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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 12
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The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 12 Post by :dbunis Category :Long Stories Author :Louis Becke Date :May 2012 Read :1081

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The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 12


"They are some of the king's fisherfolk," said Tepi, scanning them closely; "that is their village, Only fishermen and two of the king's pilots live here. I have heard them spoken of many times."

"Then they are just the very fellows we want," I said to Lucia; "there's enough of them, with us, to put the boat off this ledge into the water again. They'll be here in a few minutes. Niabon, do you think we can be seen from the king's village? I can see the houses there quite plainly."

"I fear so, Simi," she replied.

"Then we must make these fellows who are coming to us work hard. I'll pay them well for it if they get us afloat again in another hour. Let me do all the talking. Take my glasses and let me know the moment you see a boat coming. We must not be caught here like this; and the tide won't turn for another hour at least."

There were eleven natives, and when they were close to I noticed with satisfaction that most of them were sturdy, well-built fellows. They came up to us, and we all shook hands, and before even asking them to help me, I inquired if they would like some grog to dry their skins.

Lucia had a quart bottle of Hollands all ready, and in less than five minutes it was empty, and our visitors said I was a noble-minded and thoughtful man.

"Friends," I said, "behold me and my friends--and this our boat cast upon the reef like a stranded porpoise. Wilt help us float again, so that we may get to the king's town to-night and sleep in peace? And I shall pay every man twenty sticks of rich, sweet tobacco and four bottles of grog between thee."

My munificent offer was received with acclamation, though at first they wanted a preliminary smoke and gossip, but I bade them hurry.

"No time have we for talk now, friends," I said, jocularly slapping one of them on his brawny shoulders; "'tis but this morning the king sent a white man to me in his own boat to bid me welcome; and, as we hurried down the lagoon, that devil's rain sent me astray, so that the boat was caught in the current and swept down into the passage, where we struck, as thou seest."

My explanation was quite satisfactory, and they went to work with a will, lightening the boat--after a first and fruitless attempt to move her--by taking out all our water, stores, &c. We were but fifty or sixty feet away from the edge of the channel; and in half an hour, by our united effort, had dragged her half the distance, when Niabon beckoned me to her.

"There are two boats half-way down the lagoon," she said in a low voice: "one is that of Tully, and they are using both sails and oars. See, they are plainly in sight."

I jumped back again amongst the natives. I knew that they would have already seen the coming boats had they not been toiling so hard, so I called to Niabon to open another bottle of grog and serve it out.

"Hurry, hurry, O strong men," I cried, as we moved the boat another foot astern, "else shall I be laughed at by the king's white men, for two boats are coming. And instead of twenty it shall be forty sticks of tobacco each if ye get this boat in the water before the king's men are here to laugh at me."

The poor beggars were working like Trojans, their naked bodies streaming with perspiration, as Niabon held out to each of them half a pannikinful of raw gin, which was tossed off at one swallow. Then both she and Lucia, who was now on the reef, began digging the promised tobacco out of a case with sheath knives.

"Don't bother to count the sticks!" I cried, as the boat made a sudden move and was kept going for nearly a dozen feet. "Toss out about half of the case and be ready to jump on board and get under cover."

At last, with a yell of satisfaction from the natives, the stern post was seen to be over the ledge of the coral, and then with one final effort the boat went into the water with a splash like a sperm whale "breaching."

"Now, in with everything," I shouted to Tematau, as one glance showed me the two boats, now less than half a mile away, coming along at what seemed to me to be infernal speed.

Tematau and the natives made a rush at the boxes of stores, bundles of sails, water breakers, and everything else, and tumbled them on board anyhow, Lucia and Niabon taking the lighter articles from them and dropping them into the cabin, so as to give us more deck room, whilst I ran up the jib, and big Tepi the mainsail.

"Take all the loose tobacco there, my friends," cried Niabon to the fishermen, who with panting bosoms stood looking at us as if we had all gone mad, "and here are the four bottles of _rom_."

One of them sprang to the side of the boat just as I, feeling every moment that I should drop with exhaustion, pushed her off with an oar into deep water. And then we heard a chorus of yells and cries from the two boats, as we eased off the jib and main sheets, and Niabon put her before the wind. Then _crack! crack! and two bullets went through the mainsail just below the peak, and I heard Tolly's voice shouting to me to bring to again.

"Come aft here, you two," I cried to Tepi and his mate; "get out the guns, quick. Sit down in the cabin and fire, one on each side of me."

I did not speak a moment too soon, for the leading boat suddenly lowered her sail, took in all her oars but two, and began firing at us at less than three hundred yards, and every bullet hit us somewhere, either in the hull or aloft. Then they took to their oars again, and I saw that unless we could knock some of them over she--and those in the second boat as well--would be aboard of us in a few minutes, for there was now but little wind and the strength of the ebb tide was fast slackening.

Tematau and Tepi each fired two or three shots in quick succession, but missed, and then a very heavy bullet struck the side of the coaming of the steering-well in which I was seated, glanced off and ploughed along the deck, and the second boat now began firing into us with breechloading rifles of some sort.

"Let me try," I said to Tematau, clambering out of the well into the cabin. "Go and steer, but sit down on the bottom, or you'll be hit."

Niabon handed me my Evans' rifle in the very nick of time, for at that moment Tully stood up in the stern sheets of his boat and, giving the steer oar to a native, began to take pot shots at Tepi and myself. I waited until my hand was a bit steady, and then down he went headlong amongst his crew. I knew I could not possibly have missed him at such a short distance.

