COCHRANE THE DAUNTLESS
A TALE OF
THE EXPLOITS OF LORD COCHRANE IN SOUTH AMERICAN WATERS
G. A. HENTY Author of "Under Drake's Flag", "The Dash for Khartoum", "In Greek Waters", "The Lion of St. Mark", "Through Russian Snows", &c.
WITH TWELVE ILLUSTRATIONS BY W. H. MARGETSON
BLACKIE & SON, LIMITED, 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C. GLASGOW AND DUBLIN 1897
In the annals of British sailors there is no name that should stand higher than that of Lord Cochrane. In some respects he resembled that daring leader and great military genius, the Earl of Peterborough. Both performed feats that most men would have regarded as impossible, both possessed extraordinary personal bravery and exceptional genius for war, and a love for adventure. Both accomplished marvels, and neither was appreciated at his full value by his countrymen, both having a touch of originality that amounted in the case of Peterborough to absolute eccentricity. In other respects they had little in common. Cochrane's life was passed in one long struggle on behalf of the oppressed. He ruined his career in our navy, and created for himself a host of bitter enemies by his crusade against the enormous abuses of our naval administration, and by the ardour with which he championed the cause of reform at home. Finding the English navy closed to him he threw himself into the cause of oppressed nationalities. His valour and genius saved Chili from being reconquered by the Spanish, rescued Peru from their grasp, and utterly broke their power in South America. Similarly he crushed the Portuguese power in Brazil and ensured its independence, and then took up the cause of Greece. In all four enterprises his efforts were hampered by the utter corruption of the governments of these countries, just as his efforts on behalf of British sailors and of the British people at large had brought upon him the hatred and persecution of a government as corrupt as those of Chili, Brazil, and Greece. He was rewarded only with the basest ingratitude, and returned home after having expended a large part of his fortune and permanently injured his health in the inestimable services he had rendered. In other respects besides those exploits connected with the sea, his genius was remarkable. After retiring from active service he devoted himself to inventions, and some of these paved the way to later scientific achievements, giving him a place alongside the Marquis of Worcester.
Of Lord Cochrane it can be said that he was the victim of his generous enthusiasm for the oppressed. During the greater portion of his life he rested under a heavy cloud, and it was only in extreme old age that he had the satisfaction of having his name rehabilitated, and of regaining the honours and rank of which he had been so unjustly deprived.
G. A. HENTY.
CHAP. PAGE I. OFF TO SEA 11 II. IN THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO 30 III. A CYCLONE 50 IV. A RESCUE 69 V. AGAIN ON THE ISLAND 90 VI. HOME 109 VII. COCHRANE'S CAREER 128 VIII. THE BASQUE ROADS 146 IX. IN CHILI 158 X. WRECKED 176 XI. A DANGEROUS COMPANION 194 XII. DEATH OF THE CAPTAIN 214 XIII. PRIZE-MONEY 231 XIV. A PRISONER 249 XV. FRIENDS IN NEED 269 XVI. AN INDIAN GUIDE 287 XVII. DOWN THE RIVER 305 XVIII. CAPTURED BY INDIANS 323 XIX. IN BRAZIL 342 XX. FRESH TRIUMPHS 363
Page THE LIEUTENANT TALKS TO STEVE ABOUT GOING TO SEA, Frontis. 11 "WE WENT AT THE TREACHEROUS MALAYS WITH A WILL, AND DROVE 36 THEM BACK," STEPHEN CRAWLS TO THE RESCUE OF HIS CHUM, JOYCE, 88 COCHRANE SCATTERS THE FRENCH FLEET IN THE BASQUE ROADS BY 156 HIS TERRIBLE EXPLOSION-SHIP, "THE SHIP FELL WITH A CRASH THAT THREW STEVE AND THE CAPTAIN 186 OFF THEIR FEET," "WITH A SHOUT, STEPHEN SNATCHED UP HIS SWORD AND RUSHED AT 218 THE ASSASSIN," STEPHEN BEATS OFF THE GREAT WAR-CANOE SINGLE-HANDED, 228 STEPHEN IS BOUND AND BROUGHT BEFORE THE GOVERNOR OF SAN 265 CARLOS, STEPHEN MAKES A DASH FOR LIBERTY, AND GRAPPLES WITH THE 278 GUARD, "THE ANIMAL WAS ON THE POINT OF SPRINGING WHEN STEPHEN 306 FIRED," PITA TRIES STEPHEN'S PLAN IN ORDER TO ESCAPE FROM THE 323 WHIRLPOOL, "MY DEAR BOY," EXCLAIMED LORD COCHRANE, "THANK GOD INDEED 365 THAT I SEE YOU ALIVE,"
WITH COCHRANE THE DAUNTLESS.
OFF TO SEA.
"I am sure I do not know what to do with you, Steve," Lieutenant Embleton said one afternoon as he and his son were sitting upon a bench on the cliff at Ramsgate, looking over the sea. "Upon my word I don't see my way at all; this peace has stranded most of us, and at any rate, so far as I am concerned, there is not a ghost of a chance of my obtaining employment—not that I am fit for it if I could get it. I have been nearly ten years ashore. Every one of us who sailed under Cochrane have been marked men ever since. However, that is an old story, and it is no use grumbling over what cannot be helped; besides, that wound in my hip has been troubling me a good deal of late, and I know I am not fit for sea. I don't think I should have minded so much if I had got post rank before being laid on the shelf. The difference of pension, too, would have been a help, for goodness knows it is hard work making ends meet on a lieutenant's half-pay. However, that is not the question now. The thing that I have got to consider is what is the best thing to do with you.
"Yes, I know you are ready to do anything, lad, and it is not your fault that you are not in harness; but, in the first place, I found it hard to spare you, and in the next, I wanted you to stick to your books as long as you could. I grant there are many officers even in His Majesty's service who are as rough as if they had come in through the hawse-hole, but it tells against them. However, as you are past fifteen, I think now that you will do; and as you have been working steadily with me for the past four years, you have got a lot into your head that will give you an advantage over boys sent to sea two years younger.
"You are well up in navigation, and can take an observation as well as any old sailor, either by sun, moon, or stars. You can steer a boat in heavy weather, and knot and splice; you know the sails and ropes, and can go aloft as quickly as a monkey, and do anything that your strength permits. There have been plenty of opportunities for teaching you all this on short coasting voyages and on board ships driven in here by stress of weather. I suppose, Steve, however much we may talk of other professions, it comes to the sea at last. I know that you have always wanted it, but if I could have seen any opening for you on land I would rather that you had taken to it than have gone afloat. You see what it has done for me, lad. It is a poor trade, though as long as it's war-time there is excitement enough to make up for the shortness of the pay. However, as I have told you many a time, there is no chance whatever of my getting you a midshipman's berth.
"I have not the slightest influence at the admiralty, and the navy has been so reduced since the war ended that they must have fifty applications for every vacancy; besides, now that there is no fighting to be done, I don't know that the merchant service isn't the best, for it is dull work indeed being years on a station when there is no chance of a brush with an enemy or the capture of a prize. In the merchant service you can have at least a change, and a smart young fellow who knows his business and has gentlemanly manners, has much better chances of coming to the front than he would have in the royal navy. So I think the time has come when I must bring myself to make a move in the matter."
"Thank you, father; I know very well that in studying with you I have learned a lot more than I should have done if I had gone to sea two years ago; but I do want to be working and earning something, instead of being an expense to you, and, as you know, I would prefer the sea to anything else."
"It is Hobson's choice, lad; it is the sea or nothing. And after all, I think the mercantile navy is as good a profession as a lad can take to, that is if he has no influence to back him on shore. I wrote a fortnight ago to a friend in London. He is the owner of four or five vessels, and it happened, a good many years ago now, that I recaptured one of them with a valuable cargo that had been taken by a French privateer. I was sent home in her, and when he came down to Plymouth, where I took her in, we became great friends. We were about the same age, and the loss at that time would have been a very serious one to him. I stayed with him once or twice when I was in town. I have not seen him for some years now—one cannot afford to run about on a lieutenant's half-pay—but I remembered him the other day when I was thinking things over in every light, and wrote to him. I told him how we were situated, and asked him if he would put you on board one of his ships, and this morning I had an answer from him saying that he would gladly do so. He said that he would take you as an apprentice without fees, and that at any time, should anything better turn up, or you see your way to getting into a firm with a larger fleet and better chance of advancement, he would cancel your indentures. No kinder offer could be made, and if you are willing I will write this evening to accept the offer, and tell him that I will go up with you in the hoy directly I hear from him that you are wanted."
"Thank you very much, father; I am awfully glad that it can be managed without expense, though I should be quite willing to go before the mast and work my way up."
"I know you would, Steve, but it is much better to start fair, for ship-owners prefer to take a young mate who has regularly served as an apprentice than a man who has only been trained before the mast; for although the latter may have picked up enough to scrape through his examination, he is rarely a good navigator, and works out his reckoning by rule of thumb, which is all very well as long as the weather is fine and he can get his observation at noon, but breaks down directly it comes to having to depend upon a glimpse of the moon through the clouds, or the chance of getting a star."
