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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Eastern Seas - Chapter 28. Attacked By Pirates
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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 28. Attacked By Pirates Post by :maustad Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2186

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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 28. Attacked By Pirates


The party who had remained in the fort had made good progress in strengthening it, and we now felt ourselves prepared for the pirates' reception.

"We shall have no difficulty in beating them back," I observed to Mr Thudicumb, "with a fort like this for our protection."

"I hope not, Walter," he answered; "but they are fierce and desperate fellows, and they may use means for our destruction which we little expect. Still it is our duty to be prepared and to fight to the last. We can do no more!"

"But if they conquer us what will Emily and Grace and the poor Frau do?"

"We must leave that in God's hands, Walter," answered the mate. "We must fight like men, and not yield while life remains. If we are all killed, he will take care of the helpless ones who are trusting in him."

Tanda at this time had not returned, and we were once more afraid that he had been caught by the pirates. At length my uncle's anxiety to ascertain what was going on made him resolve to set out to try and get sufficiently near them to watch their movements. I begged to accompany him.

"If you do, you must promise one thing--to keep behind me; and should I be captured, to make your escape, and carry back news to the camp of what has occurred," he observed.

I of course willingly gave the promise he desired. While we were speaking, we saw, rising in the distance, a thin column of smoke. It rose higher and higher in the sky. All those in the fort gazed anxiously towards it.

"They have discovered the house, and set it on fire," observed Mr Hooker. "Oh, what treasures they are destroying--the ignorant savages! and yet, I am afraid, under similar circumstances our own countrymen would not behave much better. They are not likely to appreciate such treasures more than these dark-skinned Asiatics."

"I am not quite so certain that that is the house on fire," observed Mr Sedgwick, after watching the smoke for some time. "I should not be at all surprised if it was the brig that is burning. The smoke, in this clear atmosphere, is seen a long way off; and though my house would burn rapidly enough, I scarcely think it would send up such dense volumes as are now ascending to the blue sky. What do you think, Mr Thudicumb? It appears to me that the smoke is somewhat to the right of the house, and further off?"

"I have been watching it attentively," said the mate, "and I agree with you, sir."

"Still, as the wind is off shore, and there will be no surf in our bay, I am afraid the fellows will very likely land there; and if so, it will not be long before they discover the house," observed Mr Sedgwick. "However, come along, Walter, and we will try to ascertain the true state of the case."

My uncle, charging our friends to be on the alert, set off down the hill, rifle in hand; and I, bidding farewell to Emily and Grace, followed him. I soon caught him up, and we made our way along our torrent road. We calculated that we should have ample time to get into the neighbourhood of the house and return to the fort before dark. I could not help recollecting the tiger we had seen on our way up, and the numerous serpents which I knew were crawling about in all directions. My uncle, however, seemed utterly indifferent to them. We had got to the end of our torrent road, and were working our way through the jungle, when the sound of human voices reached our ears. On this, instead of going straight forward, my uncle turned to the right towards the sea. I followed him, literally crawling on hands and feet, something in the fashion of the monkeys, from bough to bough amid the thick entanglement of the forest; sometimes close down to the ground, though not often more than a few feet above it. I could not help having a fear that in those places there often lurked the fearful python; while some dark pools over which we crawled might, I thought it more than possible, harbour a hermit alligator or some other monster.

