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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 24. Hot Fighting
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 24. Hot Fighting Post by :Satish Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2512

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 24. Hot Fighting


With Jack Rogers had come little Harry Bevan; Jack, not believing that there would be any fighting, had got leave to bring his young charge with him. As the shot were flying thickly about, how gladly would he have shielded the young lad with his own body. He wished that he could have ventured to stow him down at the bottom of the boat, out of harm's way; but he knew well enough that Harry would not have remained there a minute had he done so. Not a thought that he himself might be hit crossed Jack's mind. His whole anxiety was for the young boy. Harry, however, seemed unconscious of danger. He was leaning over one of the wounded men, assisting to bind up his arm, when Jack saw his hand drop powerless by his side, while he fell forward. Jack caught him in time. "What is the matter, Harry?" he exclaimed. "Are you hurt, lad?"

"A strange pain about my shoulder and arm and neck," he answered faintly. "Oh, I am very sick, Rogers, very sick." Jack saw that the boy's jacket was torn. He cut away the cloth with his knife; the blood how gushed out freely; there was a desperate wound on the shoulder. No woman could have dressed it with more care and gentleness than did Jack. He poured some brandy and water down the lad's throat, which much revived him, though his suppressed groans showed that he was still in great pain.

Many people would have given up the chase under these circumstances, but Jack Rogers was not a fellow to do that. He found, however, that he could do the enemy more damage by keeping out of the range of their guns, and yet keep them within range of his. Miles were thus passed over. As the sun rose the heat increased. There was a breeze, and the prahus profited by it by spreading all their sails, but it did not serve to cool the air. At length Jack found that he had got round the island, and greatly to his delight he saw the other portion of the pirate squadron followed closely by Adair. The two boats were soon alongside each other. A council of war was held. It was a question whether they should wait for their commander or pursue the enemy. It was quickly decided that they should continue the chase. There were groups of islands ahead, and the chances were that if they did not follow the enemy they would escape among them. So on they pulled. The pirates fired as before, though without doing any further damage. The only person who seemed to wish to be elsewhere was Queerface. He jumped about and chattered incessantly. Then he would try and hide himself; but could not remain quiet, but every time he heard a shot he popped up his head to see where it was going. Suddenly it grew perfectly calm again. A lurid look came over the sky. Evidently there was going to be a change in the weather. The pirates seemed to know what was about to occur. There was an inlet in an island close at hand: towards it they rapidly pulled. Jack and Adair were about to follow, when down upon them came a terrific squall, which very nearly blew both their boats right over. They happily got them before it, and away they flew towards the island they had left. To weather it was impossible. The best chance of saving the boats was to beach them. They prayed that there might be no rocks in the way, but the fierce breath of the tornado was sweeping up such vast masses of foam into the air, that they could see but a few fathoms before them. Side by side the two boats sprang on. Jack stood up. As his boat rose on the top of a sea, he saw the land: close under her bows it appeared.

"Be ready, lads, to spring out, and to carry our wounded shipmates up the beach," he exclaimed. The next instant the boat struck with a force which shattered her almost to pieces. The seething, foaming waters rushed round her, and would have swept her off again, had not her crew, leaping out, seized her gunwale and dragged her up the beach, while the wounded men were carried to a spot where they were safe.

Jack having placed little Harry, whom he carried in his arms, in a place of safety, looked anxiously round for Terence. The boat of the latter had received even greater damage, but his people had escaped with their lives. Some of the provisions had, however, been washed out of her.

"I fear we are on a very _dissolute island," exclaimed Adair as he came up to Jack. It was certainly a most unpromising spot. There were a few palm-trees to be seen here and there at a distance, but of a stunted growth, as if there was but little soil to nourish their roots, while all around was sand and rock. On hauling up the boats they were both discovered to be unseaworthy; their stock of provisions was much reduced; and what was worst, most of their powder was spoilt, and the boats' guns rendered useless, a very important loss in the neighbourhood of so numerous and vindictive an enemy. The men had their muskets and cutlasses, however, and there was no doubt but that should the pirates attack them, they would fight to the last. The great hope was that the tornado which had driven them on shore, might have treated their enemies in the same way.

"We ought not to wish our enemies ill," observed Terence; "but I suppose that it would not be wrong to wish that they may be no better off than we are."