(Illustration: I waited until my hand was a bit steady 166)

"Good!" cried Niabon exultingly, as both Tepi and myself fired together and three of the native paddlers who were sitting facing us, rolled over off their seats, either dead or badly wounded, for in an instant the utmost confusion prevailed, some of the crew evidently wanting to come on, and the others preventing them. By this time the first boat was within easy pistol range the other, which was much larger and crowded with natives, being about forty yards astern of her, but coming along as hard as she could, two of her crew in the bows firing at us with a disgusting kind of a foreign army rifle, whose conical bullets were half as big as pigeon's eggs, and made a deuce of a noise, either when they hit the _Lucia_, or went by with a sort of a groanlike hum.

"Take this," I said to Niabon, giving her my Deane and Adams pistol, "and do you and Tepi keep off those in the nearest boat if they come on again."

But she waved it aside, and seizing Tematau's carbine, stood up and sent her first shot crashing through the timbers of the boat.

"Quick, Tematau," I cried, "get another rifle and fire with me at the second boat. Let ours come to the wind--it matters not."

Picking out one of the two fellows who were shooting so steadily at us from the bows of their boat, I fired and missed, but another shot did for him, for he fell backwards and I saw his rifle fly up in the air and then drop overboard.

This was enough for them, for the steersman at once began to slew her round, and then he too went down as a bullet from Tematau took him fair and square in the chest, and we saw the blood pouring from him as he fell across the gunwale. In another ten seconds they were paddling away from us, leaving the other boat to her fate.

"That is enough," I cried to Tepi, who I now noticed for the first time was bleeding from a bullet wound in the left arm, which had been hurriedly tied up by Lucia, "that is enough. Put down your gun. There is now no one in the second boat shooting at us."

"They are lying down in the bottom," said Niabon, "we can see them moving, but some have dived overboard, and swum ashore. See, there are four of them running along the reef."

"Let them go, Niabon," and then I turned to Lucia. She was deathly pale, but had all her wits about her, for although she could barely speak from excitement, she had some brandy and water ready for us.

"Thank you," I said, as I poured a stiff dose into the pannikin, and taking first pull, passed it on to Tepi and the other man. "Now we must have a look at that boat. We can't leave wounded men to drown."

The wind was now very light, but the boat was so near that we were soon alongside and looking into her. There were three dead, two badly wounded, one slightly wounded man, and one unhurt man in her. The latter looked at us without the slightest fear, even when Tepi, picking up a carbine, thrust the muzzle of it almost into his face. Niabon gently took the weapon from Tepi's hand, laid it down and waited for me to question our prisoner.

"Is the white man dead?" I asked.

"Ay, he died but now. The bullet went in at where the ribs join."

To make sure that Tally was really dead I got down into the boat. He was lying on his face and was dead enough, though he had evidently lived until a few minutes previously.

I jumped on board the _Lucia again, and looked anxiously around. There was still a light air, but the tide was now setting in, and I did not want our boat to be carried back into the lagoon again. Then I turned to the prisoner, and asked him if he could tell me why he ought not to be shot. He made a gesture of utter indifference, and said he didn't care. Did I think he was a coward, he asked? Could he not have swum ashore? The king would kill him to-morrow.

Pitying the poor wretch, I gave him a pipe, tobacco, and matches, and told him to help my men put the dead and wounded men on the reef, as I wanted the boat. The people at the fishing village, who had been watching the fight throughout from a safe distance, were within sight, so telling the prisoner he must go to them and get them to carry their dead and wounded up to the houses before the tide covered the reef again, I sent him off with Tematau, Tepi, and Niabon. Their gruesome task was soon done, and the boat rid of her ensanguined cargo; then as soon as she came alongside again, I called Niabon on board, and telling her to steer, went into the smaller boat and took the _Lucia in tow.

As we slowly crept out through the passage, we saw the fisher folk come down to the reef, and, lifting up the three dead men, carry them away, others following with the wounded. It was not a pleasant sight to see, nor even to think of, now that it was all over, and so we none of us spoke as we tugged at the oars.

We got outside at last, and then ceased towing, as a light air carried us well clear of the outer reef. Coming alongside, we stepped on board, after having pulled out the boat's plug. Then we watched her drift astern to fill.

At dawn when I was awakened, after a good four hours' sleep, Apamama was thirty miles astern of us, and we were running free before a nice cool breeze, steering N.W. for Kusaie Island, the eastern outlier of the Carolines, eight hundred miles away.

The two women had not heard me move, and were both sound asleep, their faces close together and their arms intertwined.

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The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 13 The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 13

The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 13
CHAPTER XIIIWe were thirteen long weary days between Apamama Lagoon and Kusaie, whose misty blue outline we hailed with delight when we first sighted it early one afternoon, forty miles away. Calms and light winds had delayed us greatly, for as we crawled further northward, we were reaching the limit of the south-east trades, which, at that time of the year, were very fickle and shifty. Not a single sail of any description had we seen, though we kept a keen lookout night and day; for, after being ten days out from Apamama, I began to feel anxious about our position

The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 11 The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 11

The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton - Chapter 11
CHAPTER XIFive minutes later the boat, which was crowded with natives, went about like a top, and then Tully--as fine a sailor man as ever put hand to a rope--brought her alongside in such a manner that I could not but admire and envy the little blackguard's skill. (Illustration: I could not but admire and envy 148) The boat itself was kept in fine order, and was painted like all the king's miniature fleet--white outside, and bright salmon inside. One glance at his boat's crew showed me that they were all armed--in a flashy melodramatic style, like the Red Indians of