand.

We had to be awfully quiet, for fear of disturbing the Commander, whose
cabin was just overhead, and that was the only drawback to the supper.

Then we all turned into our hammocks; but Jim and I were much too
excited to sleep, and besides, we had eaten too much.

Wasn’t that a glorious night, and hadn’t we jolly well got level with
Mr. Rashleigh?

"Worth the risk, every time," Jim whispered.

"But won’t there be a glorious row to-morrow?" Dicky squeaked.  He was
frightened about it already.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                    *The Captain Receives a Present*


    "Old Lest" Flares Up—Recaptured from the Ringdove—Sally Again


       _Written by Captain Marshall, Royal Marine Light Infantry_


Old Truscott has asked me to write this chapter, because he says that he
is so confoundedly busy paying off the old _Vigilant_, that he hasn’t a
moment to himself.

That is his reason for not being bothered with the job; but for all that
he manages to get into plain clothes all right, and fly to the beach and
the bosom of his family, directly after evening "quarters" every day.
He is so beastly happy, that I don’t really mind shoving another chapter
into this immortal book for him.

Although it is three months since we left Hong-Kong, I shall never
forget old Rashleigh, in frockcoat and sword, coming fuming on board
there, and wanting to see the Skipper about that wretched pop-gun which
he swore we had stolen from him during the night.

I most distinctly remember having assisted to hoist something on board,
at a most unusual hour of the night, but of course it was much too dark
for anyone to be able to swear their Bible oath that it was his gun,
though it certainly seemed to be wonderfully like it.

I said "good morning" to him as kindly as I could, and mentioned the
fact that we were having very seasonable weather for this time of the
year; but he was most distinctly rude, and when I saw his little eyes
sticking out of his head, squinting round the quarterdeck and expecting
to see his gun there, I nearly died of laughing.

His coxswain followed him up the ladder with some rope and blocks and
flung them down on the deck.

"There’s your confounded tackle you left aboard me last night.  You’re a
confounded lot of burglars, the whole boiling lot of you," Rashleigh
said to the Commander, and I am certain I could detect some slight
traces of irritation in his manner.

Old Truscott himself flared up then—I’d never seen him angry before—and
cursed the coxswain for throwing the tackle on the quarterdeck, and
ordered him to pick it up again.  He then took the fat little sausage,
stamping with rage and red as a lobster, down to see the Skipper, whilst
the others hauled me into the battery, banged me on the back, and
implored me in the most gentlemanly way to stow "’hee-hawing’, like a
whole pack of jackasses, you chump-headed son-of-a-sea-cook, or you’ll
be giving the whole show away".

As Trevelyan had been the officer of the watch when the dastardly
outrage was supposed to have taken place, he was sent for to throw some
light on the subject, and after Rashleigh had gone away we heard from
him all that had happened down there.

Neither the Skipper nor Truscott actually did know anything about it at
all, and when Rashleigh, like the blundering ass that he was, suggested
that they both did, the Skipper naturally flew into a rage, and after
Trevelyan and the quartermaster who had been on duty at the time had
sworn blindly that they’d seen nothing come on board during their watch
(they had taken jolly care to be out of the way whilst we hoisted it
in), he roared out, "What have you to say to that?" and little Rashleigh
didn’t know what to say, but was so madly angry, and so certain that no
other ship could have taken it, that he stammered out that he would like
the ship searched.

"Search ’Old Lest’s’ ship for your lousy gun!  You! You!——"

Fortunately the Skipper could never do justice to his vocabulary when he
really was angry, so could not think of any particularly appropriate
epithets suitable for this occasion.

But Rashleigh wasn’t finished with yet, and stuttered out, "I’ll report
the whole thing to the Commander-in-chief!"

"Report till you’re blue in the face!" the Skipper roared. "You’ve got
no blessed right to the gun—no more right than the other gunboats; you
got it under false pretences, in the first place;" and he shook his
fists at him.

