The Penang Pirate, by John Conroy Hutcheson ___________ This is a fairly short book, consisting of two short stories.
The first of these, "The Penang Pirate", describes how the Captain of the "Hankow Lin", suspecting that there might be a piratical attack on his vessel on her return voyage from Canton to Australia, lays plans to spoil the pirates' fun. As a result of this the attacking pirate vessel is soundly beaten, but there were some interesting events and confrontations before they actually met the pirate schooner.
The second story is "The Lost Pinnace". HMS London is cruising the East Coast of Africa in search of any slaver dhows. One of these is met with and deleted, so the London, a midshipman with knowledge of the local language having overheard that there is a second slaver not far away, sets off in search of a further conquest.
It was the custom at that time for a ship's pinnace to be left behind under the command of a junior officer whenever the warship left the station on a chase. No junior officer being available the pinnace is left with the bosun in command.
All is well for a time, but there is a severe storm, and the pinnace is lost, several miles from the Madagascar shore. Some of the crew are lost, but the remainder, including the bosun, who is telling the tale years later to a friend back in England, reach the shore. Their journey to the capital of Madagascar is very difficult and dangerous, but most of them get there in the end. ___________
THE PENANG PIRATE and THE LOST PINNACE
BY JOHN CONROY HUTCHESON
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER ONE.
IN THE PEARL RIVER.
"Aye, aye, bo!"
"Guess this'll be a rum v'yage, mate."
"Why, old shellback?"
"'Cause I can't make out why we are wasting our time here, with the cargo all aboard and the wind fair."
"Don't you fret yourself about that, Jem Backstay. The skipper knows what he's a-doing, and has got a heap o' 'sponsibility on them shoulders o' his'n—a fine ship and a valuable cargo to get home safe to old h'England with a short crew, and a lot o' murderin', blood-suckin' pirates all over the h'Indian seas!"
"Ay, pirates! I spoke plain enough, didn't I? But you needn't shiver in your skin like one of them white-livered Lascars we've got aboard in place of honest sailors, worse luck! You needn't have no cause to fear for the number o' your mess, bo; the cap'en—God bless him!—will see us safe through, you may be sure."
"Right you are, Bill; you know the old man better nor I, and I s'pose he's taking cautions like?"
"No fear, mate. He's got his head screwed on right enough, my bo."
"And that's the reason, p'raps, he'd that long palaver with the admiral's flagship afore we come up the river?"
"Ay," said Bill sententiously; "may be so."
"Well, Bill, if so be there's pirates about, they might do a'most as they likes wi' us, for I don't think there are three cutlasses aboard, and ne'er a musket as I can see, and only powder enough to fire off that little popgun there to summons a pilot."
"Aye," answered the other nonchalantly.
The Hankow Lin was lying in the Pearl River, off Whampoa, some twelve miles below Canton, to which anchorage all sailing vessels having business at this port of the Celestial Empire are restricted by the mandarins, only steamers being permitted to ascend the reaches of the river to the city proper and anchor in front of Shah Mien, the English settlement.
The vessel had shipped all her tea and silk, which formed a valuable cargo; and, with her anchor hove short, so that she seemed to ride just over it, and her topsails loose all handy to let fall and sheet home, she appeared ready to start at a moment's notice on her homeward voyage—down the ugly Canton River and across the pathless Indian seas and the miles of weary ocean journey that lay between her and her final destination, "the tight little island," with its now historical "streak of silver sea," supposed to guard it from Continental invasion.
What delayed the Hankow Lin?
Ah! her captain could tell perhaps, for it might be taken for granted that there was some urgent reason for his remaining here with no possible object to gain when his cargo was stowed and the ship homeward- bound. The seamen could make nothing of it, however; and there was much grumbling forwards at this unlooked-for hitch in their departure from the land of "chin chins" and "no bony Johnny."
Jem Backstay, who was a stalwart, able-bodied seaman, and as smart a "hand" as could be found in a day's cruise, did not appear at all convinced by what his chum Bill, the boatswain, had said, for he returned again to the conversation after the latter had apparently ended it with his monosyllabic "aye."
"Lor', mate!" said he, "I thinks your old brains are wool-gathering about pirates. I've been sailing in these here China seas since I were no higher than your thumb and I never see none."
"Haven't you?" muttered the other disdainfully.
"No, never a one."
"And you've never seen none of 'em h'executed, as I have, at Canton, in batches of a dozen or more?"
"No, Bill; how does they do it?"
"Why, mate, they makes the beggars all kneel down in a row, with their hands tied behind them so that they can't put 'em up. Then a chap comes along—I s'pose he's called their Jack Ketch—and he carries a sword that's partly made like a cutlass and partly like a butcher's cleaver, with which he slices off all their heads like so many carrots."
"Yes, bo; and the funny thing is to see this executioner chap going along behind all the kneeling figures, afore he knocks their heads off, and pulling this one here and a-shovin' that one theer, so arrangin' on 'em that he can have a clean stroke when he ups with his sword."
"Lor'!" exclaimed the other on hearing this description.
"Yes, bo, it's all true as gospel what I'm a-tellin' on you. The hangman chap don't seem to make no more account of them poor devils than if they wos so many wooden dummies, like them 'Quaker guns' as they call—cos they can't hurt nobody, I s'pose—that them silly artful Chinese mounted in the Bogue forts to frighten us, as they thought, when we went to war with 'em last time, you know."
"But, talkin' about h'executions, Bill, ain't talkin' of pirates, is it, bo? P'raps those poor ignorant chaps you seed have their heads chopped off mightn't no more a' been pirates than you or I."
"Mightn't they!" ejaculated the boatswain of the Hankow Lin in the most indignant tones. "Much you know about it, you son of a sea-cook, that's all! Why, Jem, I could tell you stories about them cut-throats of the sea in these here waters as would make your hair stand on end. No pirates in the China seas, you say, my joker?"
"I didn't say as there wasn't any. I said as there mightn't ha' been."
"Well, and wot's the difference, I'd like to know?"
"Belay that, and bouse away, old ship, with that yarn o' yours that's going to fright my hair off. I ain't quite frightened yet, I tell you."
"Wait a minute, then, bo," said the other, who was suddenly called aft by the officer of the watch to have some order given him for the morning which had been forgotten; and on his return to the foc's'le Jem was all attention for him to proceed with his promised yarn about the real pirates of whom he had spoken, the worthy seaman continuing to express a strong disbelief in their entity.
"Heave ahead with that 'ere story o' yourn," he said.
"Don't you know, you onbelievin' swab, as how the Singapore mail steamer was nearly as possible plundered by a whole gang o' them gettin' aboard of her as make-believe passengers and then setting fire to her and plundering the cargo, and that this occurred only last year?"
"No, I never heerd tell of it," said Jem.
"Well, I think I've got a noospaper in my ditty-box down below as will tell you all about it, and then, p'r'aps, you'll feel as if you'd believe there wos sich things as pirates."
So saying, the boatswain bustled down into the forecastle, and shortly reappeared above, holding a rather dirty crumpled piece of printed paper in his hand, which he handed to Jem.
"There," he said, "take that and read for yourself."
The brawny seaman turned it over and over with a solemn face, and then handed it back to the other.
"I ain't no scholard," he observed, rubbing his chin thoughtfully; "wish I was, 'twould ha' been pounds in my pocket now if I could read and write as I once did when I war a little shaver, but I've clean forgot it. You reel off the yarn as is printed there, Bill; and then I'll tell you what I think of it."
"All right, then," replied the boatswain, nothing loth to display his superior attainments. "Here goes for a full and true 'count of a tremenjuous piretical plot to seize a mail steamer, from a special despatch of our 'Ong Kong correspondent;" and, holding the dirty scrap of paper at arm's-length, as if he were somewhat afraid of it, he went on to read the following extract from it.
"The China papers received by the last mail contain full accounts of an attempt made to seize and plunder the Eastern and Australian Mail Steam Company's steamer Bowen by a party of Chinese who had embarked on board the vessel at Singapore as passengers. The following is extracted from the ship's report:—
"On the 8th of June, at 1:30 PM, in latitude 13 degrees 09 minutes north and longitude 111 degrees 20 minutes east, Cheang Sioy, Chinese interpreter, reported that the Singapore passengers, forty-two in number, were pirates, and intended setting fire to and plundering the ship, as they had been overheard talking to this effect. An examination was then made below, but the Singapore Chinese passengers were so scattered among 313 Australian Chinese passengers that they could not be readily identified. The interpreter was then ordered to pick them out and muster them and their effects on the poop-house. He first brought up eight or ten choppers, a house-breaking tool, and a box, for all of which no owners could be found. On opening the box it was found to contain twenty-five packages of powder, about one pound weight each, all with a fuse attached. As the matter seemed serious, all hands were mustered and armed, and the Singapore Chinese brought up and secured. A further search disclosed another box containing eleven loaded revolvers of different sorts and sizes, also a large quantity of ammunition to fit the same, a bundle of touch-paper, and a Chinese ship's compass. On examining the Singapore Chinese passengers, seventeen gave a satisfactory account of themselves; but twenty-five, who could not do so, and had neither money nor luggage, were put into a place of safety with an armed guard over them night and day until arrival, when they were handed over to the authorities in Hong Kong."
"Is that all?" asked Jem, whose scepticism regarding Chinese pirates this printed account appeared somewhat to shake.
"That's all the steamer's log-book say, bo," replied the boatswain; "but the newspaper tells further on as how the beggars was brought up for trial."