Lieutenant Embleton had been a dashing and gallant officer, but his career in the service had been ruined by the fact that he had served under Lord Cochrane, both in the Pallas, the Imperieuse, and the Speedy. The latter was a little sloop mounting fourteen four-pounder guns, in which not only did Lord Cochrane capture many gun-boats and merchantmen, but on the 6th of May, 1801, he took the Gamo, a Spanish frigate, carrying six times as many men as the Speedy and seven times her weight of shot, an exploit that so aroused the jealousy of Earl St. Vincent that for a long time Lord Cochrane could not obtain employment. Three years later, when Lord Melville succeeded St. Vincent as first lord of the admiralty, Lord Cochrane was appointed to the Pallas, in which he again did excellent service; and distinguished himself still more when, in the Imperieuse, he attacked the whole French fleet in the Basque Roads, driving three or four of their battle-ships ashore, capturing three others, and compelling the rest to take to flight.
But the honour and popular applause gained by Lord Cochrane was, in the opinion of the authorities, more than neutralized by his fearless exposure, from his place in Parliament, where he sat as one of the members for Westminster, of the scandalous abuses then prevailing in the navy. All attempts to silence him by the offers of valuable appointments being in vain, Lord Cochrane was subjected to a persecution altogether without precedent in parliamentary history. In the court-marshal which was held upon Lord Gambier for his failure to assist Cochrane in the action in the Basque Roads, the admiralty went so far as to forge charts, and so to show that the admiral could not come to Cochrane's assistance, and Gambier was not only acquitted, but received a vote of thanks from the House of Commons for the victory in which he had taken no part. For four years Lord Cochrane received no appointment, but at the close of 1813 his uncle, Sir Alexander Cochrane, was selected for the command of the fleet on the North American station, and nominated Cochrane his flag captain, an appointment resting entirely with him, and with which government could not interfere.
He did not, however, sail, for just as he was about to embark, a relation, who was engaged in stock exchange operations in conjunction with a foreign adventurer, carried out some dishonest transactions, those who were his dupes believing that he was acting under information obtained from Lord Cochrane. As soon as the latter heard a report of the affair he left his ship, came up to London, and demanded an investigation. Then followed one of the most disgraceful parodies of justice ever performed in this country. Lord Cochrane was arrested, tried, and by means of a partisan judge, false evidence, and measures more unscrupulous even than those of Judge Jeffreys, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. A servile House of Commons obeyed the orders of ministers to expel him from their body. His name was struck off the order of the Bath, and his insignia torn down from St. George's Chapel with every mark of indignity.
Public indignation at the disgraceful means that had been taken to secure his conviction rose to such a height, that it was only by the persuasions of Lord Cochrane's friends that a riot was prevented. The citizens of Westminster at once re-elected him as their member, no one venturing to oppose him. After remaining in prison for some months he effected his escape and presented himself in the House of Commons. He was seized and carried back to prison, where he was thrown into a dungeon, and there kept until his health so suffered that his persecutors, fearing that fatal consequences would ensue, were obliged to place him in more wholesome quarters. Here he remained until the conclusion of his year's sentence. He then paid the fine of a thousand pounds, to which he had also been sentenced, and on the very day of his release from prison took his place in the House of Commons, and resumed his work as one of the leaders of the reform party.
Eighteen months later he was subjected to fresh persecution, and was tried for his escape from prison and fined a hundred pounds. A penny subscription was at once started, and eleven hundred pounds collected in this way, afforded a signal proof of the intensity of the feeling in his favour. This sum was used to pay the fine, and to reimburse him for the former fine to which he had been subjected. All Lord Cochrane's efforts to obtain a new trial, or an expression of an opinion from the House as to the illegality of the proceedings of his judge, Lord Ellenborough, were ineffective, the House, on each occasion when he brought the matter forward, obeying the orders of ministers and voting against his motions by an overwhelming majority. He had, however, the satisfaction of knowing that the nation at large was heartily with him, and recognized the gross injustice from which he had been a sufferer.
The hostility upon the part of the admiralty and government extended to those who had borne part in his glorious exploits at sea, and Lieutenant Embleton was put on half-pay after the action of the Imperieuse against the French fleet, and found himself without any prospect of future employment, and without even a chance of obtaining a nomination for his son to a midshipman's berth. The blow was at first a very keen one, but it was less bitterly felt after the conclusion of peace and the great reduction of the navy, as his fate was only that of thousands of other officers; and he had now come to feel that the effects of his wound, for which he received a small addition to his half-pay, rendered him unfit for further service, even could he have obtained an appointment. He had, since leaving the navy, lived in a little cottage at Ramsgate, where from his garden he could obtain a view of the sea and the passing ships. The education of his son afforded him employment for some hours a day. His favourite position was on a bench in the garden, from which he could watch through a telescope mounted on a tripod the passing ships, criticise the state of their rigging and sails, and form conjectures as to their destination.
It was a great pang to him to part with Stephen, but he felt that he could no longer keep him by his side; and he was sure that the careful training he had given him in all nautical matters would enable the lad to make his way in the mercantile navy. A fortnight after his conversation with Steve, the lieutenant received a letter from his friend in London, saying that one of his ships that had returned a fortnight before was now unloaded, and would at once begin to fit out for a fresh voyage, and it would be therefore as well for him to bring Stephen up, so that he might have the advantage of seeing the whole process of preparing a ship for sea. He gave a warm invitation to Lieutenant Embleton to stay with him for a week or two, and on the following day father and son went on board a Ramsgate hoy, and thirty-six hours later arrived in the port of London. They were warmly received by Mr. Hewson.
"I think your boy is fortunate that the Tiger should be the first ship he will sail in," he said that evening. "I regard the captain as my best officer. He is a good seaman and a capital navigator, and he is of a most kindly disposition; therefore, I can put the boy under him with the certainty that he will be well treated and cared for. In the next place, the Tiger does not, like my other ships, make regular voyages to and from a foreign port, but carries on the business of a trader among the East Indian islands. It is not every one to whom such a business could be safely intrusted; but I have great confidence in Captain Pinder. He is a good man of business, thoroughly conscientious, and accustomed to the ways of the treacherous natives of those islands. The Tiger is more heavily armed than usual, and has more than once beaten off the attacks of their piratical craft, and there is no fear of Pinder's being caught napping.
"She will in the first place take a cargo to Calcutta, reserving a portion of her hold for my goods for trading among the islands. When she has landed her freight at Calcutta she will cruise in the Archipelago for some months, as long, in fact, as Pinder finds that he can carry on a really good business with the natives. Then she will return to Calcutta and fill up with freight for her return voyage. Thus, you see, your boy will gain a good deal of varied experience, and will see, perhaps, as much adventure and excitement as he would meet with in a score of ordinary voyages, and will have the advantage of being under a kind commander, who will instruct him in the rudiments of navigation."
"Nothing could be better," Mr. Embleton said warmly. "It is the voyage of all others that would be to the boy's taste, and I shall be satisfied indeed at his being in such good hands. As to navigation, it is practice only that he wants. I have taught him all that I know myself, and he can take a lunar, or work his reckoning out from a star observation, as accurately as I could do it myself."
"Is that so, Mr. Embleton? I am glad indeed to hear it. Then there is no doubt about the future of your boy, if he is steady and industrious. I am pleased to hear it for my own sake, if for nothing else; for although Pinder's mates are capital sailors, and in all other respects able officers, they are not men of Pinder's type. They can take, of course, a rough observation at noon, and work it out by rule of thumb and the aid of tables, but beyond that they can do nothing. They have not received the education to enable them to grapple with mathematical problems, even of the simplest kind; and although, in case of Pinder falling sick, they might manage under favourable circumstances to bring the ship home, they would fare very badly if they had a long spell of bad weather and could not get an observation at noon for days or even weeks together. It will be a satisfaction to me to know that in case of anything happening to the captain there is someone on board who could, in such a case, take a lunar or shoot a star. Well, to-morrow morning we will go down to the docks, and I will hand your boy over to Pinder. I should, of course, be very glad to have him here, but I think it is of great advantage to a boy to see everything done from the first step. She is going to have an entirely new fit-out both of standing and running rigging, so she has been stripped entirely, and has nothing but her three lower masts above the deck."
Accordingly, after breakfast next day Mr. Hewson sent for a hackney-coach and they drove down to the docks.
"That is the Tiger," Mr. Hewson said as he stopped at the side of a fine craft. "She is six hundred tons, three years old, and a fast sailer. She is not much to look at at present, but when she is in full dress she is a handsome vessel."
"She looks fast," Mr. Embleton said. "And for myself, I would rather command a craft of that size than one of greater tonnage."