We had gone some distance, moving as noiselessly as possible, when my uncle stopped and looked eagerly forward, keeping his body concealed behind a bough. I imitated his example. Our worst anticipations were realised. In the distance I could see the brig burning furiously, while alongside the rocks lay several long prows with swivel guns in their bows, and their general appearance betokening them to be, what we supposed, pirates of Sooloo. A number of their crew were on the beach, while others, in a compact body, were making their way up the road in the direction of the house. They were fierce-looking fellows, armed with krisses and swords as well as spears and long bows. They were shouting to each other, and evidently expected, from the appearance of the road, that they were approaching some village which they hoped to sack. We watched them for some time. Fortunately they were making so much noise that they were not likely to hear us, even should they pass quite near. My uncle, therefore, turning round, led by the way we had come. I found that he was approaching as near the house as the thick brushwood would allow. I shall not easily forget the shout of savage delight the pirates set up when they came in sight of our peaceful abode. They instantly rushed forward, sending a shower of arrows before them, and shrieking at the top of their voices. It was somewhat trying to my companion's temper to see them rushing up the steps of the house and along the verandah into the rooms. I was glad we had left Merlin behind us, for he would probably not have restrained himself, but would have rushed forward and betrayed our whereabouts. My uncle did not move from the spot, but continued to peer out from among the bushes. The pirates who had first reached the house were seen going in and out at all the doors like a troop of monkeys. They now came to the verandah and shouted out to the others. They were evidently disappointed at finding no one within. I could not help feeling pleased, however, that they were not likely to find anything which they would look upon as valuable, however much the articles might be prized by the owners. In a short time those who had been on the beach came up, and now they all rushed in together, and we could hear them shouting to each other as they ran about seeking for booty. Their shouts of satisfaction were soon changed to cries of disappointment and rage, as they found that everything they prized had been carried off. Some of the provisions, however, which had been left behind were at length discovered; and before long they found their way to the menagerie. This seemed to astonish them not a little. Several of the creatures, however, having been left without food, were howling piteously. At last I caught sight of a fellow rubbing away with two pieces of bamboo, and I knew well enough that he was striking a light. Another brought some dried boughs, and they soon had a torch twisted up and blazing away. Uttering a shout of triumph, one of them rushed up the steps of the house with a blazing torch, and ran round it, setting fire to the light wood-work and thatch. It rapidly caught, and the flames darting out in all directions, the whole house was soon furiously blazing away. Some of the men who had been inside rushed out, reeling as if they were drunk, and I guessed that they had got hold of some of the arrack which had been kept for preserving specimens. They now began to dance round the house, shouting and shrieking as if in delight at the destruction they had wrought. Some of them, however, were hid from our view by the building, so that we could not see what they were about. Presently their shrieks and cries seemed to increase, and we saw those from the other side of the building scampering away as fast as their legs could carry them, apparently in a panic. The rest followed. Away they went, each man tumbling over the other, and caring only for his own safety. I really think that at that moment, had our whole party been together, we might have rushed out and cut them to pieces. I heard my uncle utter a low chuckle of laughter, and presently there issued from behind the building his huge python, hissing furiously, and making its way at a rapid rate along the ground, as if in pursuit of the pirates.

"The fellows have set his cage on fire, and the creature has made his escape from the flames," said my uncle. "He is wisely rushing to the nearest water to cool himself, and I suspect he thinks less of attacking them than of soothing his wounds."

The python, however, as he was speaking, began to move slower and slower. He evidently had considerable difficulty in working his way over the ground. Presently his head, hitherto erect, sunk down, and he lay stretched out at his full length apparently dead.

"It will be as well," said my uncle, "to make our way back to the fort, for these fellows will soon recover from their panic, and will suspect that the owners of the house are not far off. We cannot remain long concealed from them, for if they once begin to search about, they will soon discover the path to our river road."

We accordingly hurried back to the fort. We found that Tanda had arrived before us. The whole party were in a great state of alarm, for he had made signs that the pirates had landed, and they also had seen the smoke from the burning house. They also dreaded from his signs that we had fallen into their power. I was glad to find that some deep caves had been dug, in which Emily and her companions could find shelter. The provisions had also been stored in them. All our arms were loaded. A number of bamboo stakes had likewise been formed, their points projecting out between the palisades to prevent the pirates from climbing over them. Our return quickly restored the spirits of the party. Emily threw herself into my arms and burst into tears, and Grace followed her example.