"Let us have it, then," said Jem, bending forward to listen to what the other went on to read in a deep sepulchral voice—
"Twenty-six Chinamen were brought before the sitting magistrate at the Hong Kong police-court on the 11th of June, when Captain Miller of the Bowen gave evidence. He stated that the vessel carried the Queensland mail to Singapore and Hong Kong, and vice versa. It also carried the mails to and from Hong Kong. The passengers are Chinese gold-diggers, and have bullion about them. Every voyage the vessel carries a large amount of gold; on the present trip they had ten boxes of the value of about L10,000. This was the cargo, and had nothing to do with what the passengers had. The captain continued:—
"At Singapore we took in forty-two Chinese passengers, who came on board the morning we left. Our Singapore agents had received a telegram from Hong Kong, warning them to be careful of what passengers I took. After leaving Singapore, all went well until about half-past one o'clock PM, on the 8th inst, when near the Faracel Reefs. The chief officer then came and told me that the Singapore Chinese passengers were pirates, and intended to set fire to and plunder the ship. In consequence of this, I went with the chief officer and interpreter to examine the steerage passengers. I found a difficulty in separating the Singapore passengers from the Australians, as they were so mixed. I then ordered a gang to pick them out and bring them on the poop with their luggage, for examination. The interpreter knew where the Singapore passengers were stowed, and he there found ten choppers, and beneath the forecastle, where eight of the passengers were, he found a box. I ordered the carpenter to open this box, which was locked, and which no one claimed, and found on the top beneath some clothes, twenty-five packages with a fuse attached to each. After counting the packages, I kept one as a sample, and threw the remainder with the box overboard. I did that as I was rather afraid to keep so much loose powder on board. I next called all hands and turned all the Chinese passengers on deck. We then searched the place where they had been, and the box containing eleven loaded revolvers and a quantity of ammunition was produced. I questioned all the passengers, and seventeen of the Singapore passengers had luggage and dollars, and they gave a satisfactory account of themselves. The prisoners had no property or money. They could or would not tell what they had been doing in Singapore, or give any account of themselves. I then locked them in the mail room—which is of iron—and placed an armed guard over them."
"There, now, what do you think o' them murderin' rascals now?" asked the boatswain when he had concluded reading the newspaper extract.
"What do I think o' them, hey? Well, I thinks they ought to ha' been keel-hauled, that's what I thinks! Was these the chaps whose heads you'd saw chopped off at Canton?"
"No, no, man, this here occurred at Hong Kong; couldn't you hear wot I read, bo?"
"I s'poses it's all true, seein' how't is in print; and if so, mate, why I s'pose you're right about there bein' pirates hereabouts arter all?"
"Yes, sure, my hearty. Why, look here, Jem, it's solemn truth I'm tellin' you," and the boatswain looked as grave as a judge when speaking, as if to substantiate his words—"only t'other day there was a fine clipper tea-ship, just like ourn, that got becalmed off Hainan island in the Gulf of Tonquin, when, in less nor half an hour arter the wind failed, a lot o' junks sculled up to her and opened fire on the crew with their cussed jinghals and matchlocks; and, if it hadn't a' been fur a breeze a springin' up as let 'em make sail and get away from the pirates, why the ship would ha' been captured and sunk after they had taken everything they cared for out of her; and only last year—just you hark to this, Jem Backstay—an English brigantine, bound for the northern ports, was attacked by pirate junks not a hundred miles from Hong Kong—jist think of the impudent rascals having the cheek to come so near us!—and the captain and mate were murdered, the rest of the crew escaping by taking to one of the boats!"
"Well," said Jem to this, "I hopes we won't come nigh any on 'em, if there be any sich like as pirates about, as I've said afore. I don't want to lose the number o' my mess yet awhile!"
"Never you fear, Jem," returned the other; "our old man's as 'cute as they make them, out here; and if there's anything to keep a sharp look- out for, why he's all there!"
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER TWO.
At this moment, the conversation between the two was again interrupted by Bill the boatswain starting up from the hawser on which he was sitting alongside of Jem Backstay on the topgallant forecastle. "Hallo!" he exclaimed, "I wonder what that ugly beggar of a Malay is prowling about forward for? He's smelling about them water-casks as came aboard yesterday—he means mischief!"
"Lordsakes, Bill," said Jem, "you've so got them pirates on the brain that you can think of nuthin else!—Do leave the poor yaller devil alone, I'm sure he ain't up to no harm!"
"Ain't he?" said Bill scornfully. "You jest look arter your own bizness. Hallo, you Lascar!" he shouted out aloud to the object of his attention; "Hallo, you Lascar! leave that 'ere cask alone; d'ye hear!"
The man, a short, thick-set, black-haired, and yellow-visaged native— who had been apparently endeavouring to unloosen the lashings of the tarpaulin cover of one of six large hogsheads like water-casks that were placed along the gangway of the ship and securely fastened between the ports—started at the sound of Bill's voice; and, seeing that his eye was fixed on him, pretended slily for a moment to be intently gazing out seawards, and then slunk stealthily along the deck more aft to the bitts of the mainmast, where a group of his tawny fellow-countrymen were gathered together away from the rest of the crew—squatting on their haunches, and gabbling away at a great rate.
"Blow them yaller imps!" said the boatswain to his companion as the native retreated out of earshot. "I don't like 'em, for they're a treach'rous lot, and would knife you as soon as look. Why, as you know, Jem, they won't obey no orders, even from the cap'en, 'cept through their own serang, or chief—ourang-outang I think'd be a better name for him, the ugly beast! And if you was to strike one with a rope's end—if only in lark, mind you, to make him move quicker—why, you'd be a dead man 'fore morning, safe as houses! I shouldn't like, mate, for you and me to be the only white men aboard with that 'ere rascal lot of Lascars on the high seas, my hearty! We're short-handed as it is, with only four men in each watch, barrin' Snowball the cook and the officers, which makes us twelve white men in all, besides little Jack Harper—for I count Snowball as one of us, although he is a niggur; and there are twenty of them Lascars altogether and their chief. Howsomedevers, Jem, I've spoke to the cap'en, beggin' his pardin for the liberty, an' he told me as how he was a lookin' out and not unmindful; so, bo, it's all right, you see."
"And you think, Bill, the skipper's goin' to bring off some more hands like us?"
"I don't think nothin' about it, Jem Backstay. When the cap'en tells me it's all right, I knows it's all right; and that's enough for me! Heave an eye out to starboard, mate; ain't that a light on shore, like a signal or something?"
"Ay, ay!" replied the other, drawing himself up to all the height of his six feet, and stretching out his brawny arms lazily as he peered over the bows through the hazy light, for the sun had just set, and the shore could only be faintly distinguished in the distance. "Aye, aye, my hearty! A light it is for certain."
"Then it's the cap'en, sure!" said Bill; "he's late to-night. I hope we'll start our anchor at last; I'm tired o' this Canton River."
"Foc's'le, ahoy!" at the same moment shouted out Mr Scuppers, the first mate, from the poop, where he was pacing to and fro with young Jack Harper, the midshipman.
"Aye, aye, sir!" shouted out in answer Bill and Jem together.
"You are awake, are you? I thought you were all asleep! Hoist up a lantern at the fore, to show the cap'en where we are, it's getting quite dark; and see if that Snowball's asleep in the galley; tell him it's six bells, and time for my coffee."
The negro cook, however, was awake for a wonder, and heard the mate's message, thus saving the trouble of its being repeated to him.
"Yah, yah! me no sleep, Massa Scuppers," he called out with that cheerful good humour that seems characteristic of the darky race, and which seems proof against any ill treatment;—"me jus' goin' brin' coffee, sah, yes sah! It am lubly hot, massa, and 'trong as carthoss!"
"Hot and strong is it, Snowball?" said the first mate in his hearty, jolly way, as the darky cook stepped gingerly past the group of Lascars, and handed the cup of coffee up to him on the poop, with an obsequious bow. "But, how is it you're not asleep?"
"Best to be most circumspectious, massa, wid dem culled pussons aboard; no caulking wid dem nasty yaller gen'lemen for me!"
"Well, that's a good un!" laughed Mr Scuppers; "the pot calling the kettle black with a vengeance!"
"You mistake sah," said Snowball with dignity. "I knows, Massa Scuppers, I isn't 'xactly like you white gen'lemen; but den I isn't a nasty mulatto like dem poor trash; and dey isn't to be trusted!"
"Perhaps you're right, Snowball; but we ought not to suspect them till we've found them out, you know."
After another turn or two on deck, Mr Scuppers cabled the boatswain to him,—
"Martens," said he, "have those Lascars turned in yet?"
"No, sir," said Bill; "one of 'em at all events was awake just now, and spying about forward."
"Indeed!" exclaimed the mate in a tone of surprise, as if the information was both unexpected and alarming. "Pass the word forward for the serang to come aft to me at once!"
"Aye, aye, air," replied the boatswain, touching his cap as he left the poop; and in another minute or so this Malay—serang is the name given to the chief of the gang—appeared, rubbing his eyes as if just awakened up from sleep.
He was the very same broad-shouldered, thick-set, tawny-yellow native with jet black coarse hair, like that out of a horse's tail, and low Mongolian type of face, whom the boatswain had seen inspecting the casks on deck. He now cringed and salaamed before the first mate.
"You wantee me, comprador?" said the man, speaking in that species of Portuguese patois which is so common in the Straits Settlements.
"Yes, Kifong," said the first mate, speaking likewise in broken lingo, with the idea of making himself better understood. "Captain sahib say he wantee you berry early morning, four bell, to get up anchor. You go below now first chop, and turn in; do you hear that!" he shouted out in very unmistakable English, pointing below to the foc's'le hatch.
"Si, Senor Comprador," salaamed again the Malay; then, giving a shrill whistle and waving his rattan of office, the gang around the mainmast roused up, and followed him to their bunks below as obediently as a flock of sheep, without a word.