The Tiger at present certainly did not show to advantage. Her deck was begrimed with dirt. A body of riggers were at work in parcelling and serving with spun yarn the eyes of the shrouds. An officer in a rough canvas suit was superintending the work.
"That is Mr. Staines, the first mate," Mr. Hewson said. "He would not be happy if he was not on board from the very first hour that the riggers were beginning their work. Good morning, Mr. Staines!" he went on, raising his voice. "Is Captain Pinder on board?"
"Yes, sir," the mate said, touching his cap, and then went aft to the poop-cabin, from which the captain came out as his visitor stepped on board. He also was in a working suit.
"Good morning, Mr. Hewson!" he said. "We are all in the rough, you see. One hardly expects visitors on her first day of fitting out."
"We all know that, captain. This is Lieutenant Embleton of the royal navy, and this is his son, of whom I was speaking to you two days ago."
"I am glad to meet you, sir," the captain said, shaking hands with Mr. Embleton. "Every sailor knows you by reputation as being one of Lord Cochrane's officers. It will be a pleasure to me to do all I can for your son."
"You will find him very different to most of your apprentices, Pinder. He has had the advantage of his father's teaching, and, theoretically at any rate, he is already well up in his work. When I tell you that he can take a lunar, or an observation from a star, you may imagine that he will not require much teaching in navigation."
"I am glad indeed to hear it, Mr. Hewson—heartily glad; there ought to be two men on board a ship who can do that, for there is never any saying what might happen if there is only one. It has made me anxious many a time, when we had a bad spell of weather, as to how the Tiger would get on if I happened to be washed overboard by a sea or killed by a falling spar. Well, Master Embleton, I can see that I shall have no difficulty in making a first-rate sailor of you. Have you come to stay?"
"Yes, sir. My father thought it would be good for me to be on board from the time the fitting-out began."
"Quite right, lad. You will then learn as much in a fortnight as you would in a year at sea. I always make a point of being here myself, and my first officer wouldn't allow anything to prevent his seeing that everything was right from first to last. But I don't think that you will be able to sleep on board for the next fortnight."
"Of course not," Mr. Embleton said. "I intend to take a lodging for him as close to the dock-gate as I can. Perhaps you may know of a tidy place."
"He can't do better than lodge with us," the captain said. "Mr. Staines and I always put up at the same place. We give them notice when we are going to begin to fit out, and they keep the rooms for us. We both slept there last night. The house is kept by a nice clean woman, the widow of a skipper who was lost with his craft about ten years ago. I have no doubt she can put the lad up too, and he can mess with us. I will go round with him myself; till we get the shrouds up, one is quite enough to look after the riggers."
"I thank you very much, captain. That will be in all respects more pleasant for the boy than lodging by himself."
The matter was speedily arranged. Mr. Embleton then took Stephen to a clothing shop and bought him two suits of rough canvas.
"You will find it dirty work, Steve. There is no keeping free of the tar. By the way, Captain Pinder, I have not ordered Steve's outfit yet, for I know that on some lines the apprentices dress like midshipmen, on others they don't; so I put it off until I saw you."
"I always like the apprentices on board my ship to be dressed as midshipmen," the captain replied. "There will only be three on board as far as I know. I make a point of messing with my officers, and if there are only two or three apprentices on board they take their meals with us, it does them good; and I don't at all approve of their mixing with the men forward. I should say, Mr. Embleton, get him one good suit for going ashore, another rougher suit for duty on board, half-a-dozen duck suits for the tropics, and two or three suits of dungaree for slipping on over the others when there is dirty work to be done. The cap is sufficient to indicate the officer. As for the rest of his outfit, your own experience will tell you what is needed. Railton in Leadenhall Street is a man I can recommend. He keeps the house badges for the caps, and turns out his work well. I generally get my togs there, and find him as cheap as anyone."
"Thank you! I will take Steve with me as far as that in the hackney-coach, and get him measured. Then he can be back here again by the time you knock off for dinner, and will then put on his slops and get to work."
Steve returned to the lodgings just as the captain and first mate came in to dinner. Then he carried one of his canvas suits down to the ship, put it on, and was soon at work having his first lesson in seizing ropes. For a fortnight the work continued, and Stephen greatly pleased the captain and first mate by his attention and willingness, working all the time as a rigger's boy, and paying the greatest attention to all the minutiae of the work. Saturday afternoons and Sundays he spent at Mr. Hewson's, where his father was still staying, his host refusing to listen to any talk of his leaving until the Tiger sailed. Another four days were spent in planing decks and painting inside and out. The work was scarcely finished when the cargo began to come on board. As soon as this was the case, the second and third mates and the other two apprentices joined. Like Mr. Staines, Towel and Pasley, the second and third mates, had both made their way up from the forecastle; both were active young men and good sailors, who had laboriously mastered the very small amount of bookwork that was needed, in addition to practical seamanship, to pass their examinations, but who, like the majority of their class of that time, knew nothing of navigation beyond taking a rough observation at mid-day and working it out by rule of thumb on the tables. Mr. Staines presented Stephen to them.
"This is our new apprentice," he said; "his father is a lieutenant in the royal navy, one of Lord Cochrane's men, and a great friend of the owner. Stephen Embleton is the lad's name, and some day he will make a fine officer. He has been at work here since the morning the riggers came on board, and is not afraid to put his hands into the tar-pot, as you can see from his appearance. He has learned a lot from his father, so we won't have the trouble with him we generally do have with Johnny-raws."
"That is right, youngster," the second mate said heartily; "if you will learn anywhere, you will learn here, for a better captain never commanded a ship. No passengers, I hope, Staines?"
"No; I believe that the skipper has had two or three applications, but although the owner has no objection to his taking them, he considers the trouble is more than they are worth. Of course, he would make something out of their passage, but there would, almost certainly, be some cantankerous beggars among them, and of course the table costs a good deal more when there are passengers, especially as he will have the apprentices to mess with him. I am sure I am glad indeed that we sha'n't be bothered with them."
The other two apprentices were about Stephen's age. Both had made one trip in the Tiger, and were at first a little inclined to patronize the new-comer. The day before the Tiger hauled out into the river, the owner and Mr. Embleton came down to look over her. Great was the change that three weeks had made in her appearance. Her deck was beautifully white, the lofty spars well scraped and freshly varnished, and the network of new rigging set her off to the greatest advantage. The new suit of sails were all bent, and lay loose in their gaskets ready for dropping. Four guns were ranged along either side.
"She is a handsome craft indeed," Mr. Embleton said as he stood on the wharf alongside, taking in every detail of her outfit with the eye of a seaman. "What are the guns—twelve-pounders?"
"Yes, but there is a long eighteen down in the hold, which will be mounted as a pivot as soon as she gets among the islands. The others are well enough when you come to close quarters, but the long gun generally keeps the pirates from getting there; they don't like being peppered before they come within fighting distance. I believe the captain would rather part with all the other guns than sail without Long Tom."
"That I would," Captain Pinder, who had just joined, remarked. "Five times has the pivot-gun made them sheer off without venturing to come to close quarters; and indeed I have never had to loose the broadside guns but three times, in each of which they came suddenly round the corner into a bay where we were lying at anchor."
As they had had notice of the owner's intention to come down, the officers were all in their new uniforms, and after Captain Pinder had shown his guests round the ship, they sat down together to dinner in the cabin.
"You have plenty of freeboard, I see," Mr. Embleton said, as, after returning on deck, he looked over the side.
"Yes, I never will load down my ships," Mr. Hewson said, "and will never take cargo within twenty per cent of their full carrying power. I have as little as possible stowed either quite forward or quite aft, so that they have not only plenty of freeboard, but are buoyant in a heavy sea. I am sure it pays. I don't insure my ships, and I have not lost one in the last sixteen years. The insurance money saved makes up for the loss of freight, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have done all in my power to ensure the safety of my officers and men."
"And very good policy, Hewson," Mr. Embleton said warmly. "I see scores of ships passing inside the Goodwins so loaded down that I would not be on board in a heavy gale for all the money in the bank, and the state of their sails often shows that they are badly cared for in all other respects. The system of insurance is no doubt a good one, but it has been so scandalously abused that it may safely be said that it has largely increased the annual number of wrecks and loss of life. Were it not for insurance, owners would, in their own interest, be driven to see that their ships were made in every respect seaworthy, well provided with gear of all kinds, well manned, and above all, not overloaded. Insurances are responsible for a large proportion of our marine disasters."
As, if the wind continued favourable, the Tiger would drop down the river as soon as she got out of dock, which would be at a very early hour the next morning, it was necessary that Stephen should be on board that evening. He, however, went back with his father to Mr. Hewson's, spent the afternoon at Exeter 'Change seeing the wild beasts, and returned by eight o'clock to the ship.
