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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIn The Eastern Seas - Chapter 6. The Ship In Danger
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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 6. The Ship In Danger Post by :maustad Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2438

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In The Eastern Seas - Chapter 6. The Ship In Danger

CHAPTER SIX. THE SHIP IN DANGER

I was awoke by the cry of "All hands, shorten sail." Slipping on my clothes, I sprang on deck. The sea was running high, the ship was heeling over to a strong breeze. I flew to the rigging, and my station in the mizzen-top. It was daylight. The crew were swarming up the rigging, and I could distinguish the Lascars forward among the most active. Whatever might have been their intentions for evil, they seemed as eager as any one in taking in the reefs. The serang himself lay out on the weather yard-arm, and I saw him, earing in hand, working away actively with the rest. The dream was still vivid on my mind; and I could not help feeling surprised at seeing him thus engaged, when I had expected to be struggling in a deadly conflict with him and his companions. The ship was soon brought under snug sail, and standing on her course to the eastward. The watch below returned to their bunks to take the remainder of their short night's rest, and I was quickly asleep.

Again the same dream came back to me. Once more the Lascars made their way aft, but this time stealthily. I fancied I saw Ali leading them through the gloom of night, whilst the captain was unconscious of their approach, gazing over the taffrail, as if watching some object astern. I tried to warn him, but could not make my voice heard. Ali was close to him, with his kriss ready to strike, when I heard the watch below called.

In a moment I was awake. My dream was at an end. I dressed as usual for the morning work of washing down decks, and in another minute was paddling about with my bare feet on the planks, among idlers holy-stoning, and topmen dashing buckets of water here and there on every side, often into the face of some unhappy wight to whom they owed a grudge. The wind did not increase, but there was sufficient sea on to keep many of the passengers below. Mrs Davenport, however, with Emily and Grace, came on deck. They required, however, assistance to move about, which I and the third mate, and a young civilian going out to Singapore, had the satisfaction of rendering them. Emily and Grace sat watching the high, tossing, foaming seas with delight.

"How grand!" exclaimed Emily. "I quite envy the huge fish which can swim about unconcerned in these tumbling waves, or the sea-fowl which fly over them from ridge to ridge bathing in the spray."

Grace admired the masses of white foam which flew off from the summits of the seas as they rolled grandly by. Mr Hooker was the merriest of the party, and seemed well pleased with the delight the girls exhibited at the new aspect the ocean had put on. He only regretted that he could not read as much as usual, as he was tempted, like them, to remain on deck and observe it.

I had not forgotten what I had heard from Potto Jumbo about Ali and his companions. I observed them on deck going about their duty as quietly and orderly as any one. Mr Thudicumb had not again alluded to the subject, and I could not tell whether or not he had informed the captain. I could not, however, help suspecting that Ali had seen Potto speaking to me, and that he might therefore be acting as he was doing for the purpose of throwing us off our guard. I resolved to mention my suspicion to Mr Thudicumb as soon as I had an opportunity, and in the meantime to watch Ali, and try to find out what he was about. I had no opportunity of speaking, unobserved, to the black cook; for whenever I went forward either Ali himself, or one of the Lascars, were near the caboose. I suspected that they went there purposely.

For three days the gale continued. At last, one evening Mr Thudicumb called me into his cabin.

"I have not been asleep, Walter," he said. "The captain knows all about the matter. He does not think that the Lascars will really carry out their plans, and suspects that Ali was merely attempting to frighten the black cook. Still, as a matter of precaution, he has directed all the officers, as well as most of the gentlemen passengers, to carry arms; and has warned Mr Tarbox, and three or four of the most trustworthy of the men, to be on the alert. However, while the gale blows, there is little fear that they will attempt anything; but if we were to have a long calm, their courage would get up, as they would believe that they could navigate the ship in smooth water, should they be able to gain possession of her."

That night the sea had gone down, and the weather appeared mending. While I was on deck, I found Potto Jumbo by my side.

"Well, Potto," I said, "do you think our friends have given up their kind intentions?"

"No, Massa Walter," he answered. "Me tink dey cut your t'roat, and my t'roat, and de captain's t'roat, and de mate's t'roat, and everybody's t'roat who no side wid dem."

"Then would it not be better to get them all put in irons at once?" I observed. "I wonder the captain does not secure them."

"Dey done nothing," answered Potto. "Dey good, obedient seamen. What for de captain put dem in irons? I only try and find out, and tink and guess what dey want to do."

"True," I observed; "then all we can do is to watch till they commit some overt act, as the lawyers call it."

"I don't know what overt act is," observed my friend; "but I know dat if dey stick de kriss into me, or de mate, or Massa Tarbox, dey no stop dere. When dey begin, I know what dese fellows are."

"Then, what we must do, is to watch them narrowly," I observed.