"Get the side-lines ready for the accommodation ladder, Martens," said Mr Scuppers, "and see that the gig-falls are clear to hoist it in; for we'll trip anchor at daylight if the wind holds, and leave this blessed Canton River in our wake. Slip down the foc's'le hatch over the yellow beggars. So there, that's all right, and the cap'en can come as soon as he pleases!"
Presently the sound of oars was heard approaching the ship; and soon the captain's gig, pulled by six oars, came alongside quietly. The light was again shown, the ladder let down and side-ropes manned, and the well-known face of the skipper appeared above the gangway. "This way, Mr Meredith," said the latter to a well-wrapped-up gentleman who accompanied him, besides the second mate, Mr Sprott, who remained behind to see the gig hoisted in. "This way, Mr Meredith; please tell the others to follow!"
The captain thereupon led the way into the saloon—Snowball carrying the lantern to light up—followed by the gentleman whom he had addressed by name, and ten others in single file bringing up the rear behind him; then the cuddy doors were slid to and the saloon cut off from the rest of the ship.
The captain came on deck after a time, and ordered the boatswain to tell the men to give no hints to the Malays as to the passengers, and then an anchor-watch was set, and all hands turned in for the night.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER THREE.
Towards six bells in the morning watch the intense violet sky of the east began to pale into those shades of green and grey which note the departure of night, the bright twinkling stars that had up to then lit up the firmament disappearing one by one as day broke. Then, rapidly, streaks of warm, salmon-tinted clouds rose across the eastern horizon, shot with bright golden gleams of fire, making the water of the Pearl River glow as if with life, and lighting up the distant house-tops and pagodas of Canton that could be seen far away from Jardyne Point; and then, up danced the sun from beyond the paddy fields, mounting higher and higher in the heavens each moment with majestic strides, as if he wanted to get his day's work done early, so as to get a siesta in the afternoon!
With the rising of the sun, all is bustle and excitement on board the Hankow Lin; for the captain before turning in had told Mr Scuppers that they were to sail at daybreak.
"Whee—eo! Whee—eo! Whee—ee!" The boatswain's shrill whistle was heard piercing through every nook and cranny of the ship.
"Tumble up, there! Tumble up! All hands up anchor!" shouted out Bill Martens in stentorian tones that supplemented the call of his whistle. "Now, you Lascar beggars, show a leg, will you? All hands on deck, and up anchor. Here, look alive, serang! Man the capstan-bars, and be sharp with it. Cheerily, men; cheerily ho! Walk her up to her anchor. Now she rides—heave, men, with a will. Belay!"
The ship by this time has been brought up, with all the slack of the cable in; and the chief mate now lends his voice to add to the bustle and movement of the scene.
"'Way aloft there, men; loose topsails; let fall. There! Now, serang, heave with a will! heave with a will! Now it's free; heave away, my hearties!" and the anchor was run up to the bows with a will, and secured with tackles; when, the ship's head being now loosed from her hold of the ground, she began to pay off, with her bows dancing up and down, as if she were bidding a polite adieu to the Celestial Empire and all its belongings.
"Man the topsail halliards; up with the jib; loosen those courses; set the spanker sharp, will you? Hurrah! there she fills!" The sails bellied out and drew; and the ship bore round to her course, and began to move, at first slowly, and then more swiftly, down the river, south and west, on her way towards England—homeward-bound, as it is joyously phrased.
A regular staunch clipper is she—the good ship Hankow Lin; one of the best of the old-fashioned tea-traders that as yet spurned the modern innovation of the Suez Canal, and despised, in the majesty of their spreading canvas, the despicable agency of steam! A sound, teak-built, staunch, ship-rigged vessel of 1200 tons register, and classed A1 at Lloyd's for an indefinite number of years.
Captain Morton—a bluff old sea-dog, with a jovial red face, and crisp, wiry grey hair, and mutton-chop whiskers that projected on either side as if electrified—was standing on the poop to windward, with the first mate, Mr Scuppers, and the passenger, "Mr Meredith," looking up aloft at the nimble topmen, who were adding acre to acre to the sail-surface of the ship, and pluming her snowy pinions with a pull here and a shake there. Mr Sprott, the second mate, was to leeward of the helmsman; the boatswain on the forecastle, monarch of all he surveyed in that department; and little Jack Harper, the middy—a special favourite both with the officers and sailors—looking on amidships at the gang of Malays, who were hauling away at halliards, and slackening sheets, and curling ropes, in a more slipshod and leisurely way than regular jack tars are wont.
Jack Harper called out to the serang Kifong to make him rouse up his men, but he was nowhere to be seen. Presently, he perceived him bending over the side amidships, partly concealed by the shrouds, and apparently talking to some one overboard. Wondering what was up, Jack cautiously approached him without being observed, and peered over the side too. His face brightened up with excitement as he heard the sounds of men's voices speaking in Chinese rapidly, and then he listened with rapt attention for a minute. Only for a minute, however, as the serang, turning rapidly round, saw him, and, calling out something which he could not catch, a sampan, or native boat, quickly sheered off from the vessel, and, impelled by two rowers, darted off shore wards; the serang, with a look of unconsciousness at Jack, sauntering back to his gang, as if he were only doing the most natural thing in the world.
The captain perceived the sampan the moment it left the ship's side, and hailed Jack.
"Hullo! What was that boat doing alongside?"
"Can't say, sir," said Jack, touching his cap. "I suppose some of the Lascars' friends bidding them good-bye!"
"That so?" said the captain. "It isn't discipline, but I suppose we can't help it;" and he resumed his conversation with the passenger and Mr Scuppers.
By and by, when the serang and his gang had gone forward again, to unbit the cable chain and cat and fish the anchor, Jack went up on the poop to the captain.
"Beg your pardon, Cap'en Morton," he said, "but I think that Malay chap is up to something; can I speak to you privately?"
"Oh, never mind Mr Meredith," said the captain; "we are all friends here; speak out."
"Well, you know, sir," said Jack, diffidently—he didn't like spinning a yarn, as he called it, before strangers—"that I understand a little Chinese; and I caught something of what the serang was saying to those two beggars in the boat."
"Did you?" said the captain and Mr Meredith, the passenger, almost together, eagerly. "What was it? what did the rascal say?"
"You may well say rascal, sir," said Jack. "For though I did not hear all their conversation, from what I gathered I think they're up to some mischief. I first heard the chap in the boat say, 'And how about the passengers?' or something like that as far as I could make out; and the serang said, 'There's only one come on the ship.'"
The captain nudged Mr Meredith here, and the first mate, and all three chuckled.
"And then the man in the boat said, 'You are certain there are not more aboard?' And the serang answered, 'No, only that one passenger'—'strange man,' he called him—'and twelve men besides the boy officer,'—I suppose meaning me, sir. And then the man in the boat, who seemed to have some authority over the serang, said, 'In about ten days, if the wind is good or fair; and don't be in a hurry, but wait for the signal!' and then the Malay chap turned and saw me, and the boat shoved off."
"Very good, Harper," said the captain; "we'll keep an eye on him, never fear;" and then, as Jack went off again to his post he turned to Mr Meredith: "I confess that I was wrong, and you and the admiral right, sir!" he said. "And now we must contrive to outwit these yellow devils, and as they're half-Chinese and ought to know, show them how to catch a Tartar!"
"Ay," said Mr Meredith, laughing, "we'll give them a lesson they'll never forget, too, while we're about it! But, captain, we have plenty of time before us—ten days or more, just as I calculated; and all we have to do now is to look out sharp for squalls in the meantime."
"Right, sir," said Captain Morton, "we'll all have to look out sharp, for they're treacherous rascals at the best, and these seem to be the worst! Keep your weather eye open, Scuppers, and give Sprott a hint— although not a word, mind you, to the men yet, with the exception of Bill Martens, who can be trusted to bide his time, as he knows already as much as ourselves. As to little Jack Harper, he's a 'cute boy, and is not likely to forget what he has heard." And there the conversation ended and the subject dropped.
All that day the Hankow Lin was working her way down the river from Canton, which lies some eighty miles from its mouth; and at nightfall the ship again anchored, the navigation being somewhat intricate and the breeze dying away; but next morning it was up anchor and away again with everything hoisted that could draw and the wind right astern, the vessel making such good progress through the water that long before mid-day she had passed through the Bocca Tigris, or "tiger's mouth" passage, and was out in the open ocean.
The nor'-east monsoon, which blows in the China seas as regularly as clockwork from October to April, and is the great trade-wind of the tea- ships, had nearly blown out its course; but still, for a time it was all in the Hankow Lin's favour, and she went through the water at a fine rate. Although she was pretty well laden, and was rather deep for a vessel of her size, she walked along as if, as the sailors said, the girls at home had got hold of the tow-rope; and when the log was hove at noon she was going twelve knots with all sail set—not a bad pace that for a trader; but, in the old days, before steam transformed the trade through the Red Sea, these tea-ships were built for speed as well as freight room.
Sundown came, and the great orb of day set in a crescent of ruby light, making the sea like a gorgeous pantomime sea of molten gold as far as the eye could reach; and still the wind held up fair and strong, and the vessel careered over the expanse of ocean, that looked like living fire, without slackening her rate of progress, rising and falling to the waves with pendulum-like rhythm. And now night came on with its azure sky, sprinkled with innumerable stars all glorious with scintillating light, and the ship preserved the even tenor of her way; morning came again with its freshness of roseate hues and golden sun-risings, and purple mists, and transparent haze; and yet, onward—onward, without pause—she flew upon the wings of the wind like a great white dove released from some fowler's snare and panting for the untrammelled freedom of the wide wide sea.