"If a gun and its carriage—umph!—can be taken off your quarterdeck
without anyone knowing about it, you must run your ship in a pretty
smart way.  Umph!  If you can’t be trusted to keep it safely, I’ll take
jolly good care you don’t get the chance again.  You got it by a
lie—yes, a downright lie—and if it does turn up aboard here, you can
shout yourself hoarse for it.  ’Old Lest’s’ blowed if he’ll give it you
again."

The Skipper practically turned him out of his cabin, and ordered him to
take the tackle back with him.  Rashleigh was so furious when he went
back, that he was quite white in the face; and I mentioned the fact to
old Barclay as a phenomenon of medical interest, but he was so busy
trying to prevent himself exploding with laughter, that the interesting
information was wasted on him.

It was lucky that we left Hong-Kong two days afterwards, for feeling ran
so high between the two ships, that otherwise there would have been
serious trouble ashore between our liberty men and hers.

We steamed slowly away for "England, Home, and Beauty", with our
paying-off pendant streaming from our masthead, and the gilt bladder at
its end jumping about in the water astern of us, our wretched band
blaring away "For Auld Lang Syne"—a most inappropriate tune for the
"Ringdoves"—and "Rolling Home for Merry England", till we were halfway
through Lyemoon Pass.

The Commodore had made a "general signal"—"Cheer Ship"—and the unhappy
"Ringdoves" had to climb on her nettings and give us three cheers as we
passed, though little Rashleigh didn’t appear on deck, as you may
imagine.  "Hardly what you’d call ’arty cheers," I mentioned to old
Whitmore, who had been brought up on deck to see the last of Hong-Kong.

We returned them with three absolutely "top hole" shouts, for there were
only two people aboard who didn’t know for certain that the gun was
somewhere on board us—the Skipper and Truscott—and they all knew that
the "Ringdoves" had no more right to it than the man in the moon, so
cheered "according".

We stayed a couple of months at Singapore, waiting for the _Fisgard_ to
come out and relieve us.

At last she arrived; we transferred some of the mids and cadets to her,
cheered ship, and away we went for Colombo and home.

I assure you, on my solemn "Alfred Davy", that till next morning neither
the Skipper nor Truscott did know anything about that gun, however much
they may have suspected.  When I went on deck, the first morning after
leaving Singapore, there it was, mounted on its carriage, just below the
muzzle of our after eight-inch gun.  A brass plate had been screwed on
to the carriage and engraved with—"This gun was captured during the
operations against Chinese pirates in the Hector Islands, and presented
by the Officers and Ship’s Company of H.M.S. _Vigilant_ to Captain Chas.
E. Lester, R.N., and Mrs. Lester".

They had had the plate engraved ashore at Singapore.

Of course the Skipper saw it directly he came up to "divisions" and
"morning prayers", and it was as good as a play to watch his face.

Truscott had been let into the secret an hour before, and he and the
chief boatswain’s mate asked the Skipper if he would mind accepting it.

"Mind accepting it?" he roared, when he’d read the inscription on the
brass plate, and "Blucher" had sniffed round the wheels, "Mind accepting
it?  I’m proud to accept it, and the missus will be prouder still.
Umph! You’re a darned set of rascals!  But that plate, wants something
added to it.  How about ’Recaptured from the _Ringdove_’?"

The men all laughed and guffawed.  They were as pleased as "Punch".

"There is something I’d like to have on that gun," he growled, more
gently—"the names of those of us who were killed; and if the Commander
and the chief bo’s’n’s mate will see to that, ’Old Lest’’ll take it home
with him.  Umph!  When we get home I’m going to try to get you a week’s
extra leave—for your active service—if none of you give the Commander
any trouble at Portsmouth."

The men were dismissed, and crowded for’ard, as happy as kings, and I
heard the Skipper growl to, old Truscott, "Umph! you rascal, waited till
we got off the China station, did you?  Umph!"

"I knew nothing about it till this morning, I assure you, sir," he
answered.

"Umph!" he grunted to me, "you’re looking mighty pleased with yourself.
What did you have to do with it, eh?"

"I did happen to lend a hand at hoisting in something very like it,
sir."

"You’re a disgrace to the marines," he growled, and went below grandly
pleased.