The Tiger made a quick voyage to Calcutta. She rounded the Cape without encountering bad weather, and was only twice obliged to shorten sail during the whole passage. Stephen enjoyed his life exceedingly. He was in the first officer's watch, and became a great favourite with Mr. Staines. He astonished his fellow-apprentices, as soon as they were fairly on their way, by producing his quadrant and taking observations at the same time as did the captain and mates; still more so when he took lunar and star observations, working them all out by figures instead of from the tables in the nautical almanac. He found at first some little difficulty in obtaining accuracy when the vessel was rolling, but he was not long in overcoming this, and the captain found that he was able to place the ship's position on the chart quite as correctly as he did himself.
"I would give a lot, Steve," the first mate said, when they had been out a fortnight, "if I could work things out as you do. I have gone over and over again to fellows who advertise that they teach navigation, but it is of no use, I can't make head or tail of all the letters and zigzigs and things. I have tried and I have tried till my head ached, but the more I study it the more fogged I get about it. There does not seem to me to be any sense in the thing, and when I see you sit down and figure away with all those letters and things, it beats me altogether."
"It is not difficult when you have begun from the beginning," Stephen said. "Of course, as my father wanted to teach me navigation, he taught me just the things that led up to the problems that you are talking about, so that it really was not hard, but if I had to do any other sort of mathematical questions I should be just as much puzzled as you are. Then you see, my father explained every step as it came, and as one led to another, I learnt them without meeting with any one special difficulty; but I can quite see that it would be very hard for anyone to learn to work it out without having been coached from the start."
"I shall never try again. I think I could find a port by reckoning and the sun, but as for the moon and stars I give them up altogether. There are hundreds of skippers, nay thousands of them, who don't know more than I do."
This was indeed the case, and the skilful navigators had less advantage over experienced men who worked by rule of thumb than is now the case, as the instruments were comparatively rough and the chronometers far less accurate than at present, and even those most skilful in their use were well satisfied if at the end of a long voyage they found that they were within twenty miles of their reckoning.
"It is different work now, lad, to what it used to be two years ago. Now one walks up and down the deck, and though there may be twenty sail in sight, one pays no more attention to them than one would to as many sea-birds. Then every sail was watched, and one was up, in the tops with one's glass twenty times a day, for there was no saying whether it was a friend or an enemy. One's watch at night was a watch then, for there was never any saying whether a French privateer might not come looming out of the darkness at any moment; and if a vessel of about our size was made out a mile off, it was all hands on deck, and cast the lashings off the guns, and stand by till she was out of sight again. Now one jogs along, and all that you have got to look out for, is to see that you don't run foul of another craft, or let one run foul of you. Yes, we had a rough time of it in those days, and I ain't sorry that they are over."
"But you look out sharp for pirates when you are among the islands, don't you, Mr. Staines?"
"Ay, lad; but when one sees a Malay pirate, there is no mistaking her for anything else. At night it is generally a stark calm, and whether one is lying idle, with the sails hanging flat against the mast, or whether one is at anchor, one knows that they can't come upon us under sail, and on a still night one can hear the beat of their oars miles away. There is never any fear of being surprised as long as there is a hand wide awake and watchful on deck. Calms are the greatest curse out there; the ship lies sometimes for days, ay and for weeks, with the water as smooth as grease, and everything that has been thrown overboard floating alongside, and the sun coming down until your brain is on the boil."
"You have storms sometimes, don't you?"
"Sometimes, not very often; but when it does blow, it blows fit to take your head off, and you have nothing to do but to cruise under bare poles, and hope that nothing will get in your way. There is one thing, they are not gales like we have here, but cyclones, and instead of getting blown along for hundreds of miles, you go round and round, so that if there is no land within fifty miles of you when the storm strikes, the chances are that you are safe. If you can but lie to, you can manage at last to edge out of it on the side that is furthest from land. A cyclone is no joke, I can tell you; but if you get warning enough to get your canvas stowed and to send down your light spars, and have got a ship like the Tiger under you in good trim,—not too light, not too heavy,—you ought to be able to live through it. There is no better sailor nor one more familiar with the islands than the skipper. He is not fond of carrying on, and perhaps at times we think him a little too prudent, but he generally turns out right; anyhow, it is a fault on the right side.
"I have sailed under him fifteen years now. I was third mate when I first joined his ship; not this, you know, but the old Gertrude. I have never had a cross word with him, nor have the other two mates. He expects every man to do his duty, as is right enough; but if that is done well, everything goes on smooth. I don't think that there are ten of the crew who have not been with the skipper for years. When we get back to port and the crew are paid off, it is always, 'When will you want us again, captain?' and no matter whether it is in a fortnight or in a couple of months, pretty nearly every man will turn up."
"That speaks for itself, both as to the owner and the skipper, and the mates too, Mr. Staines."
"Well, we have not much to do with it. Unless a man does his duty, and does it pleasantly and without cursing and swearing, he won't make two voyages under the skipper; indeed he won't make one. Three years ago Towel was laid up with a hurt he got on the voyage before, and we had to get a new second mate at the last moment, for Pasley had not got his certificate then, and couldn't take Towel's place. The man was highly recommended, and was a good sailor, but he was a bully, and a foul-mouthed one, and the skipper put him on shore at the Cape, and paid his passage home out of his own pocket—though I know the owner returned it to him afterwards, and said that he had done quite right. I tell you, lad, you are lucky in making your first voyage on board the Tiger, for, putting aside everything else, I don't know a single ship, except Hewson's, where the apprentices mess with the master and mates, and are treated as they are here.
"I daresay you wonder why some of us have not been apprentices, but it is only the last two or three years that Hewson's ships have carried them. Before that there was always a fourth mate to each of his ships, so that there were two officers in each watch; but the ships have such a good name, and the owner had so many applications from friends with sons who wanted to go to sea, that three years ago he made the change. But he is mighty particular who he takes, and all his indentures contain a clause that unless the reports by the captains they sail under are favourable, the owner has the right of returning the premium he received and of cancelling the indentures. I can tell you, lad, that if every owner took as much pains for the comfort of his officers and crews as Mr. Hewson does, Jack would have a deal better life than is now the case."
IN THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO.
The stay at Calcutta was a short one, and as soon as the cargo for that port was unladen, the Tiger again sailed. The apprentices had a run ashore, but each had gone with one of the mates, as in so large a city the boys, if alone, might well have got into trouble. Stephen went with the first mate, and was glad at the arrangement, as Mr. Staines had frequently been there before and knew the town well, and Stephen therefore saw a great deal more of it than he would have done had he been alone. He was delighted with the native bazaar, and would have laid out much of his spare cash there, had not Mr. Staines prevented him.
"Time enough when you get back, Stephen. But if you have got any money to spend you had better go with me to a stall where, the last two voyages I have been here, I laid in a stock of articles useful for trading with the Malays—looking-glasses, beads, brass buttons, bright handkerchiefs, and things of that sort. I don't say but that one might get them cheaper in London; but in the first place, one always finds plenty of things there to spend one's money on; and in the second place, the people here know exactly the sort of goods needed in the islands, and one can get them all at one stall instead of having to hunt about in a dozen shops for them. We are each allowed to trade on our own account up to a certain amount; and, as a rule, I find that when I get back here I can sell the curiosities I buy down in the islands, for about four times as much as the goods cost me, so if you do the same you will have more money to buy things with here than if you bought them now. But for most of the things you pick up you will find you can get a much better price in London than you can here."
"What sort of things do you buy there, Mr. Staines?"
"The skins of birds, carved wood-work, Malay arms, models of canoes, and things of that kind. The bird skins are the best, especially if you know anything about them. I have got as much as two or three pounds for a rare skin that I exchanged for a twopenny looking-glass and half a dozen brass buttons, but of course that was an exceptional case; for, as a rule, they will average two or three shillings apiece. You had better buy a big pot of arsenical soap, which acts as a preservative to keep away insects, also two or three air-tight tin boxes; they will hold the things you buy here, and you can fill them with trade goods."
Steve took the advice, and expended four out of the five pounds his father had given him on sailing. The mate laid out twenty pounds in similar purchases, and then they returned to the ship, which was anchored a mile down the river, followed by three coolies carrying their purchases. The other apprentices similarly laid out their spare cash.
"You have done well, lads," the captain said, as they were at dinner on the evening before sailing. "You must not expect to make a very great deal by your trading, although, no doubt, you will get a handsome return for your money. To do really well you must have some knowledge of what birds are rare and what are common, and I should advise you when we get home to spend any time that you have to spare in visiting the Museum and examining the birds there. No doubt you will be able to find out from one of the attendants which are rare ones, and might be able to consult some books on the subject. You may have the luck to come across skins that are altogether new; and, at any rate, a little knowledge would enable you to exchange your goods to a very much greater advantage than you could otherwise do. A knowledge of that kind is always useful to a sailor, who in his wanderings may well get from the natives rare and valuable specimens in natural history, and there are always plenty of collectors ready to pay good prices for them. I have often regretted that I did not pay attention to such matters when I was young; for besides paying well, it gives a great interest to visits to little-known places, and I have heard of two or three captains who have made a good deal of money by it."