Jack had nothing to say against this principle. Another source of anxiety was for Mr Cherry. They had left him attacking a very superior force; and even had he come off the victor, how would his boat have withstood the tornado?

Still no one despaired or even lost their spirits, neither were they for a moment idle. The men joked and laughed as much as ever, especially at Queerface, who, delighted to get on shore, leaped and frolicked about in the highest glee. Jack and Terence, after a short consultation, agreed that as they could not get away, it would be safer to fortify themselves, in case the pirates should discover and attack them.

They were not long in selecting a spot among some rocks, where, by throwing up banks of sand and digging holes in which to shelter themselves, they hoped that they might bid defiance to ten times their own number of enemies. The tornado kept blowing very fiercely for most of the time; at length, when their work was far advanced, it subsided considerably. Their labours were, however, not ended till nearly dark, by which time it was again calm. They made an awning with the boats' sails, and were all glad to lie down and get some rest after the fatigues of the day, the necessary guards having been placed to give notice of the approach of an enemy. They prudently would not light a fire lest the light should be seen by the pirates, who might be on the lookout for them.

Jack's chief concern was for Harry Bevan. The men bore their sufferings well, though they groaned in their sleep as wounded men generally do, even when not in much pain; but their pulses kept up, and their minds were collected. Jack and Adair had gone to the highest point of rock in the neighbourhood, to ascertain, if they could, if any enemy was near; but far as their gaze could extend across the starlit ocean, no vessel of any sort floated on its surface. Hoping that they might be left in peace till daylight, and thus give longer time for Mr Cherry to rejoin them, they returned to their encampment. They found poor little Harry talking away vehemently about people and circumstances of which they knew nothing, relating undoubtedly to his far-distant home. His mind was wandering. He thought Jack was his mother, and blessed him for all the care and kindness he was showing him. He fancied, however, that Adair was Queerface; and told him that he would rope's-end him if he came near him, a compliment Paddy did not altogether approve of. The worst part of the business was, that they could do nothing for the poor boy. They had no medicine, and had no notion of what to administer if they had had any. Jack was afraid of giving more brandy, so he let him have as much water as he wanted to drink; and by soothing words tried to calm his mind, and lull him to sleep. At length Dick Needham, who belonged to Jack's boat, woke up and entreated to be allowed to sit by the side of the poor little fellow. Who could wish for a more tender, gentle nurse than a true-hearted British sailor can make when he is aware that grog, however good in its way, is not, under all circumstances, the very best of medicines that can be administered? Leaving Harry therefore to Needham's care, Jack and Terence sat up talking for some time longer, making arrangements, like wise commanders, what, under the various circumstances which might occur, they would do. At length they threw themselves on the ground, and endeavoured to obtain a little rest in preparation for the work before them.

Jack thought that he had been only a few minutes asleep, when he started to his feet on hearing Needham's voice. "What is it?" he exclaimed, looking around. It was daylight, but a thick white mist hung over the sea.

"The enemy are not far off, I suspect, sir," answered Needham, who at that instant was entering the encampment. "My mind misgave me somehow, and I went to the top of the rock." Before he could finish the sentence Jack sprang on towards the place mentioned, followed by Terence, who roused up the moment he heard Jack's voice. On reaching the top of the rock, they cast their eyes eagerly seaward. At first nothing but a mass of white mist could be seen. Jack thought that Needham had been mistaken. While, however, they were still in doubt, a current of air it seemed blew off the top of the mist just as froth is blown from a mug of ale, and the upper sails of a fleet of prahus appeared not a quarter of a mile from the shore.

"The pirates must be looking for us," exclaimed Terence; "it will be fortunate if the mist continues, and they slip by without pitching on us."

"Pitching into us, you mean," said Jack, with a laugh. "Well, if they find us out, we must drive them off, and hold our own till the frigate sends to look for us. Still as they are ugly customers, we'll do our best to keep out of their sight." In this strain the two midshipmen talked on for some time, watching the movements of the prahus. Now the fog closed round them--now it lifted and exposed their sails to view. They seemed to be gliding by the island. Yet they were unpleasantly near.

"If the fog lifts, they can scarcely fail to see us," remarked Terence.