"Ay, ay, Massa Walter, I got my eyes about me; neber fear of dat. Dey tink me go to sleep. When cunning Lascar talk and plot, and say what he will do, Potto lies wid one eye just little open, peeping out of de bunk and awake, and snore all the time like de big animal you call 'nosorous in my country. Dey say, 'Dat black cook is fast asleep--he no understand what we say.'--Now, good-night, Massa Walter; me go below and talk of de tree glass of grog I got, and den lie down, and go off to sleep and snore. Ha, ha, ha! Potto Jumbo no sleep when his friends in danger, and their enemies plotting."

He said this in his usual low voice, and leaving me, dived below. By the next forenoon the sea had almost completely gone down. The reefs had been shaken out of the sails, and under our usual canvas we were making good speed across the ocean. Passing near the caboose, Potto Jumbo popped out his head.

"Tell de first mate to be on de watch. Dey going to do something-- mischief--never fear dat; me know not what dough, dey so quiet; but dey intend to take away a boat, dat I heard dem say."

Having thus delivered himself, Potto drew his head in within his den. As soon as I could return aft, I found an opportunity of telling Mr Thudicumb what Potto had said.

"Not much fear of their getting off," observed the first mate. "It would be difficult for the serang and his men to lower a boat without being discovered. We must, however, keep a strict watch over him. He probably supposes that we are near some land which he hopes to reach. Still, whatever may be his intentions, we will be even with him."

The sun had set in a glorious glow of red. The passengers were on deck enjoying the coolness of evening, though the shades of night quickly came down over the ocean. Suddenly there was a startling cry of "Fire, fire!" and a thin wreath of dark smoke was seen ascending up the fore-hatchway.

"Strike the fire-bell!" cried the captain. "No rushing, my men! Steady! Mr Thudicumb will lead the way below. Be ready with the buckets.--Mr Martin," to the second officer, "rig a pump overboard! Mr Tarbox, come aft!"

The captain whispered a few words to him. The men obeyed all the orders promptly. A line was formed to pass the buckets as they were filled down the hold. The first officer and several men descended. The passengers joined the party to pass the buckets. Among the most active of the people appeared Ali, and two or three of his men. I observed, however, that the remainder kept together on one side of the ship. The smoke increased, in spite of the water which was now hove down on the spot whence it was supposed to proceed. Faster and faster we passed the buckets. Presently there was a cry, and first one man and then another was hauled up almost suffocated with smoke. Mr Thudicumb came last: he could scarcely stand; indeed, he appeared almost senseless. He quickly recovered, however, and insisted on again going below, though the other officers begged to take his place.

"No, no," he shouted. "Bring wet blankets, wet bedding--anything by which we may smother the flames!"

Once more he and his companions descended with wet blankets in their arms. The seat of the fire was evidently far down.

"We must get at the cargo!" cried Mr Thudicumb, from below, to the captain, who was standing over the hatchway.

A crane was rigged, and whips rove, and bales and packages hauled up, several more men jumping below to assist. I was passing the buckets when Mr Tarbox came near me.

"Keep an eye on Ali and his people," he said. "I have a notion this is their doing. For all they appear so active, they mean mischief, depend on it."

Still Ali was working away, now passing along a bucket, now hoisting up a bale of merchandise. Presently, however, I saw him slip away and glide off. His men, who had apparently been watching him, directly afterwards also made their way up to the starboard quarter boat; and I observed that each man carried a package of some sort. I ran round to where the boatswain was assisting in hoisting up the cargo; and he and several men, whom he summoned, instantly sprang aft, where we found Ali and his companions in the act of lowering the boat. Two were already in her. "Hold fast, you villains!" cried Tarbox, giving a blow to Ali, which knocked him over.

His companions drew their sharp knives, which they had concealed in their trousers, and made a rush at the boatswain, who was, however, too quick for them, and drawing a pistol from his pocket, presented it at the head of the first; while the men, seizing some boat-stretchers which had been placed ready for use by the boatswain, laid about them with so much energy that they quickly knocked over several of the Lascars, though two or three were wounded in the scuffle. Ali had again sprung to his feet, but instead of attempting to attack Mr Tarbox, he only cried out--

"What do you mean? I lowered a boat to save the ladies! Suppose fire gain on ship, what you do then with them?"

"Oh! is that it, my hearty!" answered Tarbox. "However, the fire is not going to gain on the ship, I hope. Do you tell your men to come out of the boat quickly, and make fast the falls again, and just you come along with me."

Saying this, the boatswain made a rush at the Lascar, and quickly passed a rope behind his arms. Two other men were seized at the same time, their knives being taken from them. They were then dragged into one of the cabins, and a seaman with a loaded pistol placed as a guard over them.

"Now, the rest of you go forward!" cried the boatswain to the Lascars; and, without attempting resistance, they obeyed the order.

Oliver Farwell was sent aft by the captain to assist the seamen in watching the prisoners, while I again joined the gangs in passing the buckets. The smoke continued to ascend as quickly as before; and, as the cargo was removed, flames burst up, rising through the hatchway. Again Mr Thudicumb and his companions had to come on deck.