For two months after getting among the islands no serious adventures were met with. Trading went on steadily. Several times large native craft were seen, but these sheered off when they saw that the Tiger was well armed and prepared for defence. As most of the places touched at had been visited by the captain on previous voyages, the natives hailed his return with expressions of apparent pleasure; but however friendly their bearing, there was never any abatement of the vigilance by the captain and his officers. Only a certain number were allowed to come on board to trade. The seamen always carried cutlasses by their side and a brace of pistols in their belts, and even when they went ashore for wood or water two boats were always sent, half the men with loaded muskets keeping guard while the others worked, and the guns of the ship were loaded and trained in readiness to open fire in case of any hostile demonstration on the part of the natives. Occasionally, when a chief had paid a visit to the ship and invited the captain to a feast on shore, a strong guard armed to the teeth accompanied him, and a boat lay by the ship's side in readiness to land another party if necessary.
"They are the most treacherous race on earth," the captain said one day when the third officer remarked that they seemed very friendly. "You can never trust them for a moment; they will shake hands with you with one hand and stab you with the other. Numbers of ships' companies have been massacred owing to the captains putting faith in appearances, and allowing too many of the copper-coloured scoundrels to get on board at once. As long as you make a rule that not more than twenty or thirty can come on the deck, and that all boats must keep at a distance, you are safe, but you must never let yourself be caught napping. I have had one or two very narrow escapes, for it is twenty-five years now since I first came among these islands.
"I had just passed as a third mate when I made my first voyage here. The captain was an easy-going man, and was quite taken in by the appearance of friendliness on the part of the natives. The first mate, too, was a good sailor, but new to the islands, and too fond of his grog; but luckily the second mate had been here before. His ship had once been attacked and nearly half the men killed before they could beat the Malays overboard, and he was always in a fidget.
"I was only about twenty at the time, and, like a young fool, thought that it was pure cowardice on his part; however, at his earnest request I carried a brace of double-barrelled pistols in my pocket, and, unknown to the captain and the first mate, he persuaded a dozen of the crew to do the same, and got the captain to let him keep the cannon loaded with grape, though the latter made no secret that he regarded this precaution as altogether uncalled for. The natives came on board as usual, at first only two or three canoe loads, but gradually the number of Malays on deck became larger and larger, and quite a crowd of boats were clustered round. I could see that Pearson, the second mate, was in a fidget; he glanced at me significantly two or three times, and I began to think myself that he might be right. We were both of us engaged in bartering with the natives, and I noticed that Pearson put the goods under his charge close to one side of the deck, so that standing behind them he leant against the bulwark and could not be taken in rear. I ordered a couple of the men to move my lot also. Both of those I spoke to were, I knew, among those Pearson had persuaded to carry pistols in their pockets.
"'I don't like the look of things, Mr. Pinder,' one of them, an old hand, whispered to me.
"'No more do I, Jack,' I said. 'Just slip below and bring up four of those boarding-axes. Put one of them down among Mr. Pearson's goods and make a sign to him that it is for his use, put the other three down in front of me, and then do you and Bob Hawkins take your places between me and Mr. Pearson, as if you were going to lend us a hand with the trade; then if there is a shindy the four of us will be able to make a hard fight of it anyhow.'
"He did as I told him, and the second officer nodded to me approvingly. Things went on quietly for another five minutes, then I heard a heavy blow given, followed by a fall; and, as if this was the signal, the quiet crowd of natives became in a moment a mob of yelling fiends; screams filled the air, pistol-shots rang out, and you may guess we fell to work in earnest. I fancy we did not throw away a shot between us, and cleared a space in front of us, then snatching up the axes we made at them tooth and nail. We first fought our way aft. The first mate was fighting like a demon; he had caught up a handspike, and, being a very powerful man, kept off his assailants fairly till we cut our way through and joined him. The moment he was free from the group that was attacking him, he rushed forward, sweeping the natives over with his handspike like ninepins. Two of us kept on each side of him. There was just breadth enough on the deck to give free play to our axes, and though the Malays came at us furiously, they could not stand the blows of our heavy weapons. The cook and the steward came rushing up behind us.
"'Turn the cannon on the canoes!' Pearson shouted. 'Depress them as much as you can, and give it them hot.'
"I had no time to look round, but half a minute later I heard one of the cannon go off, followed by yells and screams from the water.
"'Train two of them along the deck,' I shouted, 'but don't fire until you have orders.'
"The Malays were swarming up from the canoes and joining the crowd in front of us, and I saw a rush of some of our fellows up on to the top of the forecastle. We could make no way now, and it was as much as we could do to hold our own. I fought on until I thought the guns were ready; then, looking round, saw the two men standing behind them with lighted matches.
"'The cannon are trained to sweep the deck, Conklin!' but it was not until I touched him and shouted in his ear again that the mate heard me.
"'Now!' Pearson yelled, 'throw yourselves on to them, cut down one or two of the rascals, and when I shout 'Run!' get back behind the guns.'
"The thought of what was coming gave us fresh strength. We went at them with a will, and drove them back a couple of yards. Then Pearson shouted 'Run!' and back we went aft as hard as we could tear, Pearson and I almost dragging Conklin with us. As we passed between the guns, with the Malays close at our heels, both men fired; the guns were crammed almost to the mouth with bullets, and the execution was awful. In a moment we dashed at them again, while the men forward, who had armed themselves with the capstan-bars, ran down the ladder and fell upon them. In another minute it was all over. The Malays who remained alive sprang over the bulwark, and we discharged the remaining five cannons into the canoes, smashing up numbers of them, and the rest paddled for the shore for their lives. We had time now to look around. It was an awful sight. Over fifty Malays lay dead, together with eleven of our men, besides the captain. If it had not been for Pearson not a soul would have lived to tell the tale. After it was over, we found that, as the crowds on deck had increased, most of our old hands, who were the men that had taken the pistols, had gradually gathered near the forecastle. Some of the others had joined them, and when the outbreak came, they had for a time been able to make a stout resistance, until one of their number, who was on the forecastle when the fight began, shouted to them that we were training the cannon forward, and they then made a rush up and joined him.
"Every man who had been among the natives had been cut down at the first alarm. Out of the twenty-eight hands on board when the fight began only sixteen remained. Many of these had desperate wounds from the Malay creases, and two of them died a day or two afterwards. Conklin had been very badly cut about. None of the wounds ought to have been dangerous, but he had heated his blood by drink, and that in a hot climate is fatal, so we buried him ten days after the fight. Thus, you see, we lost two officers and thirteen men, and all for want of taking precautions. Of course we sailed at once for Calcutta, and luckily had fine weather on the way; we should have fared badly with but half a crew had we fallen in with a hurricane. Pearson was a good navigator, and, after taking six more hands on board at Calcutta, he brought her home safely. The owners made us both handsome presents, and the next voyage he sailed as first mate and I as second. So it turned out a lucky stroke for both of us. Three years later he went as captain, and a year afterwards I sailed as his first mate."
"When was it you had your other adventure, captain?"
"That was in the year before. I did not sail with Pearson that year, for he was promoted suddenly to a ship ready to sail. It was a piece of luck for him. One of the owners went down to the docks late one afternoon and found the captain blind drunk. So he was sent straight on shore, and Pearson got his billet. I was very sorry that I could not go with him, as after that business we became great friends, and in his report of the affair he gave me more credit than I deserved for my idea of getting those hatchets up, which, he said, alone enabled us to make a successful defence. I had the more cause to regret his transfer, since the captain was an obstinate man, as we found out during the voyage, and just as much inclined to treat the natives with contempt as my former skipper had been. However, the man appointed to take Pearson's place as first mate was a sharp fellow, and lucky he was so. We were lying one night in a harbour where the natives had appeared particularly friendly the day before. Purvis, the mate, suggested to the captain that it would be as well to have the watches kept as if at sea, but the old man pooh-poohed the idea.
"'I don't like it,' the mate said to me; 'those fellows were too friendly. They did not bargain over the goods, but took them at our own terms, which is not their way. I believe they did it just to lull us into a sense of security. As soon as the skipper turns in for the night I will get the guns quietly loaded, and you and I will keep watch, while I will order the crew to turn in all standing, so as to be ready to tumble out at once. It is mighty hard to keep awake on these soft nights when the anchor is down, and with neither you nor I on deck the betting is two to one that the hands on anchor watch will drop off to sleep. The skipper will be snoring by ten o'clock, and you had better turn in now. I will see to getting the guns loaded, and to having plenty of ammunition handy. I will call you at four bells. If we are going to be attacked it is likely to be just as day is breaking.'
"'You had better call me at two bells,' I said, 'and then you can get three hours' sleep and be up at eight bells. It won't begin to get light until after that, and you may be sure that if I hear any sound I will wake you at once.'
"So we arranged it, and at one o'clock he came down quietly. I had only taken off my shoes and carried these in my hand, so as to avoid making any noise that might wake the skipper, as I went out on deck.