We had now a time of great anxiety. In spite of it, however, I was very glad when Mr Thudicumb proposed that we should pipe to supper.

"I never knew people fight so well on empty stomachs as on full ones; and as we may have sharp work before the morning, it will be wise if we fall to while we can," he remarked.

I found that during our absence Roger Trew had led the way to the well, and brought up an ample supply of water to last us for some time. Thus our fort was pretty well stored; and even should the pirates lay siege to it, we might be able to hold out for some time.

"By-the-by, Mr Walter," observed Roger, "the last time I came up, I saw that the boughs had given way over the pit we dug; but I was in too great a hurry to look in. I have a notion, however, that something or other has been caught, and whether it is that great brute with a horn on his nose, or some other creature, I cannot say."

As darkness came on, we assembled in the largest cavern which had been dug, in order that the light might not betray us. Here we found that without danger--as the flame would be hid, and the smoke would, of course, not be seen--we might light a fire and boil water, and cook our food, which was a great luxury. Two of the party kept on watch while the rest of us assembled to supper. The sentries were accompanied by Merlin, who was a host in himself, as his quick ear was more likely to catch the sound of approaching footsteps than any one among us. We were, however, allowed to enjoy our meal in peace, and we, most of us tired out, lay down to rest, while our watch was set as usual. Often during the night I fancied I heard the cries of the Malays rushing up the hill, and I started up to find that I had been dreaming. Hour after hour passed by, Mr Thudicumb would not let me go on guard, as he said I was already tired out. I slept on and on, and at length daylight streamed in through the entrance of the rustic hut in which I had passed the night. Emily and Grace were on foot, and soon afterwards Frau Ursula made her appearance at the entrance of their bower. "No pirate come," she observed. "I hope they go away, and not find us out." I heartily hoped so also; but, at the same time, had it not been for the girls, I own I should rather have liked to have had a brush with the pirates, so confident did I feel that we could beat them off. Oliver soon joined us. He looked somewhat pale, I fancied.

"I have not slept at all," he whispered to me. "I have been praying that we may be protected from those fearful men. It would be so dreadful to have to fight them. Before they could be driven off, so many would be killed; and Walter, I confess I cannot bear the thoughts of destroying our fellow-creatures."

"I do not wish it either," I said; "but if they come, they must take the consequences."

I was sure that, notwithstanding his feelings, no one would fight more bravely than Oliver. Those who had been on watch during the night, now got up, and the whole party assembled in the centre of our fort.

"Gentlemen," said Mr Thudicumb, "on board the _Bussorah Merchant we always used to have morning prayers when the weather permitted, and, with your leave, we will have them now. We have plenty to pray for, and much to be thankful for. We should be thankful we have escaped the dangers from which so many of our fellow-creatures have suffered, and that we are all alive and well; and we need to pray that a stronger arm than ours may fight for us, should we be attacked by those fierce and ignorant savages."

"Very right," said Mr Hooker, "and I am sure all will agree with you."

Mr Sedgwick, however, made no remark. He had never said anything against religion; but I had observed, since we first found him, that he did not appear to be in any way under its influence. However, as he did not object, Mr Thudicumb forthwith produced a Bible which he had found in the cabin of the brig uninjured. He now read a portion of Scripture, and then offered up an earnest prayer for our deliverance. I know I for one felt more cheerful after it, and so I am sure did Emily and Grace, while a tear stood in Oliver's eye. He had entered more than any of us, with all his heart, into the simple prayer of the untutored sailor. Watch was, of course, kept meantime by one of the party, and we then in good spirits went to breakfast, having lighted our fire as before in the pit, making as small a one as possible, so as not to allow the smoke to be seen at a distance.