So day after day passed, and everything went on in regular routine on board, without any incident of note occurring to break the monotony of the voyage, the English sailors keeping to themselves, and the Malays apart, without either mixing or speaking with the others save when the duties of the ship called them into temporary association.
Kifong, the serang, however, they could see was wide-awake, and observant of all that went on around him. He was particularly anxious about the saloon and the passenger: and was continually trying to interrogate Snowball as to what went on within the privileged retreat, to which none else of the crew were admitted. What struck him more than anything else was the amount of food which the black cook was preparing, and carrying from the galley into the cabin.
"What for you takee so muchee prog, black-man, in dere for?" he said one day to Snowball, much to that individual's indignation at the reference to his colour, which he always most studiously ignored.
"What for, mister yaller man? Why, for eat, sure!"
The Malay's eyes gleamed like a serpent's, and he showed his teeth like a snarling dog.
"Five men no eatee that much prog," he said in an angry tone. "You tell one lie, black-man."
"Lie yourself, yaller nigger," said the darky. "You no tink dat four officers and de passenger gen'leman all eat muchee food; very good appeta-tites havee."
The serang walked away from Snowball with a strong expression of doubt in his face, and ever afterwards seemed to bear a particular ill-will to the darky, laying traps to trip him up on his passage to and fro between the galley and the cabin when heavily laden with dishes for Mr Meredith's gigantic meals.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.
A STRANGE SAIL.
The ship sailed on serenely, making from two hundred to two hundred and fifty knots in each twenty-four hours run—on some exceptional occasions clearing indeed as much as three hundred, to the great jubilation of the men—until one day, at noon, Captain Morton announced that they were in the same parallel as the Thousand Islands, and rapidly approaching the Straits of Sunda.
This wide channel of the sea, separating the islands of Java and Sumatra, forms one of the main gateways used by the vast number of ships that navigate the China Sea. All vessels bound thither from the western hemisphere pass either to the north or south of Sumatra, entering the Eastern Archipelago through the Straits of Singapore or else by the Straits of Sunda. Steam-vessels bound through the Suez Canal and Indian Ocean use the former route, and those rounding the Cape of Good Hope the latter. The strait is about seventy miles long, sixty miles broad at the south-west end, narrowing to thirteen miles at the north-east; and it was here that the terrible earthquake occurred in the summer of 1883, by which so many thousands of lives were sacrificed in a moment, through the submerging of some of the adjacent islands in the sea, a catastrophe only second in the annals of history to the earthquake at Lisbon in the last century.
Half-way through the strait, equidistant from the two shores, was a group of three islands, the largest of which was Krakatoa, four and a half miles long and three miles broad, its volcanic summit reaching to a height of 2623 feet above the sea-level, about ten times higher than the surrounding sea was deep. Between it and Java, although the floor of the strait was uneven, the channel was clear of dangers; on the Sumatra side were several islands and rocks, the two largest of which, Bezee and Sebooko, rose respectively 2825 feet and 1416 feet above the sea. The tremendous volcanic eruption, with the accompanying earthquake and inundation of the coasts which lately happened here—on the 26th August, 1883—has now wrought a fearful change here. According to all accounts, it appears that the chain of islets on the Sumatra side of the straits has been added to by at least sixteen volcanic craters rising within the eight miles of water that formerly separated them from Krakatoa. With so enormous an upheaval it would not be unnatural to expect the surrounding floor to be depressed; but when it is learned that the whole island of Krakatoa, containing about 8000 million cubic yards of material, has fallen in, and the greater part of it disappeared below the sea, the magnitude of the convulsion becomes more apparent, and it is the easier to realise the formation of the destructive volcanic wave that was thrown on the neighbouring shores. It is almost inconceivable that this island, with a mountain summit which rose nearly 2700 feet above the sea-level, should have been so extensively submerged; but it seems to have been in the very centre of the area of this vast earthquake, which convulsed the whole basin of the sea between Lampong Bay, on the south coast of Sumatra, and the opposite shores of Java, extending across a diameter of more than sixty geographical miles. The disturbance of the sea and consequent flooding of the shores, both those of Sumatra to the north and those of Java to the east of the volcanic outbreak, had the most destructive effects upon the Dutch settlements at Telok Betong, at the head of the bay in Sumatra, and likewise in Java, at the well-known commercial port of Anjer, where all homeward-bound ships of every nation were accustomed to call in passing the straits to obtain needful supplies for the voyage across the Indian Ocean; and where also, it may be mentioned, Java sparrows, those delicate little feathered creatures that might teach wiser humanity a lesson in their touching fondness for each other, used to be purchased by sailors for presents to their friends at home—though few, alas, of the poor "sparrows" ever reached England alive of the thousands brought away from their native clime, the majority dying at sea on the first cold night!
The homeward-bound voyager, too, who passes the Straits of Sunda, is sometimes fortunate enough to witness, at the western extremity of the channel, a strange yet beautiful optical illusion, probably akin to the mirage of the desert. It presents a magnificent display of natural architecture, commencing at one particular point—always at the same place—off the coast of Sumatra. Huge granite pillars tower to the sky at nearly regular intervals, beginning at the outlet of one of the valleys, and extending five miles out to sea. So solid and massive is the aspect of the apparent structure that the eye refuses to accept its unreality; binoculars are involuntarily seized, questions are poured into the ear of the captain; or, if no ship's officer be near, such guidebooks or sailing directions as may be within reach are consulted for a solution of the splendid sight. But, before the pages can be turned the gigantic columns begin to waver and vibrate in the intensely heated air: now they come nearer, and the sun glances upon their crystalline sides, anon they retreat and fade, until the whole fabric is transformed into, or lost in, a luxuriant expanse partly covered with enormous trees. It is probably while the feeling of disappointment is rankling in his mind, and the traveller averts his gaze from Sumatra as altogether a delusion and a snare, that he obtains his first glimpse of the opposite shore to the left hand, and sees the romantic island of Java appearing simultaneously from the waves and from the clouds. As he looks at the vast panorama of jagged peaks—some of them, perhaps, emitting a thin, scarcely-visible thread of vapour, his train of thought may wander to the thrilling fireside tale of how the despairing Dutch criminals used to rush, inclosed in leathern hoods, across the "Poison Valley," to gather the deadly drippings from the terrible Upas-tree.
But none of these thoughts occurred to those on board the Hankow Lin as she neared the straits and the group of islands; for, in the first place, the terrible earthquake of Krakatoa which has so convulsed the face of nature in the vicinity, had not then occurred, and, secondly, instead of the fabled Upas-tree being uppermost in their minds, all were thinking, with a far keener apprehension, of the much more deadly "pirates of the isles," who were reported to haunt the channel-way and rendezvous in the neighbourhood, just keeping out of the reach of the men-of-war cruising in search of them, so as to pounce on unwary merchantmen whenever they had the chance.
Towards sunset on the same day that the captain had remarked on their being close to the Thousand Islands, the nor'-east monsoon, which had accompanied the vessel so far, suddenly failed, and the wind shifted to the southward and westward. A strange sail was sighted—not ahead, but coming up astern, and gaining on them fast as if in pursuit, although the light failed before they could distinctly make her out.
The captain had a conference on the poop; and after dark, as the breeze came stronger from the south, the ship's course was altered, she running off at right angles to her former direction, as if bearing up for Singapore, while a strict watch was kept all night on deck.
Morning broke at last, after some eight hours of anxiety, and Bill the boatswain, on the forecastle, took a keen look round the horizon with the first appearance of the dawning light, as Captain Morton was doing on the poop.
Gradually the haze cleared up from the water in widening circles, and as the sun rose and the horizon cleared still further off, there, some five miles astern, and going quite as fast as themselves, if not faster, was the stranger; and now when she could be clearly made out, she did not improve on acquaintance.
She was a lateen-rigged schooner, with a long, low, dark hull, almost flush with the water, and a wicked look about her which could hardly be mistaken.
The captain hailed the boatswain, and summoned him to the poop, where they were joined by the first mate and "Mr Meredith," who, strange to say, seemed quite as accustomed to early hours as the officers of the ship.
"It is she, without doubt," said the captain. "I could almost swear to the description. Where are those Malays?"
"Down below, sir; leastways, they was just now."
"Well, keep a sharp look-out; and as it seems that it will come to a scrimmage you had better tell the men forward, and I will warn those here quietly. I suppose you have got the revolvers all right?" continued the captain, as "Mr Meredith" left the deck quietly.
"Oh, yes, sir; mine's here," said the boatswain, tapping the bosom of his guernsey, "all ready for action; and I'll soon serve out the others."
"Very good; only be cool, Martens, till the time arrives, for we may be mistaken after all in the men. I can't tell why we are not going faster, though, with this breeze and all that sail set. What! only three knots!" said he, as the boatswain hove the log and told him the result. "Something must be wrong, Martens; go forward and see at once."
And the long, low, dark-hulled schooner was coming up hand over hand, walking almost up into the wind's eye on the weather-gauge, coming on as if the Hankow Lin was at anchor or becalmed.
As Bill the boatswain passed forward he saw the Malays were gathered together in a cluster by the side, amidships, looking at the vessel coming up, and the serang had a peculiar, satisfied, malicious sort of smile on his evil countenance.
"Guess they're getting ready too," said Bill to himself. "I'll give Snowball a hail, and rouse up the others."
Snowball, however, was bustling about in his galley, and in response to a word from the boatswain he grinned one of his usual broad grins, and tapped the long knife in his belt, that looked almost as deadly a weapon as one of the Malay creases.