"Never fear, though," he cried out, as soon as he had recovered from the effects of the smoke. "We are getting at the seat of the fire! More volunteers for below! Come, lads!"

He had not to make any further appeal. A dozen fresh hands, led by Mr Hooker, each carrying sails or blankets or bedding well saturated, sprang below; and I could not resist the feeling that I could do more good there than on deck. Meantime water came rushing down round us, preventing our clothes from catching fire. Happily the ship was steady, or the danger would have been greatly increased.

I shall never forget that scene. The lurid glare of the fire cast a ruddy glow over the figures of the men as they gathered round the crater-like opening which had been made, while dark wreaths of smoke hung over the deck above us, and curled up towards the hatchway. Scarcely, however, had a fresh supply of sails and bedding been thrown over the hole, aided by the streams of water which came rushing into it, than the flames suddenly subsided.

"Hurrah!" shouted Mr Thudicumb, and the cry was taken up by Mr Hooker and the rest of us. "More water! more water!"

Bucket after bucket was handed down and dashed into the opening, and again hauled up. We were now left in almost total darkness: not a glimmer of light remained. The smoke entirely disappeared, though the strong smell of it remained. The first officer called for lanterns, and they were quickly brought by the boatswain and his mates. He now descended into the lower hold, and the blankets and bedding were hoisted up out of it.

"It is as well we got out these bales," I heard him observe to the boatswain. "Here, Tarbox; what do you say to this?"

It was evident on examination that a space had been cleared out under the cargo, and filled with straw and shavings and other light matter. This had caused the smoke, though until the bales above it had been removed the flames were kept down. When the superincumbent bales were lifted off, the flames quickly rose up; but the material which fed them being light, had speedily burned out before they had time to ignite the surrounding cargo, which, fortunately being very tightly packed, did not easily catch fire. A thorough examination having been made, no further signs of fire could be discovered. A couple of trusty hands were placed to watch the hold, and those who were drenched to the skin retired to put on dry garments.

I soon afterwards met Mr Tarbox, and asked him if he suspected the cause of the fire.

"Of course I do," he answered. "Depend upon it, that fellow Ali and his gang have had a hand in it; but how they managed to get below without being discovered is more than I can say."

The captain and officers held now a consultation, and the rest of the Lascars were seized, and the whole of the party put in irons. I will not describe the scenes which took place in the cabin after it was known that the fire had been thoroughly put out, and that we were once more in safety. The passengers exhibited their feelings in a variety of ways. Some wept, others laughed; and many, I am glad to say, knelt down and returned thanks to Heaven for the protection which had been afforded us. I kissed my dear sister Emily, and told her how thankful I was that she was safe; for, indeed, my thoughts had been of her all the time, more than of anything else.

The next morning Ali and his companions were brought up for trial before the captain and officers and several passengers. Suspicions were evidently strong against them, and yet no one could prove that they had placed the combustible matter in the hold, or had set it on fire. Ali himself declared, with many oaths, that he was innocent of the charges brought against him; his air, indeed, was that of a much injured person. As to his attempt to lower a boat, he asserted positively, and his men corroborated his statement, that the order had been given by the second officer. When Martin declared he had issued no such order, Ali shrugged his shoulders, and could only say that he must have been mistaken, and that the error arose in consequence of his slight knowledge of English. When asked how they came to have arms in their hands, they said they had brought their knives for ordinary use; and in the same way they had secured some provisions, knowing that should they have to go in the boats they would be required, as they could not eat the food cooked by the Christians.

Now, if my kind friend Captain Davenport had a fault, it was that of being too lenient. Instead of keeping Ali and his gang in irons, he at once liberated them, warning them that though suspicions were strongly against them, he was willing to believe the best. I do not think either the officers or passengers were particularly well pleased with his decision. I afterwards heard Mr Thudicumb tell the boatswain to keep as bright a look-out as possible on Ali and the other Lascars.

"I doubt whether that fellow has got any gratitude in his breast; and if he is determined to do mischief, he will bide his time and do it, depend on that," he observed.

"Ay, ay, Mr Thudicumb, I have no doubt about it," observed Tarbox. "I only wish the captain would have kept them in irons till we get to Singapore, and would then hand them over to justice. That fellow Ali deserves hanging, to my mind, as much as any pirate who has ever swung in chains, or mutineer who has been run up to the yard-arm. It was no fault of his that this fine ship and all on board were not burned or sent to the bottom."

Ali perhaps knew that he was watched; at all events, his whole conduct was changed. No man could behave more respectfully to the officers, or could more carefully see that those under him did their duty, while he himself worked away as hard as any one. He seemed to bear no ill-will against Tarbox or any of the other men, while he appeared to have positively a kindly feeling towards Potto Jumbo, and to be especially patronising to Macco. Indeed, after this everything went on smoothly and pleasantly among the men, while perhaps the dangers they had gone through made the passengers even more sociable and pleasant than before.

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