                     *      *      *      *      *

By the end of August we were made fast to the north railway jetty at
Portsmouth, and, as I knew they would—my troubles began.  They were
mostly connected with unpaid bills, so I won’t bother you with them; but
it was Grainger, my trusty servant, who was more angry at them bothering
me than I was myself.

"’Ere’s a ’ome-comin’, sir," he said mournfully, as he was packing my
gear and snorting at the condition of my worn-out plain clothes; "’ere’s
a ’ome-comin’, and arter all we’ve done for "The Corps", to say nothink
of the wound in your for’ud, and that ’ere jab in the leg, and those
trouses and serges, abso—lutely ruinationed. We can’t ’ardly turn you
out fit to march the de—tachment into barracks, sir, that we can’t."

One thing gave him a little pleasure, and that was producing an eyeglass
which he’d carefully preserved in a corner of a drawer.  I thought that
I had broken my last one before leaving Aden, but he had been keeping
this one to make certain that, when the time came for marching into
barracks, I should have one jammed in my port optic.  "They’ll think
there’s summat gone wrong with us, sir, if you don’t ’ave it—up in the
hofficers’ mess."

Some of us had expected to be made a fuss of when we arrived at
Portsmouth; but it was four months since the papers had been full of our
exploits, and everyone had forgotten all about them—and us.

Old "B.-T.’s" leg was all right again, and he and I got Old Bax to
advance us some pay, and had a couple of days in London together.  We
ran up against—whom do you think?  Old man Hobbs and Sally—my little
princess looking absolutely sweet.  They had come along across Canada.

We helped them choose a dressing-bag for Ching, of the _Huan Min_.  It
was fitted with more things than I dreamt could be crowded into a
bag—everything gold-mounted, and costing a small fortune.

What the Christopher Columbus old Ching would do with it, "B.-T." and I
couldn’t think; and we knew, jolly well, that the only thing he would
want to find in it was my little princess herself.

We dined with them at their hotel, and next night "stood" them a
theatre, and supper afterwards.

Old "B.-T." wasn’t in very good form, because I’d cut him out with the
little princess—my little princess—and he’d been saddled with old man
Hobbs, and didn’t like it a little bit.

They’d asked us to spend some of our leave with them up in Scotland; but
"B.-T." had the "hump", and refused, though you may bet your life I was
going, if I could only raise enough money to pay my fares.

                     *      *      *      *      *

"What d’you think of me getting married?" I asked Grainger, when he
brought my breakfast the morning after my return to the ship.

"Who’s it this time, sir?"

"What d’you say to a princess?"

"If she be a real princess, sir," he snorted, "she won’t darn your
socks, so won’t be no ’elp to me.  You don’t want none of them sort,
sir.  You want one of ’em steadyin’ kind of ones, if you don’t mind me
a-sayin’ so, sir."

"Just you wait and see," I told him.

I had asked them to come down to Portsmouth, to see the old _Vigilant_
again, and they did.  They stayed there till we paid off, and I had a
great deal of difficulty to boom the others away from my little
princess, but managed it fairly successfully.

At last the great day of paying off did arrive, the white ensign and the
pendant were hauled down, and we all began scattering to the winds.

Everyone said goodbye to everyone else, and I shook hands with dear "Old
Lest".

"Umph!  Where are you going?" he asked.

"Going to march the detachment into barracks, sir."

"Umph!  I know that.  What are you doing with your leave?"

"Going up to Scotland, sir."

"Umph!" he growled.  "That’s it, is it?  When you get tired of Scotland,
come down and get a bit of shooting with ’Blucher’ and me.  The missus
will be glad to see you."

"Thank you very much, sir, but I hope not to get tired of Scotland as
soon as that," and marched down the gangway to the shore for the last
time.  The old sergeant-major reported the detachment present; I sung
out, "Royal Marines!  At’shun!  Shoulder arms!  Left turn!  Quick
march!" and we left the old _Vigilant_, which had been our home for
three years, and embarked in a tug for Clarence Victualling Yard, at
Gosport, where headquarters’ band was waiting to play us into barracks.