"Golly, Massa Bill, me quite ready for the muss when him come! dat for de yaller nigger dat call me black-man; and dese, massa," he said, pointing to the ship's coppers, which were full of boiling water, as he had lighted the fires again at daybreak, "dere, is de soup for de yaller nigger's gang!"
The other hands were just turning out as Bill reached the forecastle, and Jem Backstay and the rest were soon made aware of their danger from within as well as without; but, before the boatswain could explain himself properly or give any orders he was startled at seeing that some one had cut the jib halliards, and the sail had come down by the run, and was towing in the water right across the ship's bows.
"Treachery, shipmates!" he called out. "No wonder the poor crippled thing couldn't make more'n three knots with that 'ere sail towing under her fore-foot. Those blessed Lascars did this, I suppose!"
He was in the midst of his exclamation when the lateen-rigged schooner, as if disdaining further concealment, hoisted the dread black pirate flag; and the serang, in response to the signal, gave a shrill whistle, at the same time drawing his crease.
With a yell of defiance he and his Lascar gang rushed aft in a body for the poop, where the captain and his officers were standing together, while the forecastle hands stood for the moment dumbfounded at the suddenness of the attack.
Only for a moment, however; for, almost at the same instant, Snowball, uttering a shout which might have been heard on board the pirate, now little over a mile off, dashed at the Malay chief, with his long knife gripped between his teeth and his arms working like windmills; and as he clutched the serang in his deadly grip the cabin-doors beneath the poop flew open, and the Lascar gang stopped their advance as if struck by lightning, uttering at the same time a howl of terror and dismay.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FIVE.
CATCHING A TARTAR.
No wonder that the murderous band of treacherous Malays stopped paralysed in their desperate assault on the poop.
There, right facing them, in front of the saloon doors, stood the whilom quiet, delicate-looking passenger "Mr Meredith," dressed in the smart uniform of a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, a drawn sword in one hand and a revolver in the other; while drawn up behind him were the whole of the first cutter's crew of HMS Albatross, the name of which vessel stood out embossed on the bright ribbons of their straw hats—ten in number of stalwart blue-jackets, armed with cutlasses and with pistols stuck in their belts—levelling the shining barrels of their Snider rifles point- blank at their heads. No wonder that the swarthy scoundrels recoiled in terror.
"Surrender!" exclaimed Lieutenant Meredith in a loud stern voice; and the men, frightened by the force opposed to them, might possibly have submitted, when, at the moment that Snowball made his onslaught on their leader, Jack Harvey, who stood by his captain on the poop, rather injudiciously fired off a shot from his revolver, which struck and broke one of the Malays' outstretched arms, with crease uplifted ready to stab his enemies.
With a ferocious yell the band again rushed forward.
"Fire!" said the lieutenant; and with one report the blue-jackets delivered a volley which stretched four Malays in front of them lifeless on the deck; and then rushing forward with their drawn cutlasses, a terrific hand-to-hand fight ensued. Captain Morton and his officers on the poop fired into the mass of the Malays, and then leaped down to join the fray; and the boatswain, with Jem Backstay and the other sailors from the forecastle, caught up handspikes and fell upon their rear.
Even in the very midst of the fierce struggle Snowball and the serang, in deadly embrace, were rolling on the deck, each trying to get the upper hand so as to be able to use their knives. Neither could succeed in shaking the other off; and as the two rolled and twisted together about the deck, now a mass of blood and gore, they gradually edged away from the thick of the fight, until they rolled together close to the fore-hatch; then, with one vigorous effort, the black cook, as if he had reserved his final coup until he had wearied the other out, lifted the Malay over the combing of the hatchway, and both tumbled into the fore- hold, with a smash and crash which even made itself heard above the din, the black cook shouting out as he felt himself falling, dragging his enemy with him, "Golly, yer yeller beggar, I got you at last!"
While this episode was being acted, the Malays were still fighting desperately with their creases, a formidable weapon in the hands of men fighting for their lives; and many of the tars were wounded, and one or two killed. The Malays stood in a group at bay, and fought on desperately, like rats driven into a corner, their numbers being still but little inferior to those of their opponents. At this moment the woolly head of Snowball appeared above the fore-hold with a triumphant grin on his black face, all wet with perspiration; and in a second he leaped on the deck, carrying on his shoulder the body of the serang, who was knocked senseless by the tumble into the hold, although the darky's head, accustomed to such rude shocks, was not one whit the worse. Laying down his burden he hurried to the caboose.
The remaining Malays were huddled up in a corner by the capstan, hemmed in by the bluejackets. To all cries of "surrender" they turned a deaf ear, and they were evidently trying to prolong the struggle until their piratical accomplices, as they no doubt were, in the schooner came up to help them.
Lieutenant Meredith, being a humane man, did not wish to slaughter the wretches like sheep, so refrained giving the fatal order to fire another volley, which would have terminated the contest, and was endeavouring to capture them alive. The struggle was so prolonged, however, and so many of his men were wounded, that he was just going to give the word "Fire!" when Snowball came to the rescue in a novel way, which completed the victory.
The darky emerged from the caboose with a bucket of boiling water filled from the galley coppers, which he had got ready with apt forethought, and dashed it full on to the group of huddling Malays.
They did not want a second dose.
Giving out an appalling howl of pain, which no cut or shot had evoked, they threw down their arms with one accord, and the blue-jackets before, and Bill Musters and Jem Backstay in the rear, seized the trembling scoundrels.
"Gag them all, as well as bind them, men!" said the lieutenant to the blue-jackets. "I don't want them to give the alarm to the schooner. Look alive, men! Be smart there; we've no time to lose! She isn't half a mile off now, and will be alongside in a few minutes!"
Lieutenant Meredith was right.
It was almost a dead calm, and the Hankow Lin,—her way deadened by the jib, which still trailed in the water across her bows, for no one had time, during the deadly fight in which they had just been engaged, to hoist it clear on board again—was almost motionless on the water; while every breath of the fast-expiring breeze was gently wafting the pirate schooner nearer and nearer.
The sail that obstructed her motion was at last cut away, and the ship began to creep along through the water; but it was too late for her to have got away from her enemy if those on board had so wished—which, however, they didn't!
"Look out, my men," shouted out Captain Morton, who was as keenly alive to the urgency of their situation as the naval lieutenant,—"we've all our work cut out for us!"
In truth they had; still, although only just out of one fight, in which some two or three had already lost their lives, and several were severely wounded, the blue-jackets under their gallant officer, who had already won the Victoria Cross for his bravery, ably seconded by Captain Morton and Mr Scuppers, and the crew of the Hankow Lin set to work to prepare for a fresh struggle with all the alacrity and glee of schoolboys going out for an unexpected holiday.
The conquered Lascars were tightly bound, and then tumbled below, the hatch being secured over them; and all then set to work to unload the heavy hogsheads which had caused the tar such uneasiness on account of their cumbering his decks, when they had first been shipped on board at Canton, some ten days before.
"There, Jem!" said the boatswain, as the staves of the first cask were knocked to pieces, and a nine-pounder Armstrong gun disclosed in all its ship-shape nicety. "There, didn't I tell you that the skipper had his head screwed on straight?"
"Aye, aye, bo, right you were," answered the brawny foretopman as he knocked in the head of another hogshead. "I'll never doubt him again, you be sure."
There were four guns altogether, and the two other casks contained their ammunition, and spare rifles for the Hankow Lin's crew.
These cannon the lieutenant now caused to be loaded heavily with grape- shot, and placed at the midship ports to windward, on the side that the pirate was approaching; the ports still kept closed, but everything ready for raising them, and running out the guns to command the schooner's deck when she got alongside.
The hands were then mustered. Captain Morton, Mr Scuppers, the lieutenant, and Jack Harper had escaped without a scratch on the part of the officers; but Mr Sprott, the second mate, had a cut across his face from a Malay crease, which caused him considerable pain, and undoubtedly spoiled his beauty; although the brave fellow refused to be put on the list of the non-fighters. Amongst the men, two blue-jackets were killed outright, as well as Phillips, the ship's carpenter of the Hankow Lin; while one blue-jacket was wounded severely, and two slightly, as well as another of the ship's regular hands.
Altogether, their defensive force consisted now, therefore, of the lieutenant, captain, and three other officers—for Sprott would fight, and Jack Harper was quite as good with a revolver as any of his seniors—and fifteen men, counting in Snowball, who was as good as two others any day, besides Jem Backstay, who was a regular giant.
"Now, men," said the lieutenant addressing them—"Captain, I have your permission to take the command?"
"Certainly, sir," said Captain Morton. "You're my senior officer in the service, and I wouldn't wish to fight under a braver!"
"Well then, men," resumed the lieutenant, "we all here, Albatrosses and Hankow Lins alike, fight under one flag, the Union Jack of Old England! Stop, don't cheer, men, or those pirate scoundrels will hear us too soon, and we don't want 'em to hear us till they feel us! Men, I want you to be cool—I know you are brave—and wait my word of command before you utter a shout or draw a trigger. That pirate scoundrel is plucky enough, and will take some beating; but he'll get it soon enough if you only obey orders. Captain Morton, will you take charge of the guns, please, with Mr Scuppers? Boatswain, you with that brave black fellow, and two other hands, will mind the forecastle, to prevent boarders coming up while we are attacking them elsewhere. I shall want eight hands along with me for the gig, to clear her away, and get her ready to lower to leeward, when the pirate comes alongside to windward. When we've given them a good sweeping discharge, and cleared their deck, captain, I shall, after reloading, drop into the gig, and board her on her weather-side, so that'll take them between two fires. Now, men, quick to your posts! Boatswain, to the forecastle with three others; gig's men step out, four blue-jackets and four Hankow Lins; the others of my cutter's crew will work the guns."