"'Everything is quiet,' the mate said, 'and has been ever since you turned in. Even that is not natural, for, as you know, the natives when they have been doing a trade generally keep on feasting and making a row half the night. Keep your ears well open, for there is no trusting the watch. Every time I have gone forward I have found them sound asleep. Naturally they think that, as there is only an anchor watch, there can be no fear of disturbance; so you must trust to your own ears and not to theirs.'
"'All right!' I said; 'I will keep awake—never fear.'
"I think if I had not been confident that the first mate was not the man to take alarm easily, I should have had difficulty in keeping my eyes open, for the night was sultry and not a breath of air was moving. I went forward to the two men on watch and told them that they must keep a sharp look-out, for that it was likely enough we might be attacked before morning. Then I lit my pipe and paced up and down the deck, stopping occasionally to listen intently. It was nearly eight bells when I thought I heard a grating sound on shore. I walked forward and found, as I expected, that the two men on watch were half-asleep. 'Wake up, you fools!' I said; 'there is something moving.' Again I heard the low grating sound.
"'Did you hear that?' I asked.
"The men were wide awake now.
"'Yes, sir, I heard a noise; but I don't know what it was.'
"'They are launching their canoes,' I said. 'I will call the first officer.'
"I went aft. Purvis woke directly I touched him.
"'I fancy they are launching their canoes,' I said. 'I have twice heard a grating sound.'
"He was up in a moment. We stood listening intently for some minutes. There was certainly a movement on shore, but it was difficult to say of what kind. It was just a low confused murmur.
"'You are right,' the mate said presently; 'look at the water.'
"For a moment I scarcely understood him; then I saw what he meant. It had been as smooth as oil before; it was no longer so, but it was broken with tiny ripples as if disturbed by the faintest possible breeze.
"'These ripples must be made by launching the canoes,' he went on. 'A strong body of men might carry them almost noiselessly down that sandy beach and put them in the water without making a splash, but the stir made in wading and in lowering them down, however quietly, would break up this glassy surface, and the ripples once started would run out here. Anyhow we will get the men out. Tell them to come noiselessly. We will serve out the arms and ammunition to them, but we won't load the guns till we have something more to go upon. It may be some time before they attack. I think it is likely enough that they will wait until they hear the boats—which I have no doubt they have sent for—coming up, before they make a move.'
"'Shall I wake the skipper?'
"'Certainly not. As likely as not he would blow us all up and send the men back to their bunks again. He has made up his mind that there is no danger, and the obstinate beggar would risk our having all our throats cut rather than own there was any ground for alarm.'
"I went into the forecastle and roused the men, warning them to muster as quietly as possible. Half an hour passed without the slightest sound being heard. Then the men fidgeted and whispered together, and were evidently of opinion that they had been turned out on a false alarm.
"'Hush, men!' Purvis said sharply, 'I can hear something.'
"You could have heard a pin drop in a moment, and I believe every man held his breath. There was a sort of quiver in the air rather than a sound, and Watkins the boatswain, who had been years and years in vessels trading among the islands, said: 'You are right, Mr. Purvis, that is sweeps; and what is more, it is not one boat, but I should say half a dozen.'
"'That is what I think,' the mate said. 'How far off should you say they were?'
"'It is difficult to tell. I should say three or four miles. That is the best of these proas. A canoe, if the men take pains with their paddling, will come within a hundred yards of you before you hear them, but as the proas row oars, you can make them out a long way off on a still night like this.'
"'Well, we will wait a few minutes longer before we wake the skipper,' Purvis said to me. 'He will swear that he does not hear any noise at all, and that it is all our fancy. In ten minutes there will be no mistaking it. Watkins, you had better get up that boarding-netting'—for among these islands all the ships carry them, and very useful they are in repelling an attack.
"'I have got it handy,' the boatswain said, and soon brought it on deck. 'Shall we lash it up, sir?'
"'No; we had better wait till the captain comes out. It won't take above a couple of minutes, especially if you run it all along by the bulwarks.'
"In a few minutes the sound of the oars was unmistakable, and Purvis went in to call the captain.
"'What is it?' the skipper said as the mate knocked.
"'There are five or six proas coming towards us, sir, and we have reason to believe that the canoes on shore are all launched and ready to attack us.'
"'I believe it is all nonsense,' the skipper said angrily as he came from his door. 'You are always fidgeting about pirates, Mr. Purvis.'
"He came out on deck, listened a moment, and then said: 'Stuff and nonsense! What, have you got the men out? Send them to their bunks at once!'
"'With the greatest respect to you, sir, I shall do nothing of the sort, and if I did the men would not obey me. They can all hear the proas, and we are not going to submit to have our throats cut tamely, Mr. Pinder thoroughly agrees with me, and so does the boatswain, that these proas can be coming for no good purpose at this time of night, and it were madness not to be ready for them. What do you say, Mr. Pinder?'
"'I entirely agree with you, sir,' I replied.
"'This is rank mutiny!' the skipper said furiously.
"'I would rather be tried for mutiny than have my throat cut here. Now, sir, will you give orders, or shall I?'
"'I will give no orders,' the captain said. 'In the morning I will have you put in irons.'
"Purvis, giving a short laugh, turned on his heel. 'My lads,' he said, 'you have heard the sound of the oars, and know as well as I do that we shall shortly be attacked, and shall have to fight hard for our lives. The captain is of opinion that we are all mistaken, and wants us to turn in again. What do you say?! Will you have your throats cut or not?'
"There was an angry growl from the sailors.
"'Very well, then, set to work and load the guns—ball at first, but keep your grape handy, we shall want it before we have done. Do it quietly; it is as well these fellows on shore should not know what we are up to. As soon as you have loaded, rig up the boarding-nettings.'
"In a moment all was bustle. There was no need to run the guns in, for that was already done, the captain insisting upon our always having the ports closed, in order, as he said, that the natives might see that our intentions were perfectly friendly. Consequently, the men were enabled to load the guns without noise, moving about the deck on their naked feet like shadows. Then the boarding-nettings were triced up, arms distributed amongst the men, each having a boarding-pike, a cutlass, and a brace of pistols. By the time that this was done, we judged by the sound of the sweeps that the pirates were not more than a mile away. Lanterns were got up on deck and placed in readiness to be lighted and run up to the yard-arm, so as to throw some light down on the water.
"'Now, we will call the old man again. Obstinate as he is he can't help hearing the oars now, and I know that he is plucky enough, and will fight the ship well as soon as he is once convinced that there is danger.'
"We went together to the skipper's.
"'Captain,' Purvis said in a loud voice, 'Pinder and I have come to tell you that the proas are within a mile of us, and to ask you to take the command and fight the ship.'
"We heard the skipper tumble out of his bunk again with an angry exclamation. He opened the door without a word and went straight up on to the poop. He listened a moment, and then ran down again.
"'I beg your pardon, Mr. Purvis,' he said hastily, 'but I have been wrong, and there is no doubt we are going to be attacked. I am heartily sorry for what I have said, and I thank you for your watchfulness.'
"'Say no more about it, captain. We are ready to begin as soon as you give the orders.'
"'I will throw on some things and be out again in a minute;' and in less than that time he turned out again.
"'You have the guns loaded?' he asked.
"'Ay, ay, sir, and the boarding-nettings up.'
"'Can you make them out yet?'
"'No, sir. By the sound, they are keeping close in to the shore. I have got the kedge anchor in a boat. Shall I lower it and row a couple of ship's-lengths and drop it there, then we can warp her round, so as to bring all our guns to bear? I deferred doing that to the last, so that the fellows on shore should not know we were on the alert.'
"'Yes; do so at once, Mr. Purvis.'
"The boatswain and two hands were at once called to the boat, which was then lowered and rowed off in the direction the mate pointed out. The anchor was let drop, and the boat returned to the ship, paying out the hawser over the stern. The captain had taken his place on the forecastle, and was looking anxiously ahead.
"'I see them,' he exclaimed at last; 'they are coming out from behind that low point half a mile away. Haul on the hawser and bring her broadside to bear on them. Get the guns across to the starboard side, Mr. Pinder.'
"The ship was pierced for eight guns a side, and by the time the ship was swung round, they were all in position. The proas, now no more than a quarter of a mile away, were heading straight for us.
"'Take a steady aim, lads,' the captain said, 'and fire as soon as you are sure of your shot.'
"In quick succession the guns spoke out. At the reports wild yells broke from the proas, and from the shore, now astern of us.
"'Load as quick as you can with grape,' the captain shouted.
"There had been five proas when the first gun was fired, but before we had reloaded one had disappeared, and there was shouting and confusion in one of the others. It was evident that she also was in difficulties.
"'Don't fire until I give the word.'
"The three proas were within fifty yards of us when he gave the order, and the eight guns poured their contents into the crowded decks. The effect was terrible. Two of the proas ceased rowing altogether, and some of the oars of the other dropped into the water and hampered the efforts of those who still continued to row.