I left Grainger behind to bring all my gear across later on.



                              *CHAPTER XX*

                              *Home Again*


    Paying Off—Home Again


                      _Written by Midshipman Ford_


Jim Rawlings, Dicky Morton, and I had been such a very short time on the
China station, that we all three ought to have gone to the _Fisgard_
when she came out to relieve us.

But just after we had reached Singapore, the Captain asked me whether I
wanted to go home with him in the _Vigilant_, and though I felt an awful
brute at leaving Jim and Dicky, I simply jumped at the chance.  I wanted
to see them at home so much, and go back to Upton Overy and see people
nod at each other, and know that they were saying, "That be Master Dick
who saved the Cap’en’s life," that I forgot all about the other two.  I
was jolly sad to see them go aboard the _Fisgard_ with their chests, and
they were jolly sad too.  Dicky was quite well now, and not half the ass
that he had been when he first joined.

What made them more sad than anything else, was not being able to see
the Chinese field gun given to the Captain.  We gave it to him the
morning after they left, when we were at sea.  He was awfully delighted
with it.  You could see that by the way he patted it, and ran his
fingers over it, and lifted it out of its carriage to test his strength,
grunting and growling splendidly.

I wrote to tell Jim all about it, and sent the letter from Aden.

Before we left Singapore, we got the English papers with the accounts of
all our fighting, and I was awfully proud to see my name in among the
severely wounded, and rather expected that they would make a great fuss
of us all at Portsmouth.  They didn’t, however, and when I went ashore
to give "Blucher" a run, and got out of the dockyard gates on to the
"Hard", I was disappointed that people didn’t take the least notice; you
know the funny sort of feeling one has.  I kept on thinking whether any
of them had an idea that I had been the captain of the junk _Sally_, and
had been all that terrible night in the walled house.

Wasn’t it strange for Mr. Hobbs and Sally to turn up there whilst we
were paying off?  A lot of our chaps think that she’s "spoony" on
Captain Marshall, but I rather think that she’d be "spoony" on anyone
who was tall and good looking—if he took any notice of her.

Mr. Travers thinks so too, because I heard him tell Captain Marshall so;
but he only "hee-hawed", and said something about "sour grapes".

She was jolly smartly rigged out, and Webster said she looked a perfect
"knock out"; and she came down into the gunroom one afternoon with
Captain Marshall, and, I suppose, had forgotten about poor old Withers,
because she wanted to play the piano.  Mr. Langham sent for the armourer
to force the lock, and it was Miller who came, and she recognized him,
and asked him if he remembered carrying her across the garden in that
walled house.  He got frightfully red and out of breath, and scratched a
lot of veneer off the piano.

Mrs. Lester came to stay at Portsmouth, and was jolly nice to me.  She
came so that the Chinese gun could be properly presented to her, and the
men were awfully pleased.

You remember Martin, the marine, and how he had made me so tired by
telling me so often about having tried to save my life.  Well, this had
taught me not to remind people about things like that, so I never even
led up to it; but Mrs. Lester said awfully jolly things about my having
shot that brute.  She had brought messages from my mother and Nan, and
from lots of people; but my mother couldn’t come herself, because she
couldn’t afford to, and I had to wait to see her till we "paid off", and
I went on leave.

I did go to see Mrs. Scroggs and all Scroggs’s children. She had come to
live quite close to Portsmouth, and Sharpe, the petty officer, came with
me, and we had a very "weepy" time, because she was so miserable, and
cried a great deal, and said that it was awfully hard to make both ends
meet on her pension, even with what we had subscribed.  The children
were all growing up, and wanting boots and things, and had most
tremendous appetites.

I was jolly glad to get away, and I’m certain that Sharpe was.

Mrs. Lester went back two or three days before we actually did "pay
off", and then came the morning when we all said goodbye.  The marines
marched away, and the bluejackets streamed ashore with their bags on
their shoulders to go on leave, and cabs came rattling up to take us to
the station.