"May I come with you, sir?" said Mr Sprott anxiously. "I have no special duty here, and I'd like to pay out that cut across my jib on some of them piratical scoundrels!"
"Aye, you can come," said Mr Meredith cordially, "and glad I'll be to have such a brave fellow with me. Now, is everything ready in the gig, and the falls all slack for lowering?"
"Aye, aye, sir," said the coxswain. "Right as a trivet."
"Well, then, see to your small-arms, men. Have them all loaded ready, like the guns. The surprise will favour us at first, but we shall have to fight hard afterwards, as they'll muster pretty numerous if the account I have received be true."
All these preparations being complete, the guns loaded, and ready for discharging the moment the enemy ranged herself alongside, and each man being in his proper station, they awaited with the courage and caution of brave men the approach of the pirate. Fortunately for them, as it gave them more time to prepare, the breeze had quite died away, and a dead calm had fallen on the surface of the deep, while yet the schooner had scarcely decreased her distance, and they had been making their preparations for the fight. The glassy sea heaved up and down under the burning sun, which was now high in the heavens, with a sort of heavy, waveless throb, as if composing itself uneasily to sleep, the ship rolling with the motion to and fro.
The pirates were not asleep, however. As soon as the breeze failed they rigged out long oars from her low sides, and were leisurely sweeping nearer and nearer to the Hankow Lin with every pulse of the sea.
They must have heard the reports of the rifles and revolvers, as well as seen the smoke of the discharges, and heard the yells of the Malays as they fought hand to hand with the blue-jackets, for the air was as clear as could be; but the stillness now, and the absence of any attempt to trim the sails or to escape, deceived them. They evidently thought that their fellow-conspirators on board had gained the day, or that the slaughter had been so great on both sides that there was no longer anybody capable of resistance; for after a short pause, when they were a cable's-length distant, the sweeps again set to work, and the low black hull of the schooner was urged forwards again towards the Hankow Lin, until those on the watch between the ports could see down on to her deck, which was crowded with yellow Malays like those with whom they had had such a desperate fight; besides numbers of Chinese, some of the black natives of Borneo and New Guinea, Portuguese desperadoes, and such ferocious-looking ruffians as herd together in Eastern seas.
"Be ready, men, to lift the ports and run out the guns," said the lieutenant, with finger uplifted to impose silence. "Depress your muzzles, and wait till I give the word to fire. She'll come up on this side, as I thought, so we'll give her the benefit of all four at once!"
Up crept the pirate, the ominous black flag still hoisted, although, as the breeze had dropped, it hung down limp from the mast; and they could hear the chatter of voices on board her quite distinctly. Nearer and nearer she came—until the lieutenant could count every man that stood grouped on her flush deck.
There seemed to be sixty or seventy of them, and they clustered together, looking over the side of their vessel at their expected prey.
Nearer and nearer she still continued to glide—until the schooner was almost alongside the Hankow Lin, and not ten yards off. It looked as if the pirate was going to run them aboard!
"Now," whispered the lieutenant again to the expectant Englishmen around him—"small-arm men reserve your fire; you at the guns, be ready to run them out. Now, men, altogether, drop the ports! Run out the guns! Fire!"
The concussion shook the ship to her centre, and a perfect hail of grape-shot was poured on the deck of the schooner, making long lanes or furrows through the ranks of the pirate's crew, as if they had been mowed down by a scythe!
"Again, men; sharp's the word. Load again, and give them another round. Quick! That's right," as a wild yell rose again from the crowded pirate. "Now, Captain Morton, one more round and then I shall board her on the weather-side. Load again as quickly as you can. Fire!"
The terrific shot-shower again swept into the schooner, which had remained in the same position, the first two broadsides having broken the sweeps and killed the men manning them; and before the pirates could recover from their surprise the guns had been loaded again, and the gig of the Hankow Lin, with Lieutenant Meredith and his chosen crew, not forgetting Mr Sprott, had dashed out from the ship and boarded the schooner on her other side, where they least of all expected a foe, and the smoke concealed the boat's movements.
At the instant that the naval lieutenant jumped into her rigging with his men, another discharge of the Armstrong guns swept her decks, and the schooner, impelled by the calm, which makes floating surfaces approach each other on the water, ranged up alongside the tea-ship. At this moment, Snowball dropped from the forecastle of the Hankow Lin into the bows of the schooner, followed by Jem Backstay and half-a-dozen others.
Assailed thus on all sides—the lieutenant and his crew clearing all before them with a valiant cheer, which Snowball re-echoed with a terrific shout like an Indian war-cry, perhaps from some intuitive recollections of his native wilds on the banks of the Congo, in which the words "golly, take dat now!" could, however, be plainly distinguished—the attack proved a trifle too hot for the mongrel lot of scoundrels whom the pirate captain, or cut-throat, commanded; and they gave way instanter. Some died fighting to the last; some jumped overboard, preferring cold water to English cold steel; and the remainder, some twenty in number, who had escaped the murderous grape from the guns and the keen cutlasses of the blue-jackets, threw down their arms and surrendered, when they were driven into the hold, and the hatches battened down over them.
The fight from beginning to end had not lasted ten minutes; and the pirate ship was captured in almost quicker time than it had taken to overcome the original Malay gang on board the Hankow Lin.
"Hoist the Union Jack, Snowball," said the lieutenant to the darky, who had done so much to gain the victory—seeing him with the flag in his hand, and apparently itching to haul it up. "Hoist away, darky, and let us have honest colours over that dirty black rag! Now, lads, three cheers!"
"Lord bless you!" as Bill the boatswain said to his wife when telling her the story of the pirate's repulse when he got home some time afterwards, safe and sound, as luck would have it, "you oughter have just heard the shout that then went up from our throats to heaven! It sounded a'most like thunder; it were louder nor the report of the Armstrong guns as peppered the varmint!"
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER SIX.
"ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL."
To make a long story short, I may state briefly that in the second part of the action—the second act of a tragedy, it was for the Malays—both the bluejackets and the men of the Hankow Lin got off scot-free, not another casualty happening to swell the death-roll, or a fresh wound of any consequence being received by any of those engaged. The surprise to the pirates on finding they had "caught a Tartar," instead of assailing a defenceless merchant vessel, as they had expected, was so complete, that, in nautical phraseology, they were "taken all aback."
Not expecting any opposition to speak of, and confident that the ship they were attacking carried no guns—for how could even the most astute of the Malays have supposed, with all their prying and peeping, that the Hankow Lin had a set of Armstrongs on board her, headed up in hogsheads?—the pirates were stupefied by the first broadside they received; and, after that, their resistance amounted to nil, especially the more as one of the discharges killed their chief, when, of course, they had no one to lead them on or rally their drooping energies on the pinch.
The schooner, it was found, was none other than the Diavolo, a pirate craft commanded by a Portuguese renegade, who had already earned for himself a somewhat questionable reputation in Eastern seas; and how Captain Morton got wind of the intentions of the Malay crew to mutiny and bring his ship for destruction may be thus briefly told:—
Several large tea-traders having mysteriously disappeared on their voyage home to England, after shipping Malay crews on board, the English admiral on the station had conferred with the Chinese authorities, and from them learned that the Diavolo was suspected, and that a spy had discovered that an attempt would be made on the Hankow Lin, which was just loading at the time, and which had, like the other missing ships, shipped some Malay hands, in consequence of the loss of the main portion of her English crew on the voyage out.
Accordingly, precautions were taken to counteract the conspiracy of the Malay crew and capture the pirate by putting on board arms and munition—of which they supposed the ship to have none—and concealing in the saloon a force of blue-jackets to combine with the English part of the crew should the contemplated mutiny break out—the result of which precautions proved, as we have seen, to be eminently successful.
While the calm lasted, the bodies of the dead pirates were hove overboard, and the three bluejackets and Phillips who had lost their life in the first struggle with the Malays committed carefully to the deep with every solemnity; and then the Hankow Lin, as soon as the wind sprang up again, as it did by sundown, was headed towards Singapore in accordance with Lieutenant Meredith's wish, although it was sorely against Captain Morton's will to bear off from his direct course to England, which was almost right in front of him, the Straits of Sunda bearing a point or two off the lee beam.
However, Captain Morton lost nothing by his compliance with the lieutenant's wish. The Hankow Lin when she arrived at Singapore was allotted a half share of the value of the pirate schooner and all she contained; and that craft being pretty nearly crammed full of plunder, which she had accumulated from the different ships that had been captured and scuttled by her in her nefarious career, the sum thus awarded to Captain Morton was more than sufficient to compensate his owners for any delay that had arisen through the Hankow Lin's detention at the Dutch port, besides swelling the handsome bounty that was paid to each and all of the crew engaged in the affair.
This was not all, either.
At Singapore, Captain Morton was able to obtain what he could not have very well voyaged home without, and that was a supply of fresh hands to navigate the ship in place of the treacherous scoundrels who had engaged with him at Canton only to plot her destruction, although the captain had ample satisfaction for all this ere he left the place, for, as Bill the boatswain said in mentioning the fact afterwards, he "saw every mother's son of them hung before he weighed anchor again."
After bidding adieu to their late active comrades the blue-jackets, all went well with the old vessel, from Singapore to the Straits of Sunda, across the Indian Ocean, and round the Cape of Good Hope. Not an untoward event happened on the way home, not a mishap occurred, and, as Snowball said when he stepped ashore in the East India Dock, "All's well dat ends well." And so ended *The Voyage of the "Hankow Lin*."
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER ONE.
"Have I ever been to Madagascar?" he repeated, with a look of amazement and wonder quaintly combined on his good-natured, ruddy-brown, weather- beaten face. "Is that what you wanted to know, eh?"