Once more Tanda went out as a scout to try and ascertain what the pirates were about. Soon after he had gone, we were aroused by a loud squeaking which seemed to come from the wood at the bottom of the hill. It sounded exactly like the cry of a pig. Oliver and I offered to go down and ascertain what it was. I was starting without any arms, and had got to the gate, when it occurred to me that I might as well take a fowling-piece. I ran back for it, and Oliver and I then set forward down the hill. The squeaking sound increased for a little time, and then ceased. We had, however, marked the place from whence it had come. We were making our way through the forest, when Oliver seized my arm.

"Stop, Walter," he exclaimed; "not a step further! See, see!" There, at the foot of a large tree, with its tail coiled round an upper branch, its body circling the trunk, was a huge python. Our uncle's pet, compared to it, was a mere pigmy. It was pressing with its enormous body a large pig, which, with its huge mouth wide open, it was preparing to swallow. So eager was it that it did not observe us. We stood transfixed with a feeling akin to horror, lest any movement might disturb it. We knew that we should be much safer should it once get the unfortunate pig within its jaws. Greatly to my relief, it now darted down upon the pig, taking the head within its mouth, and gradually it began to suck in the body. We watched it without moving or speaking. In a short time, more than half the quadruped had disappeared, and I now knew, from the formation of the animal's teeth, that no power could draw it out again, and that thus, till it had entirely swallowed it, we were safe. Now was the time, therefore, to beat our retreat, and we hurried back to the fort with an account of what we had seen.

"We must prevent the creature from causing further mischief," said Mr Hooker, seizing an axe. "When it has digested the pig, it may pay us a visit, and may be a more awkward enemy to deal with than even the pirates. Now, if we make haste, he is at our mercy."

Potto Jumbo begged that he might accompany us, and Oliver and he and I, with the two gentlemen, each armed with an axe and a long bamboo spear, hurried back to where we had seen the python. As we reached it the hind legs of the pig were just disappearing within its jaws. "Now is the time for the attack," cried Mr Sedgwick, rushing forward with his axe and dealing the animal a blow behind the neck. It instantly uncoiled its powerful tail and attempted to seize its enemy. It seemed as if it could have crushed him with one blow against the tree, but he gave a spring and just escaped it. At the same instant Potto Jumbo sprang in and struck the tail, which instantly flew back and again encircled the tree. The monster now tried to lift up his head to make a spring towards us, but the pig prevented it from opening its jaws, though the force with which it projected its enormous head was sufficient to have knocked down the strongest man and killed him on the spot. Mr Hooker was on the watch, and received it on the point of his spear, which transfixed its throat, and must have gone through the pig's body at the same time. Still his spine was uninjured, and there was great danger in getting within the coils of its body. Potto Jumbo, however, kept watching the tail, which was again unwound from the branch of the tree. "You cut, cut at the back while I hold," he cried out, seizing the very end of the tail. He threw himself out so as to stretch out the animal. Oliver and I, who had been waiting our opportunity, rushed in, and dealt it several severe blows with our hatchets. Potto pulled away at the same time. "No fear now," he cried out; "one more cut and he die!" Once more we rushed in with our hatchets. No sooner did we deal the blows than the creature lay stretched out apparently quite dead.

"We have settled him," said Mr Sedgwick. "And now let us measure his length."

He paced along the body, which lay stretched out on the ground, and we found it to be fully twenty-five feet long.

"An unpleasant creature to encounter in a morning's ramble," observed Mr Hooker. "But how have you managed to escape these reptiles, Sedgwick?" he asked.

"Simply, I suppose, because they prefer pork to man," he answered; "and as we have the same taste, we may as well get piggy out of his maw."

To do so was impossible without cutting off the serpent's head. This we accomplished with our hatchets. However, the appearance of the pig when we got it out was far from tempting, and as we had a supply of food in the fort, we agreed to let it remain where it was. We had been so interested in this encounter that we had almost forgotten the position in which we were placed. A shout from Mr Thudicumb, however, quickly recalled us, and we hurried up to the fort. Tanda had just arrived.