I did intend to walk, because all my heavy gear had gone to the
"outfitters", and I only had two small bags and some paper parcels with
that boat’s ensign and the presents for Nan and my father and mother;
but the Captain called out, "Comin’ with me, Dick?" and I actually went
with him and "Blucher" in his cab, with "Willum" sitting up on the box,
and right the way to Upton Overy with him in a first-class carriage. He
paid for it, too, and gave me some grub at Salisbury, and a ripping tea
at Exeter.

We didn’t get to Upton Overy till ten o’clock at night, and I was so
jolly excited, and so fearfully proud of being with the Captain, that I
couldn’t feel tired; and when we ran into the station they fired off fog
signals, and there were flags all over the place.  Old Puddock, the
station master, opened the door, and Mrs. Puddock "bobbed" behind him,
and I caught sight of my mother under a lamp, and forgot all about my
bags and parcels, and rushed across to her.

"Blucher" nearly went off his head with joy, and chased Mr. Puddock’s
cat till it turned round and faced him, and then he forgot about it.  I
do believe that everyone in Upton Overy was waiting outside, and there
were more flags in the streets, and a triumphal arch, and Mrs. Lester
was waiting in one of the carriages.  Everyone was cheering like mad,
and the fishermen had taken the horses out of the carriage and were
going to pull the Captain up to The House.

My mother and I slipped away—I’d asked Puddock to send up my things—and
got home, and it was grand being back again, though my father was very
worried, and hardly cheered up when he saw me.  My mother had told me
how miserable he was, and that I must be very quiet and not talk too
much or too loudly, so that rather took the gilt off the gingerbread.

Even when I showed them the white ensign with the bullet holes in it,
and told them all about it, he only said that it was a shame to send a
child like me away on such a job, and said it was time to be going to
bed, and he was thankful that I wasn’t a cripple for life after having
my arm smashed.

"He’ll be all right to-morrow," my mother told me, and I showed her my
arm, and the places where the bullet had gone through it, and moved my
fingers, and picked up heavy things to show her that it really was quite
strong, and that I should not have to leave the Service and simply stay
at home and be an expense to them, and we just hugged each other, and I
went to bed presently.

I was up again very early in the morning, and ran down to the beach to
see all my chums in the fishing boats, and they "bucked me up"
splendidly.  They all crowded round, and had heard about
everything—everything—and they told me all the news, and that Ned the
Poacher was in prison, and his wife and children had gone to the
workhouse, and that old Gurridge was coming back at the end of the week
and wanted to see me, and I slipped back in time to prevent my mother
worrying about where I’d gone, and after breakfast I rushed up to The
House.

The Captain was there in his old shooting suit, with a gun over his
shoulder, and "Blucher" was careering all over the flower beds, and not
stopping when he was told to.  "Umph!  I’ll shoot that dog if he don’t
come to heel when I tell him," the Captain grunted, and I ran off and
managed to catch him.  I knew jolly well that old "Blucher" might have
destroyed every flower in the place if he wanted to, for anything the
Captain would have done to him.

"What became of you, Dick, last night?  The missus waited for you and
your mother till we couldn’t wait any longer.  Umph!  Must go down and
see her and the Parson after lunch."

I very much hoped that he wouldn’t, because I was afraid my father would
say something to him about sending me away in charge of that junk.  I
told him about Ned the Poacher and his wife.

"Umph!  Serve the beggar right; we’ll see what we can do about his
missus and the kids.  Umph!  Go in and see the girls, and then come
along with ’Blucher’. I’m going after rabbits."

I’d brought a Chinese embroidered skirt for Nan, and she simply loved
it, and I couldn’t get away, and didn’t want to, and presently the
Captain began bellowing "that he couldn’t wait till Domesday", and Nan
said, "I’ll come too", and we raced each other round to the stables to
get "Blucher’s" chain, and off we went.

It was awfully ripping, and "Blucher" gave us no end of a time, pulling
us about whenever the Captain fired his gun.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



    [Transcriber’s note: the source book had running headings on its
    odd-numbered pages.  In this etext, those headings have been
    combined into an introductory paragraph at the start of each
    chapter.]





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