"Yes," I replied, "that is, if you've no objection to answer my question."
"Why, no! I've nothing to keep dark of my doings."
"All right!" said I; "then you can go ahead."
"Well, sir," he began, drawing a deep breath as if he only just took in the import of my question and was turning over in his mind the matter in all its bearings, "I should rather just think I had been to Madagascar, and there's precious little chance too of my forgetting it, either, in a hurry. Ah! if you'd once been wrecked on sich a queer, outlandish, wild, desolate sort o' shore as that there, arterwards havin' to swim miles upon miles through a heavy rolling sea to get to land, and that under a fierce burning sun the while; besides, when got ashore at last, being forced to tramp for ten long weary days and nights across slimy green marshes filled with alligators, crawling through thick jungles of thorny bushes that tore your flesh to pieces before ever you could ha' come to a civilised place to get your wants attended—you, that is me, not having a morsel of food or a drop of pure water to drink all the way—why, sir, I fancy as how you'd remember the blessed place to your dying day; and, would recollect all about it in the flash of a moment again when any one just mentioned its name again the same as you have done just now!"
The speaker was a fine, robust-looking seaman of middle height, and probably of middle age also, for there was a slight suspicion of grey in the crisp brown beard that covered the lower part of his countenance, while several prominent wrinkles were apparent about the corners of his merry, twinkling, blue eyes.
He was dressed respectably in a sober suit of some rough material that fitted easily to his well-proportioned limbs, and, from his civilian costume and nautical look—for he had a sort of briny flavour about him, so to speak—I took him for a petty officer of the Royal Navy who had retired from the active duties of his profession on account of his length of service afloat having entitled him to the otium cum dignitate of a pension ashore for the remainder of his days. Such was my surmise at first sight—an impression subsequently in part confirmed; but be that as it may, he and I had got into conversation one bright summer day not long ago while standing on Portsmouth Hard, watching a white-hulled Indian troopship steaming out of the harbour beyond, with the marines for Egypt on board. I had mentioned Madagascar in casually commenting on the plucky behaviour displayed at Tamatave by Captain Johnstone of HMS Dryad in resisting the high-handed proceedings of the French admiral, who appeared to think that he might insult the English flag with impunity from the fact of his being in command of a squadron flying the Tricolour flag while the representative of the Union Jack had only one solitary vessel to oppose to that force.
"Aye, I know the East African station well," continued my friend. "I was invalided home from there, and got my pension three years before my twenty years' term of service was up in consequence."
"Indeed!" said I, to lead him on, in expectation of the yarn I could perceive looming before me; but playing with my fish gently, as anglers know so well how to do, so that I might not frighten him into silence by any undue display of anxiety on my part.
"Yes, I served over a year in the London at Zanzibar before being drafted off to one of the cruisers on the station. Beastly unhealthy place that Zanzibar—all fevers and agues and malaria in the wet season, and as hot as a place you've heard of, sir, when the sou'-west monsoon blows off the African shore. I was there when Sir Bartle Frere came to interview the old sultan to try and make him sign a treaty to put down the slave-trade; but it was all no go—the old sultan was too wide-awake for that, and, indeed, treaty or no treaty, we can never quite stop the dealing in slaves between the Arabs on the one hand and the clove- growers on the other."
"No?" said I interrogatively, wondering what the harmless clove, which forms such an important unit in the "sugar and spice and all things nice" combination of culinary seasoning, could possibly have to do with the slave-trade of East Africa.
"No, sir," he answered emphatically, with the air of a man who well knew what he was talking about and was certain of his facts, "it can't be done. You see, at certain times of the year, about a month after the rainy season ends, in September, the cloves ripen, and it takes a good many hands to pick 'em all and gather them in. Did you ever see them growing, sir?"
"I can't say I ever have," I responded, "although, of course, I've read about them."
"Well, sir, the cloves grow on tall, biggish-sized trees—"
"Dear me!" I said, interrupting him, "why, I thought they were the fruit of some little shrub like currants and capers."
"Oh, no! They grow on trees, and some of a goodish height too. The cloves are the bud or blossom of the tree before the flower comes; and they must be picked early in time, or else they're not fit for anything. Their name, 'cloves'—I don't know whether you are aware on it, sir—is from the little things resembling a small nail—clavo, as it's called in the Spanish."
"I didn't know that," I said.
"That's it, then," he replied, proceeding with his explanation. "Now, of course you can see that the cloves must be got off the trees before the blossom ripens too much, but as the sun is so terribly hot and such a miasma comes up from the places where the trees grow only niggers can stand the exposure; and so it is that slave labour is wanted, for no whites could undertake the job, and the Arab merchants, you may be sure, wouldn't do it themselves, in spite of the large demand for cloves in the European markets—that is, so long as they can get slaves to do it for 'em."
"How do they gather them?" I asked.
"Why, they have queer-shaped ladders, just of the same sort as those little things they put in pots of garden musk to train the plants on, broad at one end and narrow at the other—something like a triangular grating—so that a lot of the niggers can stand on it at a time and pick away from the same tree, on which, perhaps, there are millions of buds to be taken off in less than no time. When they are all gathered they're spread out in the sun and dried, and then sent off in bags to whoever wants 'em."
"And where are they principally grown?" said I.
"Why, Pemba. That's an island up above Zanzibar, about sixty miles from the coast, though they're very good cloves grown on Zanzibar Island too; but Pemba is the chief place, and it is to there that the chief runs of slaves are made by the Arab dhows. That is why the London was so long stationed thereabouts: it was in order to intercept these craft and stop the traffic."
"I suppose you've seen some service chasing the dhows yourself, eh?" I said, thinking this a good opening for getting him back to his yarn, as he seemed inclined to end the conversation at this point, hinting that he had an appointment "in the yard"—meaning Portsmouth dockyard—and that it was getting on late, and they would soon be closing up.
"Oh yes, sir! I served my time dhow-chasing when I was in the London; and saw a few sights, too, in the different craft we overhauled that would ha' made your blood boil against slavery. One dhow, I remember, we captured with nearly a hundred on board, all crammed into a space that you couldn't have thought would have held half that number of human beings, for it was a small dhow, of probably not more than forty tons at the outside. On the ballast at the bottom of the vessel were huddled up twenty-three women, some with infants in their arms. They were literally doubled up, sir, as they could not stand from the position they were in, as right over them was placed a bamboo deck not three feet above the keel of the boat, on which forty men were jammed together in the same way. This was not all, either, for, right above the men, right on to their heads almost as they squatted down, was another deck of bamboo, on which were over fifty children of all ages. The whole lot, too, when we boarded the dhow, were in the last stages of starvation and dysentery, not to speak of what they must have suffered from the cramped position in which they were confined and the want of air. They smelled something awful when we unkiverd them; it was enough to knock down a horse."
"It was horrible," I said in sympathy.
"No doubt it were all that," replied my friend the pensioner. "But from what I saw out there I do believe the very attempts our government make to put down the slave-trade only increases the evils of the poor wretches we are trying to liberate."
"How is that?" I asked.
"Why, you see, when the traffic used to be permitted, as it was once for a period of eight months in the year, just as you have at home a set time for shooting game, the slaves used to be carried in large dhows, more comfortably, and well supplied with food and water in their passage from the mainland to Pemba and Zanzibar; but when our cruisers began to look out for them and stopped the trade, no matter whether it was in the dry season or not, then the Arabs would pack 'em up in small craft that could lie hid in the creeks or shallows of the coast and smuggle the niggers in during the night-time, for these Arabs are just like cats, and can see in the dark when our men couldn't perceive their hands afore their face. Once upon a time, when I first went on the station, we used to capture good big dhows that were of a hundred and eighty tons burden and upwards; now our men only get hold of little Mtpe dhows that are hardly worth taking—I suppose you know, sir, as how we get a bounty or prize-money, according to the size of the vessels and the number of slaves we liberate?"
"Yes," said I, "I'm aware of that, as I have noticed advertisements in the London Gazette about the distribution of the bounty for such and such slave-dhows 'captured by the boats of HMS London' or some other cruiser named. How are these dhows built?"
"Of a sort of close hard wood like African oak, but harder than our English timber of the same nature. The planks of the small Mtpe dhows are sewn together with a thread-like stuff they get from the reeds in the lagoons. They are built broad and shallow, with a keel deepening towards the stern, almost like a wedge, so that they can turn quickly. They're good sea-boats, too, and can sail almost up into the wind's eye, with their large lateen sails, which are cut something like an old- fashioned leg of mutton, or short tack lug. The stem of them rises high out of the water, having a poop on it, which is thatched over with matting and banana leaves; and altogether they don't look unlike a Chinese junk. Some of the bigger dhows, which are used as war craft by the Arab chiefs of Lamoi and Mozambique, are fine craft, and carry six and twelve brass guns sometimes, like the old carronades of the service."
"They sail well, you say?" I inquired.
"Don't they, that's all! Why, none of our quickest steam-pinnaces can overhaul them when they're going on a wind, for even with the lightest breeze their sails, being made of twilled calico and light, waft them along as if by magic. There are twenty that escape us for every one we catch, as, in the busy season, the caravans from the interior bring the slaves down to the coast wholesale. The Portuguese and Arabs are the chaps that manage the business; and once the slaves are aboard the dhows, they sneak along the land until night-time, when, if the wind blows fair for them, they're off and away to Pemba, or further up towards the Arabian coast, where our boats can whistle for them for all the chance they have of overhauling them!"
"What becomes of the slaves that are liberated when the dhows are captured?" said I.