"He is in a state of great agitation, sir," said Mr Thudicumb, as Mr Sedgwick appeared, "but what he says I cannot make out."

Tanda and his master exchanged a few words.

"Friends," said Mr Sedgwick, "the pirates are approaching. They have found their way up the river road, and will be here in a short time. Once more I must urge you to fight to the last. I know them well. Should we yield, a fearful death or painful captivity would be our lot."

"We are all aware of that, sir," said Mr Thudicumb; "and I can answer for all hands that none will fail in their duty."

The bank round the more gentle slope of the hill had been raised sufficiently to protect our bodies, so that by keeping close to it, no shot--should the enemy have fire-arms--could hit us. All the muskets were laid carefully loaded against the bank, and the Frau and the girls, who had been practising loading for some time, took their places in hollows which had been formed on purpose, where they might load without risk, as soon as the guns were handed to them. We all now stood at our posts anxiously watching for the approach of the enemy. At length we saw some dark-skinned faces appearing amid the brushwood, and directly afterwards some thirty or more wild-looking savages rushed through it and began to ascend the hill. They stopped for an instant on seeing the formidable preparations made for their reception, while, of course, they could not tell how many people were within the stockades ready to fire on them. At length one of their chiefs apparently came to the front, and waving his curved sword, seemed to urge them to follow him. On he came, a humpbacked savage-looking fellow. Even at that distance I fancied I could distinguish his hideous features. More than once he went back, and seemed shouting to his followers to keep up with him; and with wonderful agility, considering his form, he toiled up the hill.

"Mr Hooker, you are the best shot among us, please to pick off that fellow," said Mr Thudicumb. "If it were not for him, I do not think the fellows would have come on."

The hunchback still continued to advance, his long arms and claw-like fingers assisting him up the steeper places. Again he stopped and appeared to be swearing at his men for not coming faster. He was now within range. I could not help looking on one side to watch Mr Hooker as he stood perfectly calm with his musket covering the pirate chief. Little did the man think that a musket in the hands of an unerring shot was pointed at him. The pirates, finding no opposition as yet, now came on more readily, and soon another body of an equal number appeared behind them, coming from the woods. I could by this time clearly see the countenance of the pirate. He was an old man, with two or more ugly gashes about the face, showing that he had not followed his profession with impunity. The pirates, uttering fierce cries, were now rushing on.

"I must stop that fellow's career, at all events," said Mr Hooker, levelling his piece. He fired. The old pirate stood up for an instant on a rock which he had just reached, waving his sword above his head, and then fell backwards over the men who were coming up behind him. The Frau instantly seized the gun, and began reloading it. The pirates, who had been quickly advancing, now appeared to waver.

"If we had a dozen more fellows with us, we would quickly sally out and put them to flight!" exclaimed Mr Thudicumb.

"But as we are only nine in all, not counting de ladies and Merlin, and dem fellows fight like wild beasts, we hab hard job to drive dem back," said Potto Jumbo. "Still we fight while we got drop blood in de veins. Merlin fight wid teeth dough; you see dat! Hurrah, boys!" and Potto took aim at another Malay leader who now occupied the position of the first.

Merlin was fully as eager for the fight as any one, and rushed backwards and forwards, poking his snout between the palisades wherever there was an opening, and barking furiously.

"I wish we had another python to let loose on them, uncle," I said to Mr Sedgwick, near whom I was standing. "It might have a useful effect."

"Ah, yes; we should not have killed the other fellow, Walter," he observed. "But, to be sure, it would have been a difficult matter to capture him, and still more so to make him take the right course when we let him loose again."

The pirates, fortunately, had but very few fire-arms among them, and they evidently depended on a hand to hand combat to overcome us. The larger body had now gained a more exposed part of the hill, and began to ascend quicker than before. We therefore, taking good aim, had to fire as rapidly as possible. No time for speaking now. Thanks to the skill with which the Frau and the young ladies loaded the muskets, we were able to keep up a constant fusillade, which must have made it appear that we had far more men within the fort than was really the case. To keep up the deception, we ran from side to side, thus extending the length of our line, now firing out through one opening, now through another.