"'The port watch will repel boarders. The starboard watch will load again,' the captain ordered.
"There was way enough on the proas to bring them all alongside, but either the men at the steering oars were all killed or they had lost their heads, for, instead of bringing them up alongside, they simply came up bows on. As they struck the side the Malays tried to climb up, but, attacking as they did only at three points, our men had little difficulty in keeping them off, thrusting through the nettings with their boarding-pikes, and giving the Malays no time to attempt to chop down the nettings with their creases.
"'Are you all loaded?' the captain shouted.
"'Ay, ay, sir,' came from the guns.
"'Train them so as to take the proas between wind and water,' the captain said; 'then run the port guns back to their places; we shall be attacked on that side directly.'
"The sea indeed was sparkling with phosphoric fire, as a crowd of canoes from the shore paddled out towards us. The steward now lit and ran up half a dozen lanterns. We got the guns over in time, but before we could load them the Malays were swarming up the side.
"'Take three men, Pinder, and load the guns,' cried the captain; 'we will keep these fellows off.'
"The same order was given to the boatswain with regard to the guns on the starboard side. It was exciting work, for spears were flying in showers, stink-pots were hurled over the nettings, and the yelling and shouting were deafening. Our men were sticking to their pikes, for they had been ordered to keep their pistols in reserve in case the pirates obtained a footing on deck. There were two little guns on the poop, and when I had loaded the guns on the port side the captain sent me up to load these. I crammed them with bullets up to the muzzle, and then ran them to the poop railing, and placed one of the hands there with a lighted match. We had a tough ten minutes of it, and if the canoes had come up at the same time as the proas it would have gone hard with us; but the last broadside that had been poured in had sunk two of the big craft, and the other had drifted away, so that, in fact, we had only the shore canoes to cope with. We had hard work to keep them back, but none of the natives managed to cross the netting along the waist of the ship, though a few shoved themselves through holes that they hacked with their creases.
"Some managed to swarm up by the cable on to the bows, but three men who were stationed there disposed of them before enough could gain a footing to be dangerous. The captain had been keeping the guns in reserve in case the proa that had dropped behind at first should come on, but he now saw that she was low in the water, and that many of the Malays were jumping overboard. He therefore shouted out:
"'Give them both broadsides. Aim into the thick of them.'
"That broadside settled it; seven or eight of their big canoes were smashed up; several of the others turned and paddled to the shore; and a moment later, the men who were attacking us leapt into the boats alongside and followed their example.
"'Load as quickly as you can,' the captain cried, 'and give them a parting salute.' We ran the two little quarter-deck guns over and peppered them with bullets, and the other guns joined in as soon as they were reloaded.
"That finished the matter. Our loss was not heavy, considering what a hard fight it had been. We had but two killed, and seven or eight wounded by their spears; while they must have suffered frightfully. In the morning the captain called the crew aft, and made a speech thanking them for their conduct, and saying that they owed their safety and that of the ship to the first mate and myself, and that the night's work would be a lesson that he should never forget. He privately said the same thing to us, and there was no doubt that it was the first mate who saved the ship.
"This and the other affair were a lesson to me as well as to the captain. No matter how friendly the natives might appear, from that day I have never anchored among the islands without having half my guns double-shotted, and the other half loaded with grape; and there is always an officer and half a watch on deck, so that, whatever happens to us, it will not be because I have been caught napping. On both those occasions the captains well-nigh lost ship and crew by their carelessness."
For several weeks they cruised among the islands bartering goods with the natives of sea-coast villages. At most of these the captain had touched on previous voyages, and as soon as the ship was recognized the canoes came off freely. Stephen gradually got rid of the goods he had purchased at Calcutta. Knowing nothing of the respective value of the bird skins, he was guided simply by their rarity. Of skins of which numbers were brought on board, he bought none, however brilliant the plumage; but whenever he saw one that was new to him he at once made an offer for it. But as this was seldom, his box filled but slowly, until one day he went ashore with the captain, the first mate, and twelve sailors armed to the teeth, to pay a visit to the chief. On the few occasions on which he had landed he always carried with him a hand-bag filled full of trade goods. On the present occasion, after the feasting had gone on for some time, he stole out from the chief's hut. The men were sitting down in front drinking palm wine, but keeping a vigilant eye upon the movements of the natives. Presently one of the Malays came up to him and touched his bag, as if to ask what were its contents. He brought out two or three small looking-glasses, some large brass necklaces, and a few of the cheap bangles and rings set with coloured glass, used by the Hindoo peasant women. The native pointed to a hut near, and beckoned to Steve to follow him.
"Jim, you may as well come with me," Stephen said to one of the sailors. "I think this fellow wants to trade with me; but they are treacherous beggars, and I don't care about going with him by myself."
The sailor got up and followed him across to the hut. The Malay was evidently a chief of some importance, and Stephen thought that he might be possessed of articles of a better class than those usually offered. In one corner of the hut stood a seaman's chest with several small cases round it. It needed but a glance to show that the latter were two chronometers and three quadrants.
"The scoundrels have been plundering a ship, Jim."
"Ay, ay, your honour, there is not much doubt about that. I should like to knock the black villain on the head."
The chief caught the tone of anger, and made a variety of signs to the effect that there had been a great storm, and that a ship had been driven ashore and wrecked.
"Ay, ay, that is all very well," the sailor growled; "but that won't do for us. Those chronometers would never have floated, and them polished cases have never been in the water."
"Never mind, Jim; it won't do to look suspicious." He pointed to the chronometers, and asked by signs how much was wanted for them. He took out four looking-glasses, two brass chains, and three or four bead necklaces. The chief looked doubtful; but when Stephen added a crimson silk handkerchief he closed with the bargain at once. He would indeed have given them for the looking-glasses alone if Stephen had held out for them, for he regarded the chronometers with a certain sense of dread; they were to him mysteries, having made, when first brought ashore, a ticking noise, and were generally considered to be in some way alive. They were, therefore, left out in the air for some days, and it was then found that they were, as supposed, dead. None of the other natives would have given them house-room; but the chief, who was less superstitious than the majority of the tribe, had brought them into his hut, although he had not had sufficient courage to break them up for the sake of the brass.
Having disposed of these the chief opened the lid of the chest. He took out some clothes and held them up, but Stephen shook his head decidedly. Then he brought out a gold watch and a heavy bag; he untied the latter, and handed it to Stephen for inspection. The lad had difficulty in repressing an exclamation, for it was full of guineas, but put it down and placed the watch beside it, assumed an air of indifference, and then made up another pile of about equal value to the first, but threw in a couple of dozen brass buttons. The chief nodded, and Stephen slipped the bag and watch into his coat pocket. While this transaction had been going on, Jim had carried the boxes containing the chronometers and quadrants to his comrades.
"Anything more, sir?" he asked, as he appeared at the door of the hut.
"Nothing more to carry, Jim, as far as I am concerned; but there is a good pea-jacket and some togs in that chest. I have no doubt that it belonged to the captain of the ship; they have cut off all the buttons. I will buy them for you."
The coat and trousers, and half a dozen shirts were, to Jim's great delight, purchased for him. Stephen then examined the whole contents of the chest, thinking that some papers might be found that would give a clue to the name of the ship that it had belonged to, but nothing of the sort was discovered. However, he bought the whole of the clothes, and, calling in the sailors one by one, divided them among them, and then went back and joined the captain.
"I have been doing some trading, captain," he whispered to him. "It is white plunder; and I have no doubt that a ship has been surprised and her crew massacred somewhere near here. I have bought the chronometers and quadrants, and they have certainly not been in the water; also the contents of a sea-chest, which I divided among the men. There were no papers of any kind, but from the appearance of the chronometers, I should say that they cannot have been here long."
The captain nodded.
"We will talk it over when we get on board, Steve. We will be off at once, for these fellows are beginning to get drunk with this beastly liquor of theirs, and it is best that we should get out of the place before there is any excuse for a quarrel."
A few minutes later they took their seats in the boat and rowed off to the ship.
As soon as they arrived on board, Captain Pinder examined the chronometers and pronounced them to be excellent ones.
"I would not wind them up until it is Greenwich time as they now stand, and would then compare them with our own."
"Of course, sir," Stephen said, "I have bought these not for myself but for the ship."
"Not at all, Steve; you have traded as you have a right to do, and the ship has nothing to do with it. At the same time I don't know whether you will be able to keep or sell them. I must give notice on our return home that such things have been found here under circumstances that leave no doubt that the crew of the ship to which they belonged have been massacred, and the ship herself burned. No doubt owners of vessels that have been missing will call at the office to inspect the chronometers. I do not say that anyone would have a legal right to them; they have been absolutely lost and gone out of their possession, and you have bought them in the way of fair trade."
"If they wish to have them back again, sir, of course I will give them up."
"Well, at any rate, if you did so, lad, you would get a reward proportionate to their value. However, they may never be claimed. Owners whose ships are missing, and who have received the insurance money, are not likely to trouble themselves further in the matter."