"Then, Paddy, we must fight it out to the last, and I am sure that you are of my opinion too," said Jack.

"That I am, Jack," cried Adair, wringing his hand. "But I say, what is that? I heard the splash of oars." They listened. There could be no doubt of it, and their practised ears told them that it was not the stroke of British seamen. The pirates, it was too probable, had sent on shore, and would land close to the very spot where the wreck of the boats lay. They would in all probability betray them. It could not be helped, so they hurried back to the camp to prepare for whatever might happen. As they passed along the beach, they could still hear the sound of oars, which was borne for a considerable distance over the calm water. The men stood with their muskets in their hands ready for the attack. Even the wounded men begged to be propped up against the bank that they might get a shot at the enemy.

Poor little Harry had dropped off into a deep slumber, and knew nothing of the preparations taking place. Needham volunteered to go down and watch behind a rock close down to the water, so as to give the earliest notice of the approach of the pirate-boats, should they come on shore at that point.

They had not long to wait. Louder and more distinct grew the splash of the oars.

Presently Needham came running up to the fort. "There are pretty nearly a dozen boats in," he exclaimed; "you'll see them in a moment coming out of the fog. They can't very well miss finding us."

"Very well," said Jack, coolly. "They'll be sorry that they did find us, that's all."

As Needham had said, in another minute the long black hulls of the pirate's boats appeared through the fog, and being run up on the beach, the crew leaped out of them. The swarthy savages, with sharp creeses by their sides and long jingalls in their hands, looked about on every side, and seemed surprised at not finding an enemy. They examined the boats, and then looked about again. So well was the fort constructed among the rocks, that in the fog they did not discover it. They began to scatter about; they were evidently persuaded that the English had made their escape across the island. At length three or four Malays wandered close up to the fort. They stood for a moment as if transfixed, and then, as it beamed on their comprehension what it really was, they beat a retreat, shouting to their companions.

The seamen were for firing at the intruders, but Jack ordered them not to throw a shot away, or to fire till they were attacked. They had not long to wait. The whole band of Malays quickly collected, and, with glittering creeses in their hands, rushed on to the attack.

"Now, boys, give it them," cried Jack, and Terence repeated the order almost in the same breath, for he knew that it was coming. Half the seamen only fired, and then began again to load. The other half waited till the first were ready, and the Malays had got close up to the bank. The latter, fancying probably that only a few had firearms, came on courageously.

"Fire, boys," cried Jack, quietly. The seamen jumped up, and the pirates, not expecting so warm a reception, wavered and fell back, leaving several dead and wounded close to the fort.

Jack and Terence began to hope that they would retreat altogether, but, encouraged by their chiefs, once more they were seen to come on. At the same time several more boats reached the shore. Jack and Terence could not conceal from themselves that they were in a dangerous position.

With loud, horrible shrieks, the Malays rushed up to the fort. The noise of the firing woke up little Harry, and, just as the pirates had a second time reached the embankment, Jack found him standing close to him, his clothes bespattered with blood, and his face looking pale as a sheet of paper. For a moment Jack thought it was the ghost of his young charge; but he had no time to think about it, for the next instant the enemy were close to them. Again and again the English sailors fired and kept the enemy back, but the pirates so far outnumbered them that there seemed but little hope of their ultimate success. Again, by their unflinching bravery, they drove the enemy back. The Malays, however, kept up a hot fire at them when they got to a distance, and several of the English were hit and unable longer to fight. Two poor fellows were killed outright. The fog now cleared, and Jack saw that the prahus themselves were drawing in with the land. With their own scanty numbers diminishing, and those of the enemy increasing, Jack and Terence could not help acknowledging that their case was desperate. Still, when the enemy once more came on, they received them with as firm hearts and as hearty a cheer as before. For a short time there was a cessation of firing. Queerface, who had wisely got into a hole, looked out to see what had happened. At that moment a bird was seen flying towards the fort. To the surprise of all, it pitched close to Queerface, who seemed delighted to see it. Adair turned round. "Why," he exclaimed, "there is Polly. Where can she have come from?" It was a question no one could answer. The boats had gone off to the prahus, and now returned with more men. With terrific shrieks and cries of vengeance, the Malays rushed towards the gallant little band of Englishmen, resolved to destroy them.

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