"Do not throw a shot away," Mr Thudicumb continued saying. "Fix on your man before you fire."

I had never seen a shot fired in anger; but I own my blood quickly got up, and I no longer felt the slightest compunction in killing our enemies. Even Oliver, so gentle and tender-hearted, played his part well, and I believe every shot he fired took effect. In my eagerness I missed once or twice; but seeing the importance of following the mate's advice, I endeavoured to restrain my excitement and take steady aim before I pulled the trigger. Still our ferocious enemies so far outnumbered us, that if they once got up to the palisades, even though many might be killed, a superior force would be able to climb up and overpower us. They were within a dozen yards when, greatly to my dismay, I saw another strong body emerging from the wood, and with loud shouts rushing up the hill to join their companions. I began for the first time to think that all would be lost. My heart sank as I contemplated the dreadful fate of the two poor girls. What would become of them and the good Frau when we were all killed? for killed I fully believed we all should be. Still, as yet, none of us were hurt, although their arrows flew thickly over our heads, and they had begun to throw their darts at us. Four or five, armed with muskets, now advanced, and also began firing away--their shot pinging against the palisades. We had far more to dread from them than from the arrows, I fancied. As they got nearer, however, several arrows came through the openings, and I heard a bullet whistle close to my ear. It was the first time I had heard such a sound, but I knew it well, and could not avoid bobbing my head, though the shot had passed me. Mr Thudicumb and Dick Tarbox, however, never flinched the whole time. Uttering loud shouts and shrieks, the fresh body of men now joined their companions, while the first continued to shower arrows and darts and to send their bullets among us. I saw Oliver suddenly fall. An arrow had struck him on the shoulder.

"It is nothing," he called out; "it is nothing," and endeavoured to draw the weapon from his wound.

Frau Ursula saw what had occurred, as she was at that moment handing up a musket, and springing up, carried him down into their cave. The dreadful thought came across me that the arrows were poisoned. I could not, however, leave my post to inquire. His fate might be that of any one of us the next instant. I could only wish that all were as prepared to meet death as I knew he was. Directly afterwards I saw my uncle stagger. A bullet had struck him; but recovering himself, he cried, "Never mind, lads! A mere graze;" and instantly again fired. The muskets came from below loaded, less quickly than before. I guessed the reason--that the Frau or the girls were attending to poor Oliver. Again a flight of arrows came flying over and through the palisades, some sticking in them, when I felt one pass through my cap, and, as I thought, wound my head. I could not help having the fearful dread that the poison would quickly enter my veins, and expected every instant to drop. Still there was but little time for thought, and I resolved to fight away with my companions to the last. A few minutes more of life were of but little value, and I now fully expected that, in spite of the determined way in which we were defending our fort, it would be stormed at last. Directly afterwards the Malays, showering their missiles upon us, with loud shouts and shrieks rushed on. Some caught hold of the palisades, and attempted to pull them down; others began to climb over them. Some forced their hands through the openings to seize the bamboo spears as we thrust them out at our enemies. I caught sight of a number of pirates making their way to one side where the fort was undefended. Nothing now, it seemed to me, could prevent them from getting in; but when I shouted out, Potto Jumbo joined me, and we rushed to the spot. Just then a loud shouting was heard coming up from the bottom of the hill. I could distinguish through the opening, for the space was clear where we then were, several pirates turning their heads. The shouting increased. Some ran down the hill, the others turned and followed, and those who had been climbing up the palisades dropped to the ground, and then, as if seized by a sudden panic, rushed down the hill helter-skelter, eager to avoid the shot which we sent after them. We could scarcely believe what had occurred.

"Heaven be praised!" said Mr Thudicumb. "We are saved, and I do not think they will come back again."

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