"This is not all I have, sir," Stephen went on. "I also got this gold watch and this bag of money. I suppose the chest belonged to the captain, and that he carried this gold with him for the purchase of stores."
"You are a lucky fellow, Steve. Come down into my cabin and we will count the money. Two hundred guineas," he went on, when they had finished; "well, that is about the best bit of trade that I have seen done; you had better hand this over to me to keep."
"Oh, I don't mean it to be kept, sir," Stephen said; "it would not be fair at all. I would not think of it. It is like prize-money, and ought to be divided in the same way. I don't mind keeping the gold watch just now, but if we find out the name of the ship when we get back to England, I should wish to send it to the widow of the captain, and the money too, if it belonged to him."
"There is no chance whatever of that, lad. No captain would be fool enough to bring out a lot of gold like that on his own account. It was certainly ship's money that he would hold for making advances to the crew; as for the purchase of stores, he would pay for them by bills on the owner. But still, you are no doubt right about the watch, and the poor fellow's widow would, doubtless, be glad to have it; as to the gold, I will take charge of it for the present. We will talk the matter over again later on; there is no occasion to come to any decision about it. At present it is entirely yours. I don't think that you have any right to give up a sum of money like this without, at any rate, very careful consideration. It is a sum that, divided up into shares, would give but a very small amount to each on board, while it might be of the most material service to you some day or other. But please oblige me by saying nothing whatever about it at present. Whatever decision is arrived at in matters of this sort, somebody is sure to feel aggrieved, and it is astonishing what little things upset a crew, especially on a voyage of this kind, where there is no such controlling influence over the men's minds as that exercised by touching at ports where there are authorities to whom, in case of necessity, the captain can appeal."
"Very well, sir, I will, of course, do as you wish. Shall I say anything about the watch?"
"Yes; there is no objection to your doing that, especially as that must be mentioned in any inquiries we may make as to any ship being missing, and there is no need for any secrecy about it. I shall also mention the money to the officers; they will appreciate the offer that you have made, and agree with me, I am sure, that it will be better that nothing should be said to the crew."
That evening the first mate said to Stephen: "The captain has been telling us about that bag of money you got hold of, Steve, and we all think that your offer to treat it as if it were prize-money is a very kind one, but we agree with him that it would be a mistake. In the first place, the money wouldn't go far. In any matter of that sort the ship, that is to say the owners, take a large share to begin with, the officers take some shares, and the men's shares would not come to a pound a head. A pound a head would only suffice for them to have a drunken spree on shore, but they are just as well without that, and, as the captain says, it is astonishing what little things upset sailors' minds. They might take it into their head that as you got two hundred pounds in that hut there might be a lot more, and they would be wanting to land and to turn the village upside down, and there would be bloodshed and all sorts of trouble. The old saying, 'Least said, soonest mended', comes in here strongly. We have, so far, got on very well with the natives this voyage, and I hope that we shall continue to do so to the end. I quite allow that we should all of us be glad to give a sharp lesson to that village ashore. They have been plundering, and I have no doubt murdering, the crew of some ship. Still, we have no evidence of that, and we can't attack the village on mere supposition. They have been friendly enough with us, partly because we have been here before, and the captain gets on well with them, but more because they are perfectly well aware that we are always on guard, and that there is no chance whatever of their catching us asleep. In nine cases out of ten it is the carelessness and over-confidence of sailors that tempt the natives to take advantage of it; they would never have shown you these things if they had had any idea of attacking us."
Next morning the operation of filling up the water-tanks was completed, and at noon the orders were given to weigh anchor. Steve saw how rightly the captain had foreseen what was likely to happen, for no sooner was the order given than two of the men came aft as a deputation from the crew.
"What is it, lads?" he asked.
"Well, captain, the boat's crew that went ashore yesterday came off with a lot of togs that must, in course, have been taken from some seaman's chest. Now, it seems to us as that chest could not have been there by fair means, and that, like enough, they had been murdering and looting some vessel here; and, for aught we know, the place may be full of plunder of some sort or another, and that, may be, there are twenty or thirty other seamen's chests there, and other goods. It seems to us, sir, that these chaps ought to be punished, and that we should try to get as much of the plunder they have got hidden as we can; therefore, the crew beg that you will sanction our going ashore and tackling them."
"No, lads, I can't sanction that," the captain said. "It is true that Mr. Embleton was offered by one of their chiefs some chronometers and the contents of a sea-chest. He bought the chronometers, and he also bought the contents of the chest and divided them among the men who went ashore. The chief made signs to him that these things had been saved from a ship that had been wrecked, and it is possible that it may be so. It may not have been wrecked on this island, and those things may have been the share of one of the canoes from here that assisted in looting her; at any rate, we have no proof that the vessel was boarded and captured. If it had been done here, I think we should have seen more signs of it among the natives who have come out to the ship or on shore. There would have been more trade goods about—handkerchiefs, and beads, and so on, and they would not have been anxious to trade with us. At any rate, there are no grounds for attacking a village that has, during the last three or four days, traded peacefully with us, as they have done on several different occasions when I have put in here. Even if there were no other reason, I should refuse to allow them to be attacked, because the news of the affair would spread from island to island, and next time we were in these seas we should do no trade, and should certainly be attacked if we gave them a chance. Of course I shall report the circumstances connected with the discovery of this chest at Calcutta, and endeavour to find out what ship has been lately missing; beyond that we can do nothing in the matter. We are traders; if we are attacked we do our best to beat off the assailants, but it would be altogether beyond our business to attack sea-side villages because we find that they are in the possession of ships' goods, for were we to do so we should soon put an end to all trade in these islands. Go back and tell your comrades this, and then muster at once and heave the cable short."
The orders were obeyed, but it was evident that there was a lack of the usual briskness and willingness. However, before the ship had been many hours on her way, matters settled down and the work went on as usual.
"You see, lad," the first officer said to Stephen as the sails were sheeted home, and the Tiger glided away from her anchorage, "the captain was quite right, and if it had been known on the ship that you had got that money, there would have been a good deal more trouble than there was. It would have been no good to tell them that, no doubt, it was the ship's money. Sailors are like children; they would have argued that if you could obtain two hundred pounds from one hut, they would each be likely to get as much in a general loot of the village. You see, giving them those togs you bought was enough to stir them up, and things would not have passed off so pleasantly had they known about the money.
"I do not say that there would have been a mutiny, or anything of that sort, because the great majority of them have sailed for years under the skipper; still, there would have been great discontent and grumbling, and if there happened to be among the new hands one or two sea-lawyers, they might have worked upon the men, and caused a great deal of trouble."
"I see that, sir," Steve said.
"Well, there is no harm done, lad, and you will see that in a day or two the matter will have been forgotten. But it is a lesson that you may profit by; it is always best to avoid anything that, even remotely, is likely to set sailors talking together. All crews are not as trustworthy as the Tiger's, and you would be astonished what mischief two or three cunning plausible rascals can do among a crew, if they have got ever so small a grievance to work upon."
A week later the ship was passing along the coast of a small island when Joyce, the eldest apprentice, who was examining the shore through a glass, said to the second officer:
"There is a wreck of some sort, sir, in among those black rocks."
"So there is," the mate said, shading his eyes with his hand. "I see it plainly enough now that you call my attention to it."
He went aft and reported it to the captain, who came out and examined it carefully with his glass.
"It is a wreck certainly, and not the work of the natives this time," he said. "She has been blown on shore and left almost high and dry; her spars are all gone, the bulwarks are swept away, and though I cannot see the line of her broadside, I fancy that she has broken in two. Anyhow, as we have hardly steerage way, we shall lose no time by sending to find out what ship she is. Mr. Towel, you might as well lower the gig. Take six men; let them all take muskets and pistols with them. As Mr. Joyce was the first to make her out he may as well go with you. If you see no signs of natives, you can land and ascertain whether she has been plundered. It may be that she has not been discovered yet by the natives. If you see any of them about, content yourself with getting the ship's name and port from her stern."
The boat was lowered.
"You may go too, Steve," he added as Stephen was looking down into the boat. "It is Mr. Archer's turn; but as he had got a touch of fever this morning, he is better sitting under the shade of that sail than in an open boat."
"Thank you very much, sir," Stephen said, and, running below, shoved his pistols into his pocket.
"You have got water in the boat?" the captain asked the mate just as Steve returned on deck.
"The keg is about half-full, sir," he said as one of the sailors lifted and shook it.
"Hand them another down from the long-boat," the captain said, turning to one of the men; "it is better always to make sure. Mr. Towel," he went on, leaning over the side, "one is never sure of the weather for an hour, and I don't altogether like the colour of the sky now. But if there are no signs of change aloft, and you see the natives have not been near the place, give a look round beyond the rocks for anything that might show whether some of the crew got ashore—fires made, or anything of that sort. Should you see signs, we will fire a gun or two when you return, and lay off for a few hours to give them a chance of coming down to the beach."