"Oh, the boys are sent to the Boy's Mission Schools at Zanzibar, and the girls to the Female Mission there also; while the men folk, at least all the able-bodied and strong ones that are not too old, are enlisted into the sultan's army—the Sultan of Zanzibar, I mean, the Seyyid Burgash that was. When I was there, the commander of his army was a lieutenant of our navy who had been 'lent' by government for the purpose for three years, and now he has left the service altogether and is known as 'General Matthews' on the east coast. A right smart chap he is too, for he drilled the niggers as well as if he were a born sojer instead of a sailor!"
"Do the slaves like this business?" I asked, thinking that their "freedom" seemed rather questionable; and then, too, consider the cost both in men and money it is to England every year.
"Well, I don't believe they do," answered the ex-man-o'-war's-man—"I've heard some of them say that they were quite contented to work on the clove plantations, and preferred that to loafing about the streets of Zanzibar, where hundreds of them are to be seen every day, with nothing to do and very little to eat, unless they take to thieving!"
"What sort of a place is Zanzibar?" said I now.
"Well, sir," replied the pensioner, "like all them oriental towns I have ever seen in the Levant and elsewhere, it looks ever so much better as seen from the sea than it does at close quarters. Coming into the harbour from the southwards, as I've entered it many a time when returning from a trip down to the Mozambique, your vessel has to wind slowly along through numerous little coral islands, which are, however, grown with stunted trees and bush quite close down to the water."
"That must be lovely!" I remarked.
"Aye, aye, so it is," said my friend; "but the navigation is awfully difficult, not to say dangerous, even with a man in the chains heaving the lead and singing out the depth every moment, for the soundings shoot from the 'deep nine' to the 'short five,' and less nor that too, before you know where you are! Howsomdever, once you've got inside and cast anchor, it's as pretty a roadstead as I ever clapped eyes on—as pretty as Rio in South America, which I daresay you've heard of?"
"Yes, and seen too," I said in response.
"Have you, sir?" replied the ex-man-o'-war's-man—"then all I can say is that you've seen the handsomest harbour in the world! But, still, Zanzibar ain't far behind it. The front of the town, which faces the anchorage, looks quite imposing like. The water of the bay is clear too, so that you can see the bottom down to any depth; and the white sandy beach fringing it round is just like snow against the dark background of palm-trees and green foliage. Along the beach are the warehouses and residences of the English-speaking merchants, the grand mansions of the richer sort of citizens, and the offices of the different foreign consuls—each with its own national flag fluttering gaily from the top, the British Union Jack and the Yankee Stars and Stripes being very prominent; while, in the very centre of the lot, is the palace of the sultan, a fine concern. From the top of this flies the red ensign of Arabia, and around it may be seen sentries in a sort of zouave uniform, selected from that very slave army I told you of just now."
"What struck you as most peculiar about the place?" I asked.
"Well, I'm hanged if it weren't the niggers, sir!" said my informant. "You see there the most extraordinary number of little darkies you ever saw in your life, all with nothing on 'em, no more than Adam—not even a fig-leaf! The next thing to strike you, if a stranger, would be the heat, for it is far hotter, strange to say, ashore there than it is aboard your own ship. Some of the houses are curious to look at, for they have neither windows nor doors; for the best dwellings are built round an open court, and the windows, or air-holes as they might more properly be called, open on to that. Instead of being light and built of some flimsy stuff, as you might expect, the houses are all put up 'on the heat-resisting principle,' as I heard an engineer describe them— just like the Irishman that wore his Connemara frieze coat in summer to keep out the sun, as he said, in the same way as he put it on in winter to keep out the cold!"
"Indeed!" I said.
"Yes, sir," continued my friend; "the walls of all the large houses at Zanzibar are many feet thick of solid stone masonry; and even the floors and partitions dividing the rooms are of several thicknesses too, all made of wood and stone and lime, the wood being covered over with mortar. The roof is the best part of them, however. It is made quite flat, and it is the principal spot for the family to go of an evening when the sun has gone down and the night-breeze begins to blow. The Arabs and Parsees go on top in the mornings too, at sunrise, to say their prayers, spreading out a bit of sacred carpet over the stone flagging that forms the floor of the roof."
"Are there many shops?" I next inquired.
"Bless you, the town's crammed full of them! but they're only open sheds, in the centre of which some Hindoo or Banian merchant is to be seen squatting all day long, chewing hashish or smoking his hubble- bubble, as if he hadn't a stroke of business to do, and didn't care about doing it either if he got the chance!"
"I suppose they have goods to sell, though, eh!" I said.
"Oh, yes, shawls and sandals and silks and such like; while in the eatable line you can get coffee and sherbet, and arrack too, or what they call English rum, besides pine-apples and mangoes, oranges, citrons, guavas, green cocoa-nuts, and every fruit you could think of, as well as cakes and sweetmeats. The streets in the town are very narrow and are crowded with these sorts of shops or rather stalls, for they're just like the places you see old apple-women rig up at the corners in London; but the bazaars are the best spots to look at— they're just like those in India, and some that I've seen too in Constantinople. Lor' sakes! why, they're crowded with Arabs and Hindoos, Persians, Africans, Somali Arabs, and every sort of coloured native you can imagine, sir, from the lightest coffee-tinted mulatto down to the jettiest black of the pure nigger brought originally from the interior as a slave.
"The funniest thing, too, about these bazaars is to see the different trades or handicraftsmen at work, the goldsmiths making rings by hammering and beating the metal, the jewellers stringing pearls together for necklaces and bracelets, the toy-makers rigging up the queerest curios you ever saw, and the sandal-makers cutting out shoes of leather; but the biggest treat of all is to watch a Parsee school and see how the master instructs the little shavers. The children, to the number of fifty or more, all squat on the floor of the school-room, which is a large open shed on a raised platform, each holding in one hand the blade-bone taken from the shoulder of a camel to serve as a slate, on which they make marks with a pencil-like brush. They are pretty little trots, the children; and are mostly all smartly dressed in little jackets and trousers of various coloured silks, green, yellow, and red, with turbans on top of their heads, just like their fathers, to complete the picture."
"The end of the rainy season, you say, is the best time for catching the dhows?" I asked now, to bring my friend back to the main point of all my interrogatories.
"Yes, there's the greatest demand then for the slaves; besides which the south-west monsoon sets in at that time, and is favourable for their crossing from the mainland."
"Do they ever show fight?" I inquired.
"Bather!" ejaculated my informant; "they're about as treacherous a lot as you could ever come across, them Arabs; for, I tell you what, they'll sometimes let a boat's crew overhaul 'em, and come up alongside as if everything was ship-shape and clear sailing—that is to say, sir, that they have nothing contraband aboard and could show a clean bill o' lading; when, drat 'em, they'll turn round on you like a parcel o' tigers with their sharp knives and spears. It was in this way my poor skipper, Capt'in Brownrigg, was killed in December '81—just at Christmas time, when I were out there."
"That was a sad thing," said I sympathisingly.
"Yes," replied the pensioner; "but, saddest of all, it was to know his poor wife had just come out from England to join him, and was aboard the London at the very time his body was brought alongside the ship in the steam-pinnace in which he had met his death. Ah! he was a fine officer was Capt'in Brownrigg, and liked by everybody—not only by his brother officers and equals, but by the men under him. Bless you, they'd a' gone anywheres to win a smile from his cheery face. Hullo, though, sir, look there, they're shutting up the dockyard gate!"
Such indeed was the case, showing that the afternoon was pretty nearly "expended," as they say in the service.
"Ah! that comes along o' yarning with you and not minding the business that brought me down here, for now I'm too late."
"Well, in that case," said I, seeing my chance now for getting the oft- evaded yarn of my friend's long service, "suppose you come home to my place and have a cup of tea, when you can tell me the story of your shipwreck off Madagascar, eh?"
He hemmed and hawed for a moment; but seeing that my invitation was cordially given, and I suppose having nothing else particularly to do, he accepted—whence this story.
VOLUME TWO, CHAPTER TWO.
WIND AND STEAM.
When I had made the pensioner as comfortable as I could at my little place—attending carefully to the wants of his inner man before appearing to have any curiosity regarding the matter that had made me invite him home—and the tea-things were cleared away, I gave a sort of inquiring cough, which he immediately took as my signal for him to begin his yarn.
"After serving a year in the London, as I told you before, sir," he commenced, without any preliminary beating about the bush, as many a landsman would have done, "I was drafted on to an old cruiser called the Dolphin. She's been broken up now, like the old London, though I hear they've got a rare smart despatch-boat just building called by the same name; but the Dolphin as I'm speaking of is quite different and not the same vessel—remember that, sir, please, in case anybody should try to throw doubts on my yarn, as some of them sea-lawyers will."
"I assure you," said I to encourage him, "that I am quite satisfied as to the truth of your story."
"Well, then," he resumed, "the Dolphin I am speaking of to you, sir, was a pretty fast boat for a paddle-steamer, and had already made some tidy captures of slave-dhows—that is, since she had been commissioned and sent out from England, about six months before, to replace an old sailing brig that formerly did duty on the station as tender to the old London; so I fully expected when I jined her to have some smart work afore me—and I warn't disapinted neither!"
"No?" said I questioningly to lead him on, settling myself cosily in my chair.
"You're right, sir, I warn't," replied my friend Ben. "The very first day I shipped aboard the Dolphin we took two Mtpe dhows close inshore near Pemba. That brought me in a niceish bit of prize-money for a start; and, just a week arter that exactly, when we had got down to our proper cruising ground—that was, sir, just atween Zanzibar and the Mozambique Channel, which, as I daresay you know, sir, is about two hundred and fifty miles wide and runs between Madagascar and the mainland of Africa—why, we came upon the biggest haul that had been made on the coast for years; but we had to work for it, I tell you. That was a chase and no